Traditional vs.Modern Yoga
I was reading article about a new style of yoga called Strala Yoga founded by Tara Stiles. Apparently this style employs very (if any) few hands-on adjustments and allows the students “free-flowing movement” during practice. Strala encourages teachers and students to break free from the traditional do’s and don’t of a yoga practice and simply share the movement that works for them. You can read the article here:
During teacher training with Amrit Desai, I watched him do spontaneous movement. My understanding is that when the kundalini energy, the Shakti divine energy, moves through someone spontaneously it produces different postures. Eventually the movements can become continuous, fluid and non-jerky as consciousness becomes dominant. It was amazing to watch and it was clear to me it wasn’t about the physical shapes; it was about a meditative trance he was in. It was almost as if he wasn’t of his body in the physical form. He was formless.
Amrit Desai (Gurudev as most call him) teaches that there are three stages:
- Stage one focuses on learning the postures and exploring your body’s abilities
- Stage two involves holding the postures for an extended time, developing concentration and inner awareness
- Stage three is called “Meditation in Motion,” and creates movement from one posture to another which arises unconsciously and spontaneously
For me this trend toward “free-flowing movement” with the name yoga is moving away from the system of yoga. Instead, new practices like this that call themselves yoga appear to be more about how pretty it can be- the shapes and the movements like those of a dancer. As a trained dancer and teacher of dance since the age of 15, I completely understand this idea of free flowing movement. However, we just can’t skip the steps of the practice of yoga, doing only what works for us and avoiding the uncomfortable.
In our society we are constantly looking for the quick fix. I’m suggesting that before we start teaching students to move freely, we give some basis of alignment and foundation in order to protect the body when and if there is movement beyond the body. I am not suggesting that the postures should be ‘perfect’ and that we can’t play; however, I am of the opinion we are stripping away the foundation of yoga by watering down the practice to do what ‘feels right.’ It’s like purchasing a pair of new shoes. Often times they are super uncomfortable and don’t ‘feel right’ until we wear them in a little. The practice of yoga is mentally, physically and spiritually challenging. With time, we learn how to move through and with the discomfort-on the mat and in the world.
I have seen many practices asking the students to move on their own—with no alignment cues, suggestions for breath or possible modifications. I’m not proposing that this is right or wrong- I’m just asking, then what is the job of the teacher? In an asana practice, the seat of a teacher is one of responsibility. A teacher protects the students’ bodies against injury and holds space for students to discover themselves through this magnificent practice. Understand that you can’t achieve the ‘perfect’ posture in one class, it may take a life time or two. However, through dedication and commitment all things are possible.
Please remember asana practice is only one technique- there is meditation, pranayama, and many more to help us learn to identify less with our personality and more with our higher-self. We must learn to surrender our intellect, the thinking mind and move deeper into our awareness of the higher self.