Yoga is changing. There’s no doubt about that. Of course it has always changed to suit the times and the culture that it exists in but the change now is more dramatic.
I had already sensed this in the yogis that I knew; I kept coming into contact with more and more respected teachers who seemed to share a similar way of thinking. It wasn’t until October 2015 though that I realised how significantly it had changed.
I had been asked if I would like to run a teacher training course, something that I had up until then been very much opposed to. There are more yoga teachers in the world than we will ever need and I know very few people that actually make a healthy living out of yoga, so selling it as a ‘new lifestyle’ was not for me. The freedom to deliver my own teacher training, in the particularly anarchic style that I’m know for was certainly appealing, but the most significant incentive for me to actually start this immersion had been one of my most popular workshops ‘How to Develop a Home Practice’. I noticed that it was always full and with good reason. People expressed that even if they had been attending classes for a long time, they just weren’t sure what to do on their own, without someone leading them. They were ‘afraid’ to do the wrong thing, to get ‘yoga’ wrong. I found this truly sad and it left me worrying about the state yoga was in. Were we disempowering yogis rather than liberating them? Shouldn’t the point of classes be to encourage yoga as a part of life so that eventually they wouldn’t need to attend class anymore?
So I decided that I’d at least put the feelers out and gauge from the response whether to continue. So I posted a simple Facebook message, not an advert, not boosted, and as far as teacher training courses go it must have been the most negative advert ever.
I cautioned that trainees were unlikely to make a healthy living if any at all as a yoga teacher and pointed out that a piece of paper certainly wouldn’t make them a ‘teacher’ anyway except in the eyes of officialdom. I also encouraged that any motivation to attend should be for their own self-growth and indeed that an intention to be a yoga teacher was probably a very poor one indeed to start with. I waited about thirty seconds and the likes started rolling in, then the comments, then the messages and by the end of the next day I had over sixty firm enquiries from around the country. By January I had all but sold out, I added two more places and they were filled just as quickly.
So why were people so interested in this course? A course that effectively promised to teach them nothing but to give them a glimpse of everything.
I certainly wasn’t interested in making a ton of money, I had already invited 5 guest teachers to contribute and was looking at many difficult months ahead of me, putting together a course that effectively encouraged those attending to understand themselves, their asana, their pranayama, all from their own point of view, not from mine or someone else’s.
I had no desire to teach endless asanas with suggested variations and adjustments for them to remember, nor to teach fixed techniques for meditation, mantras and mudras. I certainly didn’t want to throw out all of the yoga teachings that we already have in such great abundance, those would be delivered in a separate manual so that they had all of the traditional teachings to draw upon as well. Yet at the same time I didn’t want to just regurgitate all of this second-hand information as if it were fact and then encourage these fresh new minds to go forth and redistribute it yet again to an exponential number of people in their classes. As advanced as we are in the modern world, with both a wealth of ancient wisdom and cutting edge scientific information to draw upon, we forget to think for ourselves. Many of us are more inclined than ever to take what we hear, read and see as fact, without investigating it, questioning its validity or checking to see if there is a maybe a better way; a more logical explanation or something that is simply more suited and resonates more deeply with us.
I discovered quite quickly that it is very difficult to write a teacher training manual with no particular ‘style’ – not Vinyasa Flow, Ashtanga, Yin or any other sub-division of yoga that we see today. It is very difficult to teach the anatomy of poses without specifically indicating the joints and muscles that we might want to position, engage or relax. To teach meditation with the most minimal of guidance so as not to encourage others to follow your own methods and to incorporate mantras, mudras and the significance of Om when you yourself don’t practice them because you think they are superfluous.
But of course that was the entire purpose of the ‘course’, which from the very start I had called an immersion, because that’s what I hoped it would be. I wasn’t hoping to teach them anything more than to understand yoga for themselves and then hopefully encourage others to understand yoga for themselves. So I set out to explain how to feel an asana for yourself, to see how it fits your body and the bodies of others and encourage others to find their own form; to understand the logical process of meditation, to realise that it isn’t ‘spiritual, mumbo jumbo or religious’ though it can be all of these; to see the relevance of mantras, mudras and om and why we have them as tools but to realise that they, as with all of yoga are a product of somebody else’s understanding that has been passed down through countless hands and mouths. Whilst we certainly do not need to reject anything, the techniques that we might arrive at through self-exploration can be just as valid and potentially more effective to us, as they are far more personal.
More than anything I wanted to free the participant from fear. The fear of exploring their practise, the fear of letting go of teachings that didn’t resonate with them, the fear of teaching in a manner that isn’t necessarily out of a textbook, written by some other ‘authority’ on yoga.
That was when I realised that there is a growing mind shift, a very noticeable ‘awakening’ amongst yogis today. Everyone that joined the course, almost without exception, noted that they had enrolled because they knew that this was exactly how I taught, or to be more correct, this was exactly how I didn’t teach and they knew that they didn’t want to teach in that way as well.
So ‘Yoga Like Water’ -formless, shapeless, boundless yoga- inspired by Bruce Lee’s similar approach to the martial arts was conceived. I hope that it delivers what it promises-nothing at all-and that more and more people will start to wake up to their own yoga practice rather than taking on someone else’s version for themselves.