You just taught an amazing class themed around hip mobility. You kept sun salutations to a minimum, breaking them up with smaller, more isolated movements. You brought new life to the usual passive stretches, introducing students to hip CARs, “active” pigeon and 90/90 before integrating that work into standing postures with an emphasis on control through different ranges of motion. The practice finished with some gentle breathwork and relaxation.
Students appeared to love it. They worked hard without having to bend themselves into pretzels. The practice helped them find a deep awareness through movement, connecting them to a sense of purposeful presence as they learned more about their individual capacities. Several people thanked you after class and said they look forward to the next time they get to practice with you.
After class, you’re walking past the changeroom door when you overhear the comment:
“That felt good, but it wasn’t yoga.”
Immediately, your chest gets tight. Your post-class confidence evaporates. You think back on everything you taught, reviewing the class to identify where it all went wrong. In the span of ten seconds, you’ve gone from feeling like a leading-edge instructor to questioning everything you know.
Welcome to the “but is it yoga?” shame spiral.
I know it well. Hell, I lived in this spiral for the better part of two years when students, along with my peers, looked down on what I was doing and implied that my approach to the yoga practice didn’t count anymore.
When I got tired of students walking into my class expecting a vinyasa-style practice and showing clear disappointment when that’s not what they received, I begged the studio to change the name of my class. I not only wanted more flexibility to teach what I wanted to teach, but I also saw how important it was to manage client expectations. As soon as the name of my public classes became “Move Well”, I felt the sense of obligation I’d been carrying for who knows how long instantly give way to relief.
At workshops, I announce to groups that I’m not there to teach them yoga—I’m there to provide them with information and tools to add to their yoga practice and classes, hopefully helping them create a more sustainable approach to movement in general.
And that’s when the questions come up again…
If I teach this stuff in my classes, can I still call it yoga?
Every time this happens, I’m reminded that this is murky territory.
For every person in my class who thinks what I teach isn’t yoga, someone else in that same class tells me it’s “the most ‘yoga’ experience they’ve ever had.” These different responses reinforce just how difficult it is to define yoga. It’s impossible to silo someone else’s personal experiences, views and values while also respecting a rich tradition that isn’t mine to define.
Recently, amidst the pandemic we’re all living through, I’ve begun to see the question “but is it yoga?” through a different lens.
A lens that doesn’t care so much about labels. One that is less afraid of disappointing people and more focused on helping people. A lens that reminds us all of where our priorities lie right now.
Hundreds of yoga and movement teachers have bought their work online in the past few days, offering classes to those stuck at home. From what I can tell, students are happy just to have the opportunity to move and connect with others, even if it’s through a screen. The classes are shorter. There’s barely any chance for individual attention. Students might be practicing in their living rooms while their kids are watching Disney or doing a puzzle. Suddenly, we’ve gone from having expectations about what our movement practices are supposed to look and feel like to being grateful for whatever we can get.
Because what we’re getting is a way to stay united (and really, isn’t that what yoga is about?).
Whether it’s weeks from now, or months from now, there will come a time when we’re back in our studios again. When that time comes, I hope we’ll have the renewed capacity to look at a question like “How is this yoga?” with more genuine inquiry as opposed to judgmental skepticism.
We’ve had more practice with that in other aspects of our lives, teaching one another to embrace diverse expressions of gender, sexual orientation, religiosity and spirituality. How can we do the same within the yoga community while being mindful of the roots of this evolving practice?
My classes have been called “Move Well” for a few years now, but I no longer feel the need to use a generic title just to keep others from being confused or disappointed.
Yoga Detour™ is a far more accurate reflection of where my passion lies – a practice where the underpinnings are still undoubtedly yoga, while the ways in which we move together are informed by countless alternate paths.
If teaching a class like that seems to be the right next step on your journey, check out Detour Method Online. This course will put you on a totally new trajectory, uncovering new depths in your teaching practice that lie beyond what’s expected or conventional.
Now is the time for deep work and reflection.
Imagine how it will feel to emerge on the other side – the other side of this course, and the other side of this pandemic – feeling more prepared than ever before to generate positive change.
If finances are what hold you back from being able to take the plunge, get in touch. No one will be turned away at this time.
Yours in discovery,
ps. When you join the next cohort of DMO, know that there is a huge crew of alumni waiting to greet you after graduation. They’ve been where you are now and can’t wait to have you join the ranks.
Published March 19, 2020