This morning I started at a new studio in town. It’s a small, growing studio that I’m excited to be a part of. I arrived early to prepare and zen a bit before class as I waited for new friends to arrive. When no one showed, I decided to roll out my mat and begin my own practice. And by my own practice, I mean I turned on my favorite hip-hop playlist super loud and danced all over the studio until I found myself blissed out on my zafu.
During a recent interview for a blog, I expressed that I value asana far more from the standpoint of a dancer than I do as a yogi. For me, asana practice is all about moving freely in your body, cultivating embodied intuition and fluid creative expression. And this is why the style and lineage of asana I prefer to teach and practice is vinyasa flow. It is not because it’s trendy. It’s not because it’s vigorous or a work-out. For me, if the practice isn’t alive with prana, movement and freedom, I’d rather just sit on my mat and breathe.
I’ve found it interesting that there seems to be a trend emerging of vinyasa teachers distinguishing themselves as “alignment-based.” Almost as a means to set themselves apart as legitimate yoga teachers serving “quality” asana among the sea of other vinyasa teachers who… don’t care about alignment or the safety of their students? Whenever a teacher introduces themselves as an “alignment-based vinyasa teacher,” I want to respond, “Oh, that’s cool. I just teach normal hot mess vinyasa.”
I understand that without a solid foundation in alignment principles, I wouldn’t feel nearly as free to move intuitively. It’s healthy to know our options. But there is something to be said for encouraging the student to discover their own personal alignment and move in ways that feels good for them.
I have studied with numerous master teachers whom I deeply respect. I’ve learned a lot from them, tried on their perspectives and experienced how they felt for me. But I would still say that I’ve abandoned most of what they’ve taught me in favor of ways that work for me. Nobody can teach you how to move with ease. You just need to get on with it and work it out on your mat. I am not afraid to say that as a teacher I would rather my students follow their bliss than follow my instruction. I’d rather them move creatively and find new avenues to emerging within a pose than staying within the bounds of an arbitrary alignment cue.
Perhaps others will criticize that my approach is too hands-off, but I guess the way I distinguish myself as a yoga teacher is as someone who will always encourage my students to take risks, experiment, and play. Who will always encourage my students to expand the creative vision for their potential and never move from a place of limitation. And most importantly, someone who never encourages my students to align their practice or their lives a certain way because “it’s always been done that way” or “that’s the rule” or “someone else said so.”
I hope my students break the damn rules. I hope they show up fully for the practice, find an increased sense of agency and make choices. I hope my classes are a safe space for students to explore their own personal alignment, honor all of their feelings, thoughts, and experience and move creatively in ways that inspire and fulfill them. And I hope that space encourages them to take the same approach in their daily lives: taking risks, playing more, and living outside the bounds of what other people think or say.
The truth is that all of us yoga teachers have found sanctuaries in different corners of this large beautiful yoga world. And that’s how we make yoga accessible to everyone. We are all coming from different points of departure. We all have something different we emphasize. We all want to share how yoga saved us. But in my relentless explorations in healing since my cancer journey, the only thing I have really learned is that what will save one, will not serve another.
And this is what heals me. This is how yoga inspires me. This is what I have to share. And if that makes me illegitimate, so be it.