I’m often told that my classes are like a conversation with my students. This is meaningful to me because I am still working on my internal chatter of “am I right?” or “am I wrong?” which more often than not seems to be answered with “I am wrong”. This eternal perfectionism leads me often to exhaustion and disappointment with my efforts, and sometimes (like today) to my body saying “enough” and physically grounding me for overexertion.
So, being able to be comfortable with allowing my teaching to be a conversation with students rather than me walking in as an authority who knows absolutely everything, allowing myself to engage students in the conversation about what is actually happening in a posture or a sequence, and not always having the answer…that feels a little like freedom to me. I hope that it feels like freedom to students, too, when I present the classroom environment as a place where they can experiment, enjoy, feel their limbs, laugh, maybe even cry once in a while, and feel safe to do all of the above.
Sometimes I hear people refer to “corrections” or “adjustments” in a pose, and I feel myself flinch. Of course there is an external form to a posture, and alignment information and instruction is necessary to a safe posture and even achieving postures that you haven’t mastered yet. But what is mastery of a posture? As my practice progresses, it’s finally dawning on me that the “doing” isn’t the whole thing. It’s the “surrendering” that makes a practice whole and beautiful. For a long time, the postures that really appealed to me were the ones where I could emphatically do the pose, poses like Bakasana, Tittibhasana, Eka Pada Koundinyasana II. I’ve found that in the past couple of years, the backbends are what have been enticing me more and more. Perhaps part of it is the feeling of well-being they give me, but I’m understanding lately that it’s the requirement of strength alongside the willingness to let go that is intriguing me to go deeper into my backbending practice.
The postures in Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar can be looked at as laid out in the book in a progressive way; the most advanced postures occur towards the back (not that the postures early in the book aren’t hard!). They’re the big crazy backbends like Chakrabandhasana (below). Listen, I’m not going to say that poses like this don’t require a huge amount of preparation and practice, but they also require that equal amount of surrender, or as the Yoga Sutras call it, vairagyam. I’ll reference Judith Lasater again here from a 1997 article she wrote for Yoga Journal called “Tips for Teaching Yoga”: “In the Yoga Sutras (11:1), Patanjali describes the dual concepts of abhyasa and vairagyam. Abhyasa, or “determined effort,” involves discipline, attention, and action, and it manifests as attention to the form of the posture. Vairagyam, on the other hand, is “supreme detachment.” Vairagyam is surrender, letting go, and allowing; it involves opening to the experience of the practice. When technique and form are balanced with heartfelt, free movement, then the asana is whole.”
The asana practice mirrors life off the mat for me. The more I can truly embrace the idea of vairagyam, surrender, the more ease I will have, the more whole I will be for myself, but also for my students.