Sunday, October 18, 2009

You're doing it WRONG!

"Right" and "wrong" are slippery ideas sometimes.  Some people will tell you very philosophically that they don't exist.  Those people will sound completely ridiculous to anyone who has ever studied math or science, where you are RIGHT if you say that 2 time 2 is 4 and WRONG if you say anything else.  On the other hand, if you study something like literature, art, or philosophy, things are more open to interpretation.

So where does yoga fall into this equation?

Aha!  Trick question!  "Yoga" is way too general.  It encompasses the entire way that you live your life.  And who's to say that there is a right or wrong way to spend your time on earth?  People have certainly tried... through law, through religion, through science... but let's not even go into that.

But what if we talk about just HATHA yoga?  Hatha yoga is just one of the eight limbs of yoga.  There are others like Karma yoga, which is your life's work, and Raja yoga, which is the study of meditation and contemplation.  Raja yoga and Hatha yoga get seriously blurred together in a lot of Western yoga classes, which I think leads to a lot of confusion.  It would save a whole lot of trouble if everyone could figure out which is which and not mix them up.  Hatha yoga is actually a distinct entity; the science of asana and pranayama, the physical practice that heals and strengthens your body to prepare you to embark on any other limb of your choosing.  (Bikram's yoga class is, of course, a purely hatha yoga class, which does a brilliant job of preparing you for the other forms.)

So can you do HATHA yoga wrong?  Abso-freaking-lutely!  Because it is result driven, in a way.  You need to practice the yoga in a way that results in a healtheir, stronger, and more flexible body and mind.  If you do this right, then eventually (according to theory) the body and mind come together so that you can "knock on the door to the spirit."  But if you don't do the postures the way they are perscribed, then they won't work, and you are wasting your time.

I was talking about this with my friend Tanya yesterday, while we drove down the 101 early in the morning to take Bikram's class in LA.  Tanya was telling me about a friend of hers who tried Bikram yoga class after doing a lot of other yoga classes.  This friend was totally offended when a teacher told her that she was doing a posture wrong and tried to correct her.  "But we do it this way in my OTHER yoga class!" she said.  "It can't be WRONG.  You can't do yoga WRONG."  Well... yeah, sweetie.  You can.  When you're in a class, you do need to follow the instructions, because they are all there for a reason.  If you do it wrong, you don't get any benefit.

We took Bikram's Saturday 10am, which was fun in a brutal and tortorous kind of way.  It was hot, though not as hot as the poor trainees had it in Vegas last week!  (Note to trainees: he is totally laughing at your suffering, though not in a mean way at all!)  But after that conversation, we both noticed that he does, pretty often, like to call out, "Hey Mr. Glasses!  You are doing 100% wrong!  What are you doing back there?"  "Wrong, wrong, wrong!"  It's so funny.  Because he's RIGHT.  And nothing gets someone's attention like telling them that they are doing a posture 100% wrong.  I've been on the receiving end of that before, and I can tell you, I have thought about that correction in every single class since that one, and used it every time!  Tanya got on the receiving end for not sitting down low enough in the second part of awkward, and it ended up making her day.  "Bikram himself called me a stubborn ass woman.  My day is a success."

I totally appreciate that he does this, because it's really sad when people spend years doing hatha yoga wrong and then wonder why it isn't working.  Then they think, "oh well, I guess yoga doesn't work for me."  No!!!!!!  Yoga works for everyone.  Just need to have the RIGHT information, and then everything becomes awesome.


bikramyogachick said...

I cannot WAIT to take YOUR class someday! Your passion for yoga is totally inspiring. Yeah, we are totally going to be dorks when we get together in, me and Mei, talking yoga. Good times!

thedancingj said...

Thanks! We WILL have a lot to talk about. I've been holding out on you this week a little bit, but sending message now... :)

Duffy Pratt said...

There are different aspects to yoga, but its all one. Iyengar insists that when you are doing an asana properly, you are working all the other aspects of yoga as well. Who am I to say that he's wrong about this? And in some respects, I can see how he is right.

Also, whether you think there's a clear right or wrong in math might have something to do with whether you are a Platonist or not. In some respects, it seems obvious that there must simply always be a right or wrong answer in math. But the deeper you go, the murkier it gets.

With asana, its clear that there are many, many wrong ways to do a pose. That part is obvious. What's less clear is whether there is any ideal form of the pose. This seems odd, since we are all shooting for some ideal version of each pose. But it may be that the ideal is unachievable. It might even be that the ideal doesn't exist.

Another thing that's clear to me is that there are many, many right ways to do a pose (but not necessarily many right ways for any one person at a given time). Thus, I might be doing Fixed Firm absolutely right, even though I'm only dropping back to my elbows. And other people might also be doing it right, even though they end up in entirely different positions.

So, many right way and many wrong ways. I think that's one of the things that makes being a good teacher so hard.

thedancingj said...

The common thread is that there is always a right way to TRY, right? If you're TRYING the right way, then your posture is right, always!

I agree with Iyengar, but I think you've gotta get really good before that part happens. I get tiny glimmers of it sometimes.

Big surprise here: I am basically a Platonist. :)

Duffy Pratt said...

Maybe so. But I'm not so sure. Have you ever had a day when you pretty much say "fuck it", and start to just go through the motions? And then, all of a sudden, you find that you are deeper into some poses than you have ever been. On those days, the right way to try is to give up, to let go? I've had other days where I've been totally determined, and I've had that work for me as well. So, even on there being a single right way to try, I'm not so sure.

You said you are a Platonist, so I can just hear you thinkingL "But there must be something they all have in common!" And maybe there is, but I don't see it (short of some nice sounding platitdue).

hannahjustbreathe said...

I'm so excited I can't think. :) Is that wrong???

Dorothy said...

I had a long conversation with a friend of mine who's a teacher of Kundalini about physical vs. mental/spiritual aspects of yoga not too ling ago and we agreed that doing postures in conflict with whatever discipline(s) you practice is pointless as yoga is essentially an act of attempted enlightenment. If you're unwilling to do a posture in a proscribed way, you're closing yourself to the total experience.

Incidentally, I wrote a post about my standing bow the other day. If you would take a look at the post and give me your thoughts, I'd really appreciate it. Hannah left a suggestion, but if you have something to add, I'd love to hear it! Thanks!!

thedancingj said...

Dorothy - done and done! :)

The Missus said...


And it would totally make my day if ANY teacher told me a I was a "stubborn ass woman!" Bikram teachers are awesome like that.

Dorothy said...

Thanks for all the great info/advice!! ^___^