Gert on yoga I
Yoga is not entertainment
Recently I received a video on Facebook with a series of yoga exercises. It was a presentation of the world champion of yoga. He was standing in the middle of a stage with behind him a huge American flag. His presentation lasted about 10 minutes. Initially, because of the impressive exercises, it seemed to be a nice video and it had received many ‘likes’, but I found it shocking. It was shocking to see how yoga had been turned into nationalistic entertainment. And also because this was an attempt to measure something that is immeasurable. If yoga is seen as a way to better understand life, what can you possible measure? Everybody does yoga for himself, from his own background. The purpose of yoga is not to get answers to intellectual questions, but to create a possibility to examine ourselves in relation to questions like: ‘ can we be free from tensions, fears and pain? This seems to me a serious question that should be dealt with seriously. This is not ‘entertainment’.
Unfortunately we don’t get a serious answer through schooling to questions like these, to be able to investigate ourselves. On the contrary, we are being schooled to become specialists: the best doctor, the best architect, the best businessman. In this video we saw the best yoga teacher. We maybe don’t actually realize what consequences this has for our mind. Our whole brain and our way of thinking is based on comparison: children are being compared to other children or family members at a very young age, in school we are being compared to each other through grades, and this principle of punishment and reward continues throughout our whole life. I earn more than you, a man is better than a woman, a world champion is better than the rest of the world.
We seem to forget that comparing inevitably leads to hurting and mental pain. This is the underlying cause of feeling hurt. And to feel hurt is the seed for frustration that can lead to fears and depression. I am saying this because I want to emphasize that our relationship of teacher and student isn’t based on comparison. Our relationship is based on research. Research in which I as a teacher admit to have tensions and in which I am aware that my students have them as well. We start from there. I am not above you, but I am on the same level as you and together we are trying to find the problematic areas in our bodies which can also be caused by psychological tensions. Not the kind of research in which we want to understand something theoretically or intellectually but in which we can reflect ourselves in the depth of words like tension, relaxation, fear, space… the whole range of terms that we discuss all the time. At that point a class is not an intellectual or theoretical event in which one knows more than the other, in which one can perform better than the other, it could actually be the start of a meditation.
I think it is my responsibility to teach in such a way that we are all capable to wipe out negative traces from our past during a class. Not only by doing exercises but by practicing with complete attention, to watch and listen from our complete intelligence: our brain, our hart and our body. To be able to do that I shouldn’t hold on to an image of myself, I shouldn’t want to imitate anyone and there shouldn’t be any hierarchy in which someone compares me to someone else or in which I want to compare myself with someone else.
Yoga has become very big in our Western culture in recent years. Western thinking is imitated in the whole world. It is a culture based on contradictions. I want to see to it that yoga doesn’t perish in this social and educational tradition. Therefore I think it is appropriate to discuss our teacher-student relation in this way, hoping that measuring and comparison will end and that we will be able to look at ourselves, our group and our social environment without reinforcing contradictions or creating new ones, but in a way that we feel connected to each other and that we act accordingly.
Gert van Leeuwen