Your approach to yoga may have been wrong all along – here’s why

The point of stillness in your own posture is the goal, not what the posture looks like in the mirror. Source: Maria Lourdes Chan

The popularity of yoga is experiencing a boom, just 40 years or so since it was introduced commercially to the Western world.

But modern-day yoga and how it’s run is slightly off-track.

Today’s yoga model is a business. Yoga is, by and large, sold as a fitness regime, with studios running on a gym or club model – that is, on a “membership” scheme.

You buy class packages, and are encouraged to look at facilities as part of your decision-making process on where you practice.

The truth of yoga is that it is an education that doesn’t just make better bodies, it makes the practitioner better at dealing with life.

But because the “gym model” is so prevalent in yoga, students are approaching the practice in a skewed way and it’s time for the dynamic to change.

Here are 5 tips on how to create a mind-shift that will affect the way you view yoga, and how you practice.

Don’t let your GuavaPass determine where you practice.

Choose your studio based on who’s teaching, not on how much a class costs.

Look first and foremost at the quality of the teachers and programme, just like you would a university.

The questions to ask are: Who are the teachers? Who did they study with, and what lineage does the yoga they teach come from?

If you’re new, just finding a style you enjoy is the goal, and that’s where cheap classes, trial sessions and GuavaPasses come in handy.

But as someone moving into more regular practice, ask who, ultimately, you would be learning from.

Yes, how much you can afford will be a consideration, and that’s fine. But the idea here is, don’t chase the price tag – make quality the priority.

Don’t relate to your yoga teachers like they’re a gym trainer.

Many students – whether they know it or not – relate to their teacher as they would their gym trainer. It’s not their fault, it’s again because yoga is perceived as “fitness”.

Yoga, traditionally, is not “gym training” or simply “exercise”. Yoga, beyond the physical, is a meditation technique. Meditation is defined as “concentration”.

Each posture or pose allows you to focus very deeply on the part of the body you’re working. You also are given the opportunity to look at how you are approaching the pose, and how you relate to your body.

Over time, the effect is that you know your own mind.

So, relate to your teacher as a sinsei, one who can Show You The Way. Your teacher is not just a physical trainer. They are someone who is helping you open the door to deeper self-realisation.

Select one yoga to practice.

There’s a “buffet” approach to yoga, thanks to yoga centres “diversifying”.  In order to appeal to the masses, many commercial centres will offer everything from Hatha to Yin.

The result is confusion.

One moment, you’re doing Vinyasa. The next, you’re checked into a Bikram class. The following week, you’re signing yourself up for an Ashtanga session.

This approach leads to a focus on what “entertains” you, and distracts you from actually learning.

So, pick one discipline to follow.

If you love Ashtanga, find out who the foremost authority is in your area, and learn from the teachers there. If you’re into Iyengar, go to the centre in your country.

Be a seeker. Get as close to the original source of the yoga as you can, and absorb.

The point is not the posture.

Often, questions arise when a posture is taught in class.

Questions like “how do I do Crow?” and “how do I improve my hand stand?” show a curious mind that is interested in progress.

But the definition of yoga “asana”, which means “posture”, is actually: “Posture holding still, breathing always normal”.

When one holds posture in perfect stillness with ease of breath, is where yoga actually happens.

Yoga champions have a say that it’s not about getting into the posture, it’s about what you do there.

The point of stillness in your own posture – whatever it may be at this moment – is the goal, not what the posture looks like in the mirror.

 Understand that yoga is actually therapy.

In the system of Ayurveda, which yoga comes from, postures were used to help with diseases and chronic health issues, from heart issues and hypertension to diabetes. Traditionally, specific postures were “prescribed” by Ayurvedic doctors to individuals, based on the health needs of each person.

How does this relate to you?

Save this information for when you need it. If you’re young and in reasonable health, know that yoga is an option for you when you’re old and infirm.

Yoga, when you’re 80 and can no longer run, will be waiting patiently for you to discover it, and for your journey to begin.

Jill Alphonso is a writer and has been a yoga practitioner of 15 years. She has taught Bikram yoga since 2013, and has participated in the International Yoga Asana Championships.