Dear Yogi E,
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.
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 a mere 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.
In the parlance of western science, the rich and varied cognitive (mind-oriented) aspects of the tradition have been left behind in favor of its somatic (body-oriented) elements.
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 a six-year-old'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 collection of yoga teachers 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.
Most importantly on this front, don't settle for smoke-and-mirrors answers. Insist on rigorously logical answers on every topic.
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.
In 2012, after over 20 years of teaching, Eric was bestowed the rare title of Yogacharya (Preceptor of Yoga) making him one of only a few ordained Yogacharyas in the nation.
During his career, Eric has trained over 1,000 yoga and meditation teachers all across the country; teachers who are right now successfully teaching classes, operating yoga studios, leading their own yoga teacher training programs, and of course, living happier and more fulfilled lives.
In addition to his work at Yoga Pura, Eric has helped thousands of our troops and veterans heal from post-traumatic stress with his BOOTSTRAP yoga stress-management program and is now working to combat the addiction crisis with a new yoga-based approach to recovery.
Eric’s work has been widely featured in the media including on ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, SUCCESS Magazine, and Yoga Journal.