Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Who, me, an Iyengar Yoga snob?

I've noticed that some yoga students who come from other traditions feel like the Iyengar Yoga community excludes them.    They may be seasoned yoga students who do difficult poses with grace, strength, and beauty, but if they ask about attending Iyengar Yoga workshops or experienced-level Iyengar yoga classes, they may be told that the classes are only open to students with prior Iyengar yoga background.    So why are they being excluded?   Why are we being so snobbish?   Do we think that Iyengar yoga is better than what they do?

No, it's not that, of course.   Well, at least I hope that's not it!

One of my yoga teachers likened it to different kinds of musicians.   Consider two trumpet players.   One may be a top-notch jazz trumpetist, and the other a lead trumpet player in a world-class philharmonic orchestra.   They both are excellent trumpet players, but both come from very different traditions.   The jazz trumpetist couldn't expect to play in the world-class philharmonic orchestra, any more than the philharmonic trumpet player could expect to be a member of the top-notch jazz band.     If they want to explore the other style of playing, they get this experience in the appropriate venue -- they learn in a more "beginning level" setting.

So it's not our goal to exclude non-Iyengar practitioners (not my goal, at least), but we do have certain expectations from the students who come to higher level classes.   They're  expected to already have a certain knowledge of the methodology and terminology of Iyengar Yoga.     You learn these in the lower level classes.   If you jump into an experienced level class that assumes a certain prior knowledge, you may be doing the teacher and the rest of the class a disservice since the teacher may need to spend more time teaching you what the others have already learned in a lower level class.   This applies to all fields, not just Iyengar yoga, not just yoga classes in general, but in any endeavor where there's sequential learning.  

I've been practicing yoga since 1993, only in the Iyengar Yoga method.   I do think a Vinyasa, or Ashtanga, or Yin Yoga class would be a lot of fun, and I may try one of those classes some day.  But I certainly wouldn't go to an advanced level class.   I'm experienced in Iyengar Yoga -- that's it.   Many of the elements that I know would translate well into other styles of yoga, but not all.   It would be hubris on my part to feel entitled to attend an advanced level class outside of what I know.

I probably wouldn't even attend an "advanced" Iyengar yoga class if taught by someone I'm not familiar with, for the same reasons as above.    Different teachers have different expectations for their students, and it is good for us students (teachers need to remain students too) to honor these expectations.   The teacher of an advanced class shouldn't have to back-track to help out the new student who doesn't have the prerequisite background.   This is unfair to the rest of the class.

Personally, since my more experienced-level classes are not large, I do enjoy having people from different traditions attend as long as they're willing to take my instruction.   There is a certain amount of discipline expected -- not a harsh, overly-strict discipline in my class, but still, the discipline to follow my instructions to the best of your ability even if you can do more.   I wrote about "Beginner's mind vs. Prideful mind" in an earlier blog entry.    Cultivate your own "beginner's mind" in my classes, even if you already have a vast amount of experience.   You will learn something this way, not just get a workout.   It's a good idea for you to contact me first, before dropping in, so we can come to an understanding of what I'd expect of you in class, and what you hope to get out of a class.   Our expectations may not mesh, but then again, it could be the beginning of a beautiful yoga relationship :-)

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