Everything is subjective. Yoga is highly subjective. Words are subjective. Even left and right is subjective. I know that ‘traditionally’ left is, well, on the left and right is on the other side.
But if you stand in front of a mirror, then magic happens. What was left is now right. So it’s wrong, because it is right. See? Subjective.
When I started teaching, I wrote ‘L’ on my right foot and ‘R’ on my left foot, so I could keep my instructions clear, because that is important. Clarity. You don’t want to spend time faffing with which leg and have everyone stare at you unsure what to do.
So I peek at my markings on my feet and guide the class seamlessly; eternally grateful that we aren’t millipedes.
“Shift the weight onto your left leg (my right). Plant your right foot (my left) onto your left (my right) thigh and be steady.”
Simple. But is that all I should be saying? Is clarity the main goal?
Creating the BIG YOGA
One of the tenets in yoga is non-attachment and non-identification. The Vedantic view, which is one of the philosophical schools of thought from which modern yoga has its roots, says that we are all Atman (true self) and Brahman (universal consciousness). It goes on to say, we need to remove the veils of illusion (Maya) to see to our Atman, our true self. We do this through yoga. Yoga with a capital Y. The BIG Yoga, which includes breathing, meditation, cleansing techniques, ethical and moral codes of conduct, etc, not just the physical postures.
The ‘problem’ lies in who we think we are. We associate our true identity with our thoughts/mind, our bodies, and our life. We give ourselves labels, ‘mother’, ‘wife’, ‘yogi’, ‘great driver’, but these are not our true identity.
How can I weave this concept into my 60-min power yoga class at my local gym?
“Come into a downward-facing dog and ask the question ‘who am I?’ Breathe. Hold until you’ve found your true identity.”
Be like the Queen
I began to substitute words such as ‘my/me/mine/yours/you’, in the hope of creating distance from identifying ourselves with our bodies. At first, I thought this might just be semantics, but then I thought of the Queen. She uses ‘the royal we’.
“We are not amused”.
“We honour our guests at the Royal Ball” as opposed to “Phillip, I’m wearing that little black number you like”. It separates the woman from the role.
Popes use this too, anyone in high office in fact. There might be something in it.
“Shift the weight onto the left leg. Plant the right foot onto the left thigh. Balance. Steady the mind…
We are amused with your effort.”
If I don’t associate my true self as being my body, then I can contemplate what is left.
A process of elimination: I am not my body. I am not my mind. I am not this, not that… What is left must be what I am. Substituting ‘my/me/mine etc might be the first rung of this ladder of true self-discovery.
Ladies and Gentlemen and all others too
Feeling pleased with myself at having made baby steps towards offering a more authentic Yoga, I began to pay more attention to what else I say in class.
‘Morning ladies, thank you for hauling your carcasses out of bed on this dank, miserable morning and joining me on the mat. Let’s see if we can put a little zing back into your bones’.
Technically speaking bones are made of collagen and calcium and not an ounce of zing is found, but we all know what I mean. Carcass refers to the dead body of an animal, but slang does accept it as a human body – dead or alive. If I want my students not to identify with their bodies then this is genius if you ask me.
But the word ‘ladies’ sticks out like a teetering headstand. This word has connotations and ramifications that I hadn’t considered until a non-binary friend pointed it out to me. Everyone in the room appeared female to me, but it doesn’t mean that everyone aligns with the female gender.
The solution is relatively simple. Change the greeting.
“Good morning people”. Too weird.
“Good morning Peeps”. Too Harry Enfield.
“Good morning Yogis”. Is Yogi gender neutral?
“Good morning.” Really? It’s dank, cold and miserable.
The neutrality of anatomy
‘Externally rotate the femur, adduct the leg, plantarflex the foot and place onto the gastrocnemius’
This kills 2 birds with one stone. It clinical enough for it to create distance, it is precise and gender-neutral. Boom.
This flurry of anatomical lexicon left the class gawping, though not really moving. They are either dumbstruck at having such a knowledgeable teacher or wondering how this sentence is possible from someone who doesn’t know their left from right. I opt to think it is the former.
The precision of anatomy
‘This deep twist of the torso massages the liver allowing it to remove toxins’.
Everyone inches a little deeper into the pose, except for the GP in the room who shoots me a quizzical look. Upon further analysis, it turns out that this is a little dollop of hogs wash. The liver’s job is to remove and process toxins, even without a little rub down from the torso. What does massaging the liver even mean? I am not ‘allowing’ the liver to do anything, it does its job whether I twist myself into a pretzel or guzzle a gallon of Chianti.
‘Come into a headstand, this helps the blood flow to the brain and nourishes it with more oxygen’.
I see the GP cut her eyes at, I can only presume, a brain surgeon in the room who pipes up ‘Blood to the brain is called a brain haemorrhage. Not ideal in a headstand’
‘Or at other times’ chirps in the GP.
It does sound super cool though and a perfectly valid reason why one would choose to balance on one’s head. Plus, I have to admit, I like these notions. I like this image of my twisted, scrunched up liver pinging back into its original shape all light, pink, fluffy and poison-free. It does make me twist that bit further to get the last drop of red wine out of my system. (read my article about New Year’s Resolutions and you’ll know where I am coming from)
It’s subjective, so I am right
It is all a fine balancing act between being facetious and talking nonsense, being creative and dogmatic, being accessible and respectful and the list goes on. Sometimes you hit the right note and other times less so, but I feel as long as you have an open mind and heart (not in a literal sense obviously, that would cause death) you can’t go too wrong. Can you?
Just like left and right can be subjective, so can what you say in a yoga class, it just depends where you are standing.