When I was living in Sanaa, Yemen my parents decided that we should go to school during the summer holidays as well. Both my parents were working and three kids can be quite a handful. So they spoke to the principal of the school run by the Indian Embassy there, and we were packed off to what would become summer school for us.
There was a boy in my class during the time, who was from Russia. He didn’t speak English very well and couldn’t read or write it very well either. The English teacher was supportive but it is difficult to teach someone a language when you have no common language to communicate in. The thing that I remember about this boy is that he was a talented artist. Perhaps he’s a cartoonist or an illustrator or a graphic designer now. Back then he was amazing at art. Unfortunately, we grew up at a time when if you were good at Math and Science, you were smart…and nothing else really drew much appreciation.
One day we were given an assignment during English class and we were all furiously working on the assignment. All of us. At the end of the class the teacher was curious to know how the Russian student had done. He handed her his notebook and we all registered her stunned expression. She looked up and showed us his notebook. While the rest of us were working on our assignment, he was busy copying the cover page of the book. I forget what was on the cover, but I remember there were clouds and the name of the book was written over the clouds.
“See he’s drawn the English, he doesn’t even realize it,” said the teacher. “He thinks it’s a part of the picture. He doesn’t know what he’s drawn.”
I find a lot of that happening in yoga class. After 15 days here, at ‘the source’, I’ve started to feel like 95% of yoga studios/teachers/students in Bangalore have skewed focus. I see it in classes too. Students are in awe of other students and teachers who can go upside down or do other fancy things….and somewhere the focus shifts. The acrobats develop a comfort zone in which they preen and prance while the rest of us aspire to gain entry into that comfort zone. In any yoga class, you will see all the students practicing the basic asanas with concentration and focus. As the asanas get more challenging the students grumble and groan but still focus on the posture and working with their bodies. And finally, for the ‘advanced’ poses you will see most students gazing admiringly and enviously at the few who are able to do the poses.
At any point in time, when your attention is no longer on what is going on within you, then the practice ceases to be yoga. I keep on saying that yoga is not about the postures, yoga is about life. All of us have different lives, and so our relationship with yoga will also be unique and personal. What is going on in your body when you do the Uttanasana will be based upon your lifestyle, life choices, mental and emotional states. These factors will be different for your classmates and so their Uttanasana will be different. What I see in students is the desire to do the Uttanasana that their neighbor is doing. And those who are able to execute what they think is the ‘perfect’ Uttanasana stop working in the asana. Teachers too, focus more on how far down you can go rather than on how you can work your body optimally to execute the best Uttanasana you can given your mental and physical state at that given point in time.
The result of this style of teaching and learning is that we are missing the point. Movement in yoga classes is becoming mechanical and mindless. We’re missing the bullseye….in fact we’re not even aiming for bullseye. We are confusing asanas for acrobatics and vice versa. Every time someone else does kapotasana and we can’t, we’re lose a bit of ourselves. And going farther away from ourselves, which is opposite to what yoga aims to do. Remember, yoga means to join or to yoke together, and if you are focusing on the getting your leg behind your head, you’re not appreciating the feeling of expansion in your hips.
Stop drawing alphabets in the clouds, learn to read the words.