Spirituality and Yoga.

I’ve been thinking about spirituality and yoga a lot lately. I was never, ever a spiritual person before I began practicing yoga. It really wasn’t until my teacher training that that aspect of the practice clicked. Thank you Marsha Pappas and Caroline Myss! Anyhow, I’ve been reflecting on my teaching a ton recently, always questioning whether my sequences make sense, whether people seem to be enjoying the practice, am I keeping them safe, and whether or not what I offer is unique and inspiring. I know my students don’t necessarily need to enjoy the class to have had a “successful” practice. (And by successful, I mean showing up—no more, no less). Still, I’m a people pleaser and I like to make people happy. I have a tough time giving people what they need; I find it rather easy to provide them with what they want, which is why I’m so good at kicking their ass with a strong and powerful practice, but always seem to run out of time for that ten minute savasana I aim for. At one of the studios where I teach, we are going to learn a new asana format specifically designed for men. It claims to take all the spirituality, chanting, and sanskrit out of yoga and just focus on the physical aspect, which is really what a lot of men need. Have you SEEN how tight their hamstrings are?! Lord in heaven, I don’t know how they do it! :) I digress. At first, when I learned about this format and heard all of the spirituality would be taken out of it, it was like a knife jabbed through my heart. “But that’s not YOGA! That’s ancient Indian calisthenics!”, a little voice in my head cried. Yoga has 8 limbs, and really in order for it to be yoga, you can’t take the spirituality out of it. That’s WHAT IT IS. Ah yes. But didn’t I start out in a hot power yoga class because I wanted a good workout? Didn’t my yogini-enlightened ass hit the mat day after day for years before I even had any idea that there was more to the practice than just triangle and warrior? Yes, I think I did. I would love to meet the Westerner out there who hit their yoga mat for the very first time because they were interested in opening their mind up to the possibilities of the universe. Seriously. We all start somewhere. Is it not yoga if you show up to your mat with the intention to work on bettering your body, to take care of yourself, alleviating back pain and keep your muscles strong and limber? How is that not “real yoga”? The more I thought about it the more I realized I am a great asana teacher. I know the poses backward and forward. I know the body. I know alignment. I can see people’s physical issues immediately without having to ask them what hurts. I can see why they fall out of a pose, what they need to strengthen, and how to make the physical practice work for them. I grew up as a ballet dancer so my attention to physical detail is incredibly meticulous. Although my personal practice has really blossomed into encompassing spirituality and the deeper roots and branches of yoga, I’m not as adept at sharing that. I’ve only begun to explore that myself so I don’t feel as comfortable sharing it with others. In fact, whenever I try to give a real dharma talk, I feel like a hack. My skill set as a yoga instructor is physical. As yoga instructors we also need to stop being so harsh and judgmental. Asana is yoga. Just because a person begins their practice of yoga in the physical branch does not mean they are not practicing yoga. Asana is like the Westerner’s gateway drug to all 8 limbs. I am beyond grateful and honored to aid in that bridge between simple physical practice and a complete yogic experience.