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  • Tracey L. Kelley

Real yoga: the individual's pursuit

Updated: Apr 27, 2020


I often joke with new students that I'm too lazy to memorize Sanskrit, or the language of yoga. This really isn't far from the truth. After achieving 500-hour certification, I stated quite simply that "I now know how much I don't know."

While I continue to learn aspects of classical yoga philosophy, study modern applications of chakras, and yes, sometimes properly say Utthita Trikonasana when referencing Extended Triangle Pose, I generally try to be more in tune with what each student wants from practice.

What I continue to notice is not everyone wants a lot of chanting before or after class. Not all people find Sanskrit references accessible as they're trying to learn postures. Some people shy away from what they call the more esoteric aspects of a yoga practice and just want to move and breathe and clear their minds.

Conversely, other people are fascinated with the history of yoga. Some students want to delve deep into the mayakoshas, and others believe the potential spiritual elements of yoga are exactly what they need in the moment. In the yoga industry, there's often quite a bit of hubbub surrounding "real" or "true" yoga. Theories abound, as the well of yoga is fathoms deep. Fortunately, there are enough teachers who can provide ample exposure to all aspects of yoga, so each individual should be able to fulfill any thirst for knowledge.

I think it's interesting to have conversations with students on all levels, and allow for space in between. First and foremost, I'm a journeyman, just as my students are. Yes, I've invested in additional training and purposefully choose continued self-study, and this allows for a certain point of guiding reference. Nevertheless, I'm encouraged we can all practice together, each with our individual pursuits, and share our curiosity, knowledge, and interests with one another.

What continually fascinates me about yoga is that if I simply show up, many things are revealed, and that's probably the strongest philosophy I communicate to students. Far be it for me as a teacher to place an absolute pronouncement on how a student's practice should be. Is one individual's practice "less than" simply because it doesn't include certain tenants of the ancient yogis that another individual finds fascinating? Can I quantify with certainty that a practice isn't effective unless it includes passages read aloud from The Upanishads? If someone achieves a sense of bliss after moving and breathing for 55 minutes, without any additional perspective but the one he or she makes space for, and this experience changes an entire perception of life in that moment... ...well, isn't that the real point? I frequently ask students what else about yoga lifestyle they might be interested in, additional resources I can provide, and if I can point out a few key aspects that may be beneficial. A teacher, yes, but also a happy yoga tour guide, one might say. What I hope is that we can be less judgemental about what is "real" yoga might be and simply invest more interest in an individual's ability to consistently discover what's inherently meaningful. (Although I still frown on doing yoga with weights. Do yoga. Lift weights. Just not at the same time!)

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