When your teacher looks at you, do they really see you or are they trying to figure out how they can apply their dogma to you?
This is important.
There is nothing wrong with devotion to a teacher or style of yoga. Total immersion is a great way to learn any skill. The problem happens when we loose the ability to see things for what they are. Two of the mental modifications that yogis are seeking to get rid of, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is misconception and verbal delusion. Both point to not being able to see things as they really are. It is one thing to knowingly buy cubic zirconias because they are beautiful and another to buy them because you think they are diamonds. Seeing the cubic zirconias as diamonds is misconception. The problem is not wearing them or loving them. The problem is not seeing them for what they are.
Be careful of dogma in the form of science. I had one of my biggest yoga setbacks ever when I took the advice of a popular anatomy Guru. I will not name this person. I will just say that this person is one of the number one quoted anatomy Gurus on the web and in yoga studios. It is rare for me to have a conversation with the anatomy lovers in the yoga world without this person’s name coming up. He is revered.
My setback was not the Guru’s fault. Honestly, I still see this person as a knowledgeable member of the yoga world. I did not use discernment. I had a yoga teacher friend, who actually knew my practice, tell me the exact opposite. I chose the anatomy Guru over him. I built him up in my mind (verbal delusion) and believed that since he knew anatomy that his words must be better. However, hind sight 20/20,he was seeing me through his dogma. There I was, this Ashtangi, doing what many anatomy gurus see as unnecessary contortionism. I certainly must have needed a lesson in softening. After about a 10 minute conversation, this was the verdict. It was given with anatomical words, that from a text book stand point, can’t be refuted. However, they didn’t fit my injury. Worst advice I could have gotten.
I see this as a new danger in the yoga community. People see Ashtanga as being dogmatic. We have a Guru and a set sequence. I get that. I will not go into that here. However, they don’t realize that the advice coming from their favorite anatomy teacher may be dogmatic because the scientific words sound awesome. You finally have someone explaining to you why your hips are the way they are. You have someone giving you permission to listen to your body and they are giving you scientific reasons for it. I understand the allure. However, we still have to use discernment.
Here is another question. Does this person know you, your body and your practice? Sometimes, this can be more important than their use of anatomy. If they know you and your practice, their ability to diagnose you accurately is higher. This person did not know me, my body or my practice. They diagnosed me in 10 minutes under an assumption.
The point of this article is use discernment when taking advice from any yoga teacher. Don’t let the use of big words and anatomical words be your reason for seeing them as an expert. Know weather you are looking at at a cubic zirconia or a diamond.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.