ASK THE YOGI
"part of me feels like I don't
understand yoga at all..."
FOUR MINUTE READ • BY YOGACHARYA ERIC WALRABENSTEIN
ear Yogi, I just got certified as a yoga teacher at a prominent studio here in New York.
Throughout my training I was told that yoga is about the mind and not the body; that it’s not about mastering yoga postures; that yoga’s primary scripture states yoga’s goal as “stilling the fluctuations of mind.”
And yet, my four months of training was devoted almost exclusively to yoga postures and anatomy. When I asked the staff I was told only that “we use the body to quiet the mind.”
Part of me feels like I don’t even understand yoga at this point, so I’m considering seeking another program to help me round out my education. Am I off base? Any recommendations about where to turn next?
Suzi in Brooklyn
The short answer is no, you’re not off base.
While there is some truth to the principle of using the body to quiet the mind, it’s far from all there is to this ancient science. More critically, it's not enough to say that yoga is about quieting the mind, you have to know how yoga works to quiet the mind if you want to be truly successful.
Doing a few postures and breathing exercises is simply not enough.
The fact is that what passes for yoga these days—and thus what is accepted to be yoga by the vast majority of Americans—is but a shadow of the full and authentic practice.
In its translation for our modern age, yoga has devolved from a powerful and comprehensive psycho-physical healing process (originally in support of spiritual goals) to, at best, a mindful meditation in motion, and at worst, a sweat-drenched ego-fest.
The truth is that yoga, at least when authentically practiced, employs a broad range of techniques far beyond the mere performance of yoga postures to achieve its goal of quieting the mind. Unfortunately, the bulk of yoga teacher training programs are overly focused on physical aspects of the practice because of the nexus created by two factors:
Market demand: as yoga has become primarily identified as a physical practice, teacher training programs must necessarily prepare their students to teach the more physically-oriented aspects of the practice—or perish.
Inadequate yoga education: as more and more teacher training programs focus on the physical, it leaves the average yoga teacher trainer unequipped to dive into the deeper and more powerful aspects of the practice like yogic psychology, scriptural study, and the application of yoga to some of the most pressing mental health issues of our time.
When you combine the two facts above, for better or worse, you are left with a yoga teacher training course that suffers from a myopic emphasis on yoga postures and sequencing—a mere sliver of the full expression of the practice.
My best recommendation for you to move forward is twofold:
Beware of inflated marketing speak – the market is rife with programs touting bloated claims; words like comprehensive, authentic, innovative, transformative, and the like are passed out like Skittles at your niece's birthday party. I recently had a conversation with a student who was on the receiving end of a promised “most comprehensive and innovative program in the world” (yes world). It was a program being taught by a staff who had been teaching less than a decade. Caveat emptor.
Consider what you “don’t know you don’t know” – Just because you’ve never heard the word “vasana” doesn’t mean it’s not important to your yoga education. And so it goes with an entire litany of topics. The truth is that in order to make the best decision about our yoga education, we first need to get educated about the education. The best way to do this is to shop around and ask hard questions like:
What is spiritual liberation?
How does standing around in funny shapes lead to enlightenment?
Describe the process that yoga uses to affect changes to neurological circuits?
How does yogic psychology differ from western psychology?
And on and on.
While the task can at times seem overwhelming, the investment one makes in sorting through the various educational opportunities can pay handsomely and for a lifetime.
Eric Walrabenstein is a best-selling author, ordained Yogacharya, and nationally-renowned educator in the fields of yoga and mind-body wellness. His work focuses on helping people to practically apply the lesser-known aspects of yoga and mindfulness to solve some of the most urgent and immediate problems of our time.
He is the founder of Yoga Pura, one of Arizona’s largest yoga wellness centers, the creator of the BOOTSTRAP Yoga System developed for the U.S. military, and the creator of the BrightLife Method, a first-of-its-kind program to help heal addictions of every kind. Eric's work has been widely featured in the media including on ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, Success magazine, Yoga Journal, and beyond.