As a new year crests, I find myself preparing for upcoming programs and new students, wondering how I might enhance the yoga experience to make each individual’s personal journey at Heartwood more poignant and everlasting. While the programs evolve and get better and better, I can’t help but notice that the students still wrestle with obstacles and mental obstructions that keep them interacting with yoga on the surface level, rather than really soaking themselves in the deeper dimensions of the practice. Perhaps I am too ambitious with what I hope to accomplish in only 200 or 300 hours, but I can’t help but notice that eager students arrive for formal yoga trainings with a preconceived idea of what yoga is, how they will implement a YA certification into their lives, and a huge attachment to yoga as practiced in the standard one hour class. This very understandable enthusiasm makes introducing a new perspective difficult as I attempt to shift the trajectory of their studies to a more authentic version of yoga.
Leading eager yogis in a new direction without snuffing out their passion for the practice is difficult, because frankly, growing stronger as you master arm balances or complicated sequences feels like such an accomplishment. The non-performance part of yoga is dull and unsatisfactory compared to the gratification of mastering physical challenges and feeling so alive in your skin as you practice. That said, somehow students must learn that the uneventful archaic approaches to yoga is what sets the stage for really remarkable things to happen. Looking at life under the surface and facing yourself be scary and sad, but liberation begins here.
In a world of instant feedback, short attention spans and life unfolding quickly, how does one sell the importance of putting off short term “yoga advancement” and the fun stuff for a painfully slow unfolding relationship with our spiritual potential that can only be found in stillness, solitude & honest contemplation?
Of course, with all the lectures, slideshows, practices, visual aids, and formal building blocks of yoga education we squeeze into our trainings, its no wonder students get stuck in the intellect. There is so much information to grasp to feel competent sharing yoga with others. They must worry about testing, and teaching, and being able to retain all this dense information. They have to consider the details of starting a business as an independent yoga teacher to pay off this yoga teacher training investment. They also want more of what inspired them to come in the first place – that great high you get when doing yoga asana class. Why would they want to take their yoga another direction, when physical yoga was the inspiration that brought them to teacher’s training in the first place?
I see huge transformations and a broadening of knowledge in every student after 200 hours of study. We all start the journey at the beginning, and these yoga practitioners are exactly where they are meant to be at this stage so I don’t mean to imply there is anything missing in the students. The problem is, I worry that when my graduates leave Heartwood, they may continue to add to their experience and understanding outwardly (more certifications, more workshops, more yoga retreat experiences) and not continue to grow inwardly (a deeper understanding of core concepts and a poignant self-knowing that comes with a commitment to exploring yoga’s full potential in quiet introspection.) They don’t know what they don’t know, and frankly, nether did I when I first completed my 200 hour certification. I keep trying to pinpoint how and why I evolved beyond those early stages of yoga infatuation, because the answer will no doubt help me guide others.
I find myself pondering the question: How can I respect a student’s understandable focus on the practical application of yoga education, such as who, what and where they will teach this stuff and at the same time instill a desire to sit with themselves in a quiet way to move towards a heart-based understanding of the element of yoga that can’t be measured or used to support a teaching career? True spiritual evolution isn’t Instagram worthy, and for some people, if something can’t be shared on social media, it never happened. In a world where people seem to need an audience for their lives, how can I encourage them to not be seduced by a yoga culture that is in some ways a distraction from yoga?
I suppose I can continue to lecture, bemoan the decline of commercialized yoga, and throw the gauntlet of “serious yoga” to their feet, hoping ego or a drive to be the real deal will get students to slow down and sit with themselves – not just as homework in meditation or formal practices to “out-yoga” the next guy, but in a true state of curiosity and sincere desire to make space for a deeper sense of self-knowing. But you can’t force a student to embrace spirituality any more than you can force a flower to bloom.
Wait a minute. I am a gardener, and the fact is, when you create the right circumstances, you CAN get a flower to bloom – even out of season. All you need is the right environmental conditions, a little work and careful planning.
The fact is, there are no bad students – only bad teachers, and if I truly believe yoga students are missing something as we race to memorize the history, practices, theory, anatomy and technical elements of yoga , I dang well better figure out how to make the “non-doing” part of yoga interesting enough that aspiring yoga teachers will embrace the quiet, immeasurable, time consuming process of learning who they are and what makes them tick to unfold their relationship with self, earth, and God.
For me, writing has always been a way to deepen my awareness and learn personal truths. Writing is a conversation with self (or something higher than self) that is private, personal and deeply engaging. You sit with the blank page and let it speak to you and once that conversation begins, get lost in words that seem to come from a place of honesty and knowing.
Considering this, I recently ordered dozens of beautiful, hand tooled and hand bound leather journals from India embossed with symbols such as Om, Ganesh, Dancing Shiva, the Buddha and the Tree of Life on the cover. Each journal is filled with pages and pages of hand made paper infused with flower petals and natural fibers. No lines – just blank space. I plan to give these books to my students with writing prompts designed to help them process the yoga sutras and other concepts we introduce in our yoga trainings. Anyone who is “into yoga” will appreciate both the look and the representative utility of the journals, but my true hope is that these books will serve as an invitation to seek introspection and bring joy to the process of Svadhyaya (self study). What begins as “homework” will hopefully become habit.
The gift from me will be a journal, but the gift each student can give themselves is actually the potential that lies within the blank pages.
If you’ve never tried journaling, perhaps you too should try writing as a yoga practice beyond the mat.