The Path To Bodhichitta

You start where you are, the practice will meet you there.

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Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Monday, October 23, 2006

Not For The Softhearted

In last Thursday's class, I decided to focus on backbends; in particular, dhanurasana (bow) and salabhasana (locust). Rather than lead the students straight into the poses, I put together a sequence of prepatory poses which focused on lengthening the spine, engaging the uppper thigh muscles, opening the shoulders, breathing into the thoracic region and focusing on expanding the chest rather than compressing the lower back. Each preparatory pose was supposed to create more awareness of the body so that when the students finally moved into the two backbends, they wouldn't mindlessly swing their legs up and send the lumbar spine into shock.

After the class, one student casually commented, "That was a rather soft class, wasn't it?"

I explained the reason behind the sequence, but he didn't look convinced. So I assured him that the following week's class wouldn't be so 'soft' and he walked away satisfied. This student's comment was ironic, for two reasons. First, because this class was in fact more difficult than my other classes. In this class, I wanted the students to pay complete attention to their body, instead of merely arranging their limbs in each asana. I wanted them to understand the impact each asana had on their spine and various muscles. And that's no easy feat!

The second reason for the irony was that this particular student was struggling to perform some of the 'soft' asanas. Hearing him complain about the class being too easy left me stumped.

As I mulled over this, I suddenly understood where he - and probably a few of the other students - were coming from. To them, yoga meant a total body workout that left their bodies slick with sweat, their heart racing and their muscles screaming in pain. Their ideal yoga class would include unfamiliar poses they weren't able to execute rather than basic poses that were easy to do. I also knew that their previous teacher was fond of leading such classes. No wonder then that they found my class 'not yoga-like enough'. And thus sprung the dilemma - should I cater to the students needs or stick to my own style.

When I posed this question to Sakun, she very wisely said, "Stick to your own style. There are many other teachers offering the workout-style of yoga. The student who want that style will find that teacher andthe students who like your style will stick with you. You can't be a teacher to everyone."

I have always believed that yoga is a process of discovering how the body works rather than how to push it beyond its limits. That a student should walk out of class feeling relaxed and connected with his/her body rather than exhausted and sore. I still believe it, which means I'll have to 'disappoint' some of my students again this week.


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