asana, Yoga, yoga philosophy, yoga practice, yoga teaching

challenging our assumptions (or, why I take back all the mean things I said about power yoga)

Recently, I was chatting with Sage Rountree, co-owner of Carrboro Yoga Company and Yoga for Athletes expert.  I mentioned that I noticed a Facebook status update she posted about having survived a Bikram Yoga class.  I was curious–what on earth would make her decide to take a Bikram class on purpose?  I mean, they’ve got the 105-degree+ superheat, the skimpy outfits (“costumes”, I mean), and mirrors and microphones!  Sage explained, “every once in a while I like to challenge my assumptions.”  Oh, I thought.  That seems like a very yogic thing to do.  It also seems like an interesting experiment to do.

So, thanks to Sage’s willingness to endure (and enjoy!) Bikram yoga, I have a theme for my classes this week and a goal.  In my classes from July 25-July 31, we’ll revisit our assumptions about our asana practice (e.g., I can’t do crow pose.  I’ll fall on my face.)  Hopefully, this on-the-mat exploration will lead to some off-the-mat assumption smashing. (More SMASH here.)  Maybe we’ll decide to get to know someone we’ve assumed we have nothing in common with.  Maybe we’ll take a new route to work that we’re convinced that, while scenic, isn’t worth the extra few minutes on the bike or in the car.   Maybe we’ll ride the bike instead of taking the car.

I’ve decided to make it my practice to take at least one asana class per week that I would not normally think of taking from this week through the end of August.  I started last night.  I took Power Flow 1-2 at Triangle Yoga Shala with new (to NC, anyway) instructor Sage Santmier.  I’ve been known to say things like, “the words power and yoga don’t belong next to each other.”  I still hold this opinion, but not because I am opposed to a challenging, faster-paced vinyasa class.  I don’t like the term “power yoga” because the use of the word “power” implies that there will be a struggle, some force, and a winner.  I believe our culture promotes these qualities too much already, and some of my intentions as a yoga teacher are to reduce competition, to let things naturally unfold (rather than make them happen), and to help my students be present in the moment in their own perfect bodies, moving with metronome of their own breath rather than to a soundtrack of club beats. That doesn’t mean it won’t be challenging or effortful, but it will be mindful and internally-focused, I hope. (12/1/14 update: I now teach one class where we practice to a bumpin’ playlist. Things change.)

Having said all that, I enjoyed Sage S.’s class–she’s a talented teacher who communicates clearly, encourages her students to rest when their bodies tell them to, and challenges the class without creating a competitive environment.  I would take her class again.  On purpose.  I did notice that despite the many cues she gave to listen to the inner teacher, a lot of struggling, pushing, and striving was happening in the room.  This was not Sage S.’s fault.  I have students like this, too, even in my pretty mellow classes.  Maybe they gain some benefit from this struggle, or maybe they don’t yet understand that it’s not necessary.  Maybe I am totally wrong and it’s fine to work really super-duper hard ’til you nail that pose no matter what.  But my gut tells me that the word “power” encourages this tendency that already exists in overabundance in our culture.

Please comment if you have thoughts about this, because another interest of mine is to encourage more dialogue among members of the yoga community.  We all have something worthwhile and unique to offer.  Also, if you want to join me in challenging your assumptions about yoga (or something else), I’d love to hear about your plans.

Next week, Bikram with preconceptions left at the door.  But first, a trip to Marshalls to pick up a very skimpy costume…

3 thoughts on “challenging our assumptions (or, why I take back all the mean things I said about power yoga)”

  1. True, challenging assumptions is a good thing. However, Bikram yoga is a multi million dollar franchise company and I am a little bit unsure how him (for example) driving a Rolls Royce fits in with the entire concept of yoga…. Lovely post!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s