One of the most unique yoga classes I’ve ever tried was called Laughing Yoga. Think of a visual. I think you got it. It’s group of people in a circle intentionally causing laughter. I felt like I was sitting in on my step-brother’s Meisner acting class back in the late 90’s listening to actors being judged for the degree they best expressed intention; in other words: how authentic was the performance? The theory in Laughing Yoga, (and I suppose in basic acting or sketch/improv comedy 101), is that eventually the absurdity of the forced laughter or the ridiculousness of the circumstances would eventually be found so silly and humorous that the laughter will become real and genuine. I can get behind the theory; but the doing of it never bore me fruit. I’m not an actor. I don’t know how to give the same performance twice.
Though as a yoga instructor, I do have my rhetoric: those same phrases repeated at the same points: a blend of my favorite teachers and my own personality that inevitably comes out. Sometimes I stay disciplined and stick to my pre-devised script. “Stick to calling out the breath,” I think in my head, “the pose, anatomical cues, and that’s it!” But even through all that verbiage, the rhetoric slowly creeps out. And then I fear “they’re on to me, I’m using the same material, they need something new.”
Then I remember Ashtanga, (bless that sequence), and the diligence and fervor that it takes to practice the same exact sequence over and over (and over) again, pretty much for all eternity, (in it’s purest form of course). Ashtanga’s devotion to precision and repetition allows me to find an equal beauty for sticking to my script, my sequence, my rhetoric that hopefully appeals to some and understandably not others. (Maybe it’s my New York accent that I don’t notice even after it’s pointed out to me).
Just as I am attracted to certain teachers, I am certainly repelled by some. When trying out a new teacher I lay my mat at a place in the studio where it would be most inconvenient (and socially embarrassing) for me to bail and leave, ensuring that I’m in it for at least one practice. Will this person speak to my sensibility? Will this teacher wrap the yoga package in colorful wrappings? Will they use flowery language or get myopically anatomical? Will I like their accent? Will I enjoy their tone of voice? And why are they playing Enya? Or Yanni? Or Steve Roach? Or THAT Massive Attack song again?
I’m attracted first and foremost to conviction. I try not to get distracted by all the other things; isn’t that what partly the yoga practice is about? Not getting distracted by all the other things. I think we all are able to detect ‘bulls**t’ when we witness a shelling of verbiage lacking substance. This might come in the form of a formulaic movie or book sequel, or while speaking to sales folk of a particular nature, or when listening to a politician’s speech when we know the writings and thoughts were composed by another. We can always sense when a person doesn’t own the rhetoric. That’s how we know it’s someone else’s. The rhetoric lacks conviction. This is the actor’s challenge: saying the same thing over and over again with equal conviction under a strange set, (literally), of circumstances expecting the viewer to buy the performance (as we often do).
This same challenge can be found in a yoga instructor: saying the same thing over and over again with equal conviction under a strange set [studio] of circumstances, (a room full of students with their hips up high breathing), expecting the viewer, (these same aspirants), to buy my performance. I pray they do as I aim to deliver. They may not like how and what I say, but at least they won’t doubt my conviction.
I love that there are so many varieties of yoga developing. I feel like I’m surrounded by an improv of yoga. Some practices go completely off the reservation: some hybrid fusion of all that is hip now and more, while others stray a short distance, if any, from the core. Some instructors focus on anatomy and alignment, others on the chakras, while others still might relate the poses to the deities. Some solely only call out the poses and the breath cues (and I’ll struggle if it’s all said in sanskrit).
Ultimately, any teacher’s styling is some mishmash of experiences and information that is collected over years of not only their personal practice and all the experience that led up to developing a yoga practice, but also the practice of their teachers and their teacher’s teachers.
I have yet to try aerial, gravity, acro, naked, or prenatal. But at the same time my priority is my own practice; the practice that I found and still finding, (probably until the day I pass on). There are certain types of yoga I’m not particularly fond of for my own personal reasons, and yeah…I’ll say it: pleasure. I tried them once, twice, or three times, and after that I’m pretty much done. It’s not necessarily that I didn’t believe the teacher’s conviction. I just didn’t enjoy the rhetoric. I wasn’t in the mood to hear about world politics. I didn’t care for some allegory about Ganesh. And I certainly don’t care to know about enduring some sister in-law’s personal hygiene issues at family gatherings and how that relates to yoga. At least if you’re gonna yap on-and-on at least stick me in Uttanasana. Or am I missing the point, it’s all intentional, The Universe is testing me, and I’m supposed to practice enduring you?
It takes two to tango. To quote Rodney Dangerfield’s character Thorton Melon, [on his second wife], from Back To School “…I’m an Earth sign. She’s a Water sign. Together, we made mud.”
Yes, first and foremost, it’s about the yoga, however and wherever you find it. It’s the five minutes of mindfulness your offer yourself in the morning so that you’re not rushing out of the house, as you did every day prior. It might be that moment in traffic while waiting for the truck in front to inch a little more for the exit you need is within grasp but not reach. It might be in the form of not reacting when that person obviously did not hold the elevator door open for you. And it might be trying a new yoga instructor and listening to a different rhetoric. Who knows?! There might be a new nugget of information that, in just a brief moment, for just one breath, the yoga practice made 1% more sense than before.
But to get there we all have to find that place that appeals to us, that packages it in just that right way. It doesn’t matter where our friends practice, or if they practice another form. It doesn’t matter that they might find this yoga this or that yogathat. Is where you set your mat down where you want to be? Does this place speak to you? The ambiance. The teacher. The rhetoric.
Personally I hope I go with the flow when opportunities to try something different come along. I don’t need more lingering lifelong impressions of past opportunities passed – I’m still working on letting those old ones go. But for now I know what works: that right knowledge coming from direct perception (Sutra 1.7). This practice is ultimately and simple about my relationship with my body. Pratyahara and beyond aside, asana and pranayama are enough for to tackle over the next few decades; I’ll see y’all at the rest home where maybe only then will my senses finally withdraw but not for my death but for my growth. For now though, no one else is in my body but me. It’s my journey. My solipsism. My zen. My way.
So take whatever comfort in the yoga that found you or you found, whatever its package, however the marketing. Equally, go out of your comfort zone every once in a while if only to reassure yourself that the yoga that comforts you is indeed the one for you. Practice! Practice! Practice!
Yochai (Yo-hi) Weiss received his training from Rudy Mettia and is a graduate of his Udaya Teaching Training (RYT-200). Due to a debilitating shoulder injury and unable to afford expensive physical therapy and surgery, Yochai found yoga at Bryan Kests’s Santa Monica Power Yoga donation-based studio in 2007. Humbled by his injury, unable to perform sometimes the most basic yoga poses, Yochai diligently practiced yoga under the guidance and teachings of Rudy Mettia. Over the many months, Yochai noticed his shoulder’s range of motion improve incrementally slowly but nonetheless surely. But what was also noted, were the calming and centering aspects of the yoga practice itself. Yochai found himself becoming less reactive to his surroundings and impulsive in his actions; the practice of yoga provided the ability to find calm in the midst of chaos – a quality of living he’s searched for all his life. In early October 2013, Yochai relocated to Atlanta, Georgia from Santa Monica, California to bring his experience and passion to others on the mat. For more information about Yochai, visit Zen Hard Yoga.
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