I was tempted to write this article that resumes on how Truthfulness (satya) can support Yoga after reading the debate on ‘How Yoga can Wreck Your Body’, an article that was published in NY times Magazine; 5 pages talking about how dangerous yoga can be that makes the whole thing quite scary…well, this article caused a fire of responses on the web by different blogs and yoga related sites. I select Leslie Kaminoff’s response mainly because I consider him a very knowledgeable teacher and he has gained my total respect.
I find these debates useful because they prompt us reconsider and revise our Yoga practice, why we are doing it and what we are aiming for whether we are students or teachers. At the same time, I am a little bit concerned and sceptical about exposing ideas in public or getting involved in debates; it is very easy to get lost into ideas, examples, words and to lose the essence and the point that touches us and our practice.
Reaching the subject of truthfulness, let me tell you how concerned I am sometimes when I realise that in our Western culture we overly praise something and then condemn it because of extended and possibly wrong use of it. Yoga IS a physical activity that carries a certain degree of risk, however it doesn’t promise a merely muscular fit body and quick fixes. The Indians weren’t concerned about that and it just isn’t right to completely distort the essence of what yoga can offer. It CAN offer a muscular body if appropriate but it is not only that. It carries lots of useful eastern teachings, it is a philosophy itself, it walks hand in hand with other philosophies. And the teachings talk about ego, truthfulness, simplicity, humility, focus, devotion, self investigation…Values that first of all differentiate yoga to any other physical exercise and second gives one the ability to discriminate practices, methods and eventually teachers. There is an impression that in the West no one cares about the values and the dollar is the only motivator which looks out for a product orientated industry. The teachings and values doesn’t make yoga a product…not at all…but unfortunately this is how things work in our society including yoga… we get too enthusiastic and very easily bored. And after of a decade of praising yoga and it’s benefits, of playing up with postures, techniques even chants (!), now it’s time to shout out loud how dangerous it can be because of the way it’s been used.
I don’t like catastrophic scenarios, Yoga is evolving and there good teachers in the East and the West. It is important for me to have something to come back to when debates and different opinions come to light. And in this case I’d like to refer to one of the Yamas of the 8 limbs of Astanga Yoga – Satya – Truthfulness
‘satyapratishtayam kriyaphalasrayatvam’ Y.S/2.36
‘One who shows a high degree of right communication will not fail in his actions’ – T.K.V. Desikashar
Satya encourages us to be truthful in words, thoughts and actions. It always comes hand in hand with Ahimsa (non violence)…so our truth shouldn’t cause any harm to ourselves or others and we should use our judgement to discriminate this (well, this is another big long story…). When we are practising yoga we become more self aware regarding our perceptions and beliefs. This will ultimately bring more awareness to our words (thoughts or actions) and their clarity will shine forth; it will bring out the best in other people, it will connect in harmony.
From the Yoga teacher’s point of view, contemplating satya means that we build strong and clear relationship with the student, always baring in mind the principles of ahimsa. We give the student the time and space to create a relationship with the posture, help him to assess himself properly and reassure his safety. Otherwise when we leave an enthusiastic individual to do endless repetitions without teaching him how to listen to his body then obviously there is a risk in potential harm. All these are examples of serious obstacles in yoga, consequently there is no positive progression.
As a general rule, for students and teachers alike, I believe and been taught that Yoga needs time. The less we do the more we get with time and patience, without rushing through to challenging postures and techniques. We learn to listen to ourselves and our bodies; When we are truthful the ego subsides and the Yoga practice is leading us to the inherent capacity of self healing; a great support in life.
Always enjoy your practice with patience and love to oneself!! 🙂