What Is The Best Yoga For Me?
Function Over Form
Yoga is taught in three basic contexts: the context of a group class (these vary from the very general to classes with a specific goal or designated for a specific group of people), private instruction for developing a personal practice, or Yoga Therapy. The goals of each category of class (group, private, and therapeutic) vary. However, a principle that holds true for each of them is that when applying the tools of Yoga, function is more important than form. In other words, as teachers, it is our responsibility to adapt the tool to suit the needs and abilities of the student, so that he or she may get the desired benefit from it. Typically, improvement in “form” will come with time and effort. Improvement does not imply that a perfect forward bend or perfect chanting pitch will be achieved for certain, but perfection is not the goal: improvement in the student’s health and sense of well-being is.
Group Yoga Classes
Group classes are for personal maintenance, self-education, and general well being. They also provide students with a positive and enjoyable experience of community. The teacher makes every effort to honour each student’s abilities and needs, however, group classes, by their nature, work at a “common” level, as they need to address a broader range of criteria to keep everyone safe.Not every group class is for every student. In keeping with the principle of viniyoga (proper and continuous application of the tools of yoga), we should choose a class pertinent to our needs, goals, and stage of life. For example, a pregnant woman will switch from her usual “energizing” practice, which can be quite vigorous, to a prenatal class to support her throughout her pregnancy. An athlete training for a competitive event might choose a vigorous, strengthening class that assists in developing stamina, as well as a meditative class to enhance mental focus.
Private Yoga Sessions
As a student progresses further along in their practice, it becomes clear that group classes are useful only to a certain degree. We begin to understand that each of us has a unique physiology, skeletal- muscular structure, mental patterns, energy level, etc. To heal these areas of the body and mind a very specific Yoga program should be followed on a daily basis. This is when we look to our teacher for one-on-one instruction – the ideal and traditional form of Yoga instruction. The student consults with their teacher regularly and practices daily on their own using a practice designed for them by their teacher. Also, the student provides the teacher with feedback so that the practice can be refined, as needed. In this way, Yoga becomes a personal journey, and the student develops the skills to observe the subtle changes that occur in his or her own system.
Like private instruction, Yoga Therapy is offered on a one-to-one basis. In this case, the teacher adapts the tools of Yoga to help heal the student of a specific problem. Where general Yoga keeps us on the steady path of wellness and regular practice provides the equanimity to cope with the stresses and various stages of life, Yoga Therapy specifically targets the root cause of affliction. Or, where this is not possible, as with HIV for instance, the goal of Yoga Therapy is to heal by appeasing the symptoms, positively enhance quality of life and thereby reducing suffering. Because it is not chemical, Yoga Therapy is a complement to other systems of treatment.
An Individual Process
To make healing effective and potent, we must understand and interact with students individually, rather than prescribe practices in groups, though some exceptional situations may even allow that. When we interact with students privately we can understand their individual illnesses, their causes and what are the individual abilities of the student, which can help us design practices that will be the perfect fit for them. Can a doctor prescribe the same pill to patients irrespective of their complaint? Similarly a yoga therapist has to interact with the student privately to guide them in their healing. Otherwise it will not be an effective process.
A Self-Empowering Process
A powerful component of the healing process in yoga is that it empowers the student to heal themselves. Unlike surgery, where a surgeon operates on a passive and often unconscious patient; or massage therapy, where the therapist works on a patient – in yoga the student has an active and often complete responsibility in the healing process. The Yoga Therapist’s role is limited to one of understanding the student’s illness, and teaching appropriate practices that the student will have to do on their own. An important job is also to review and verify the appropriateness of the practice.Since much of the healing happens due to the regular practice by the student, a key responsibility of the Yoga Therapist is to inspire and motivate them to maintain the practice. This is often the key to the success of a good healing process.