So there has been some talk recently "out there" in the blogosphere about philosophy and concepts, especially as presented in yoga classes by teachers. (Specifically here and here (no. 2, religion) )
It's got me thinking, as I am both a philosophy major, and thus incredibly drawn to that which lies beyond asana, and a bikram teacher, who teaches a pretty secular yoga class that is heavy on asana, light on concepts. Though I'm a Bikram teacher and practitioner, I'm also a practitioner of Shambhala Buddhism-inspired mindfulness and meditation. So where do I fall in?
When it comes to yoga, I do not personally feel that teaching sanskrit concepts is an authentic representation of my being. Were I to teach the aspects of spirituality that I find most powerful, and, frankly, helpful (utilitarian), I would teach learning to stay via the secular study of meditation.
I feel that the concepts that lie behind both asana and this style of Buddhist meditation are powerful. Further study in these concepts has accompanied the deepening of my asana practice and my meditation study, it's true. However, I agree with Bikram that hours upon hours of physical study (asana, pranayama and meditation) is the best way to advance. The benefits that come of practice are the embodiment of everything the concepts strive to teach us.
For instance, yamas and niyamas which serve as a sort of ten commandments of yoga (thou shalt and thou shalt not), a batch of ethical guidelines... they are wonderful. I subscribe to them fully. However I don't think of them as a personal guidepost. The fact of the matter is that my path of practice has led to the general (and ongoing) purification of mind and body. It's just not possible to practice with regularity and maintain certain habits. For me. As I increase my mindfulness and awareness in my life I am naturally tending to gossip less, be more truthful, be more compassionate, harm less, commit more to that which I believe in, and become less attached to the physical things that surround me. All in degrees, of course. I have not mastered any of this.
Has that come because I think about and talk about the yamas and niyamas? No. It's come about because I practice, and I meditate, and I try to bring mindful awareness to my life (if only to realize that sometimes I'm completely not mindful). I'm not going to get further into the eight limbs of yoga nor the different meditation practices and concepts... I think one example suffices.
So this brings me to explore the case of what it would be like if I did have a platform at the beginning of class to talk about concepts, similar to an Anusara yoga class (which is another style of yoga which I love.) You would most likely find me talking about ways in which to handle that which comes up in the specific practice of asana and even more strongly in the in depth study of meditation. Self-acceptance and honoring of the body we are in right now would be my refrain - because learning to be nice to myself has opened up my ability to bear witness to the world around me from the point of view of the present moment. The only way I could stand the power of the present moment is to learn some sort of inner kindness.
You probably wouldn't find me talking about a sanskrit word, what it means, and how it applies... at least not at first. I have recently purchased a book called Nourishing the Teacher (which is co-written by a local teacher here in Vermont, Anjali Budreski of Yoga Mountain Center, Montpelier VT ). It's like the bible of Anusara-inspired lesson plans which are based in yoga concepts applied in real life. The book is quite amazing and I really like it. Should I start teaching a more concept-based style of yoga later, I will certainly be learning from and working with this text.
So I guess this brings me to my point. I feel I teach a philosophy-based yoga (whether in the studio or the workplace.) But rather than the concepts driving the theory, I try to let the practice of practicing drive my teaching and communication. How do you learn best?