Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Share, don't teach.

I have been struggling with this post, and how to effectively share what my month in Rishikesh was like. Intense, challenging, overwhelming, amazing are some adjectives, but I think the experience was even more profound than I can yet realize, and with time, the lessons learned will reveal themselves. But for now, prepare yourself for some first-class rambling!

Of course there’s the practical knowledge I learned: anatomy, physiology, Ayurveda, yogic philosophy, the details of the poses, and how the body moves within them. All of our teachers were incredibly knowledgeable and clearly cared deeply about what they do, and once we grew accustomed to the Indian accents and new Sanskrit terms, (and once I got over my souvenir Delhi Belly from Delhi...) things got easier to follow.

And then there’s the funny anecdotes, about how we struggled to wake up for our 5:30 am class, or how monkeys would sometimes sneak into the classroom and try to steal our notebooks, or how, some days, we really had to coerce our bodies into doing all three of our 1.5 hour classes of yoga, or how, tired of eating sattvic Indian food day in, day out for weeks, we broke the rules (“no outdoor food”) and went for pizza.

Then there’s the deeper lessons you don’t even realize you’re learning, like how hard you can push yourself and learn to do so much more than you ever thought, or how profoundly humbling a teacher’s passion for their subject can be, or how to be courageous and believe in yourself with all of your heart.

Through all of this, it always felt strange that we would all be going home to our western countries, where all of this ancient knowledge isn’t ingrained, and where we’ve appropriated a few tiny pieces of this bigger thing called Yoga, and have lost the connection with where it originated.

Before I get too esoteric, let me back up a bit and talk about the differences between Yoga in India, and yoga in the west. Indian Yoga is a life path, it isn’t something that you do for an hour, once a week, it’s something that you live, completely and whole-heartedly. The yoga we’re familiar with, the stretching and the bending, is really just one tiny component, more accurately called Asanas, which means postures or poses. But in India, there is so much beyond the poses, and the poses are a means to an end, not the end in and of itself.

There are many different paths of Yoga in India. For instance, Karma Yoga is the path of action, or doing good things; Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion; Raja Yoga is the 8-fold path (and includes asanas); and Djana Yoga is the path of wisdom and knowledge. And even within Raja Yoga where the asanas are a stage to master, it’s more about how to master your seated posture to better facilitate meditation.

Yoga in India is not about toning or slimming, or even about lowering your blood pressure. These things may happen too, but it doesn’t matter. It’s about mastering your body, and through subsequent stages of controlling the breath and meditation, you get closer to knowing yourself. The word Yoga comes from the root “yuj” which means to join, and depending on your interpretation means various things, like uniting with yourself, uniting with the universe, or uniting with the great cosmic power, and so on. There’s a lot of room for interpretation, and things very quickly get very heavy. So how can we relate this to western realities where it’s not practical to spend our days trying to achieve enlightenment? (Pencil in some ‘Enlightenment time with the Cosmic Power’ before my 3:30, ok?)

The way we’ve appropriated yoga and removed it from the larger sphere doesn’t make it invalid, and all of the various spin-offs from yoga (hot yoga, flying yoga, etc), all have their benefits. But perhaps we should work more with the goal of getting to know ourselves, and going inwards, and focusing less on the external things like trying to burn off our muffin tops. Because really, we’re all beautiful, muffin tops and all, and the Universe really doesn’t care about that stuff anyway.

So, all of that said, I’m looking forward to coming home and sharing what I’ve learned (Surinder always said “share, don’t teach” and I really like that), though I can’t promise you’ll achieve enlightenment, you may get to know yourself a bit better, or at the very least, you’ll get to stretch and bend.


An international crowd! (Germany, Slovakia, Italy, Israel, USA, Russia,
Ukraine, France, Spain, Singapore, Finland, Peru, Greece, Uruguay)

I learned how to stand on my head!

The evening drop-in class that Surinder taught - it was open to others not in the program.

Ashish demonstrating in his strict Iyengar way (ie. borderline abusive) the proper way to get into Triconasana.

During our last week we moved our morning meditation class outside!

Chakrasana (bridge)

Sirsasana (headstand)

I now pronounce you... Yoga Shastri!



  1. That is awesome, to take that big chunk of time and really be surrounded by something you love. A great opportunity - glad you took it. Now you can come and teach me how to pull off a head stand!!!!
    Chey xo

    1. Thanks, Chey! I'm glad I took the opportunity too - it really added an interesting leg to this trip. I can definitely teach you headstand! xo

  2. Wow, what an international group you all were!
    I like that... "share, don't teach". :)

  3. amazing, amberlea! headstands!??! incredible.

  4. This is so fascinating. I always wondered what we were missing with North American yoga classes. I look forward to hearing more about this when you're back!

  5. AMAZING! OK, so I know a fair bit about anatomy and physiology, but in some of those pictures, I don't understand how the bottom half of your body is pointing one way, and the top half pointing the opposite way!
    I've always been scared of yoga, but the next time I see you, you'll have to "share" some with me!

  6. Yes, indeed! Private beginner class for Chris and me!