Everyone that finds their way onto the mat has come looking for something. Whether it’s the quest to de-stress, seek wisdom, become more flexible, lose weight, learn handstands, meet up with friends before brunch or any other reason at all; Yogis share in the fact that they are seeking something. It can be profound or it can be simple, each reason is equally important.
To me, Yoga is the IRL translation of the idea of complete acceptance and non-judgment. So when a teacher implies something less than positive about a different—maybe less traditional—style of Yoga, as if it were in some way less than their style, I take offense. Downplaying the realness of anything but the most traditional class rooted deeply in the teachings of the Yoga Sutras, is welcoming a nasty element of non-acceptance into the very room where people come to seek the exact opposite.
Yoga is different for everyone
When I started practicing Yoga on a regular basis, I was living in the Netherlands during the winter, and it was damn cold. I would look forward to a 90 minute Bikram class each day after work seeking simply to escape the brutal weather. After months of upholding this practice I discovered that Yoga offered me so much more. A few teacher trainings, workshops and hours of practice in various styles of Yoga later, and I was teaching in studios and offices around my home city of New York, in a style that I usually explain as “athletic vinyasa”. Fast forward to a day when I was taking one of my favorite classes, and my teacher began with what was essentially a rant against athletic vinyasa and how this class would be seeking something much deeper and more true. I have to assume the intentions were good, but placing Yoga styles on a sliding scale of realness just doesn’t work for me.
New Yoga is no disrespect to the past
I respect the Bahgahvad Gita but I have yet to refer to it while teaching; I almost never begin or end class with meditation; I rarely use what little Sanskrit I know; and I think that is okay. My teachers do some of those things. My teachers sometimes chant and om, or weave very intellectual teachings throughout class. And while I love and respect their styles, and certainly seek it out when I practice, it is not the same style that I teach. Teaching has to come from an authentic place and I simply don’t feel authentic doing many of those things. Each style offers something different to practitioners and is hopefully built intelligently from the fundamentals. It evolves the same way each teacher comes to find their own voice. Adapting the style of teaching Yoga is in no way a disrespect to the time-honored ancient practice. It is instead a celebration of the roots of Yoga with a modern offering that may resonate with some and not others.
Non-judgement is key
Being a teacher is a responsibility that requires the ability to curate a space, cultivate a positive energy and radiate acceptance and non-judgement. A Yoga class should always be a clean slate. A space that once you pass through its doors you are neither less than or more than anyone else. In the end, people are looking for all different types of things when they turn to Yoga, and by putting down any one style, the most beautiful concept of Yoga, the idea of genuine acceptance, is diminished. Nowadays I don’t practice Bikram so often, but I know that when the mood strikes, or when I need it most, it will be there ready to to help me find what I’m seeking.