Teacher Training: The “Hard” Asanas
There was a brief shining moment in the 1990s when I could do Kakasana or Crow pose consistently and beautiful. Alas, that moment ended and it has never returned.
When I began my yoga practice in 1979, Kakasana was not one of the postures in the book I was using. The book, Yoga for Americans by Indra Devi and featuring photographs of the silent film star Gloria Swanson in various poses did have some complicated postures, and so I was regularly going into Sirsana (Headstand) and Halasana (Plough), but aside from a much easier version of Vrksasana (Tree), there was little balance and certainly not on your hands and arms.
These days, though, yoga has become a little bit of contest. “Can you do this pose?” and it is easy to think that a yoga teacher must be able to do it all (and beautifully) and “be the best in the class.” While each of us, of course, can do some of these or some variations of the postures, most people cannot do all of them all of them and perfectly well (although many yoga teachers can).
Unfortunately, I think that there’s a good chance some potentially talented instructors don’t become yoga teachers because they can’t easily do the “hard” poses, such as arm balances and backbends. Of course, lots of yogis will say the “hardest” pose is Savasana, you know, just relaxing at the end of class, and there is a kernel of truth to that. Beginners to often find it challenging to truly relax, but Savanasa isn’t even in Yoga for Americans and it wasn’t part of most yoga classes I went to for the first twenty years of my practice (although I was an early student at Bikram Chouhury’s school in San Francisco and in that class we did Savasana in the middle of class when we transitioned from standing postures to seated.
How necessary is it that you be able to do the most difficult asanas to be a yoga teacher? Not necessary at all. Merely focusing on the most difficult postures versus practicing pranayama and meditation, not to mention the yamas and niyamas is missing the whole point of yoga. While we can all benefit from the discipline and focus it takes to excel at difficult asanas, the bigger idea of yoga is not “hard,” but “practice.” In other words, whether you are practicing Kakasana or Tadasana (Mountain), your intention and your breathing can be equally significant, and that knowledge is more pertinent to being a talented yoga teacher.
It is the practice of all of yoga’s eight limbs, though, not the perfection of one difficult posture that allows us to evolve. Patanjali said, “When the components of yoga are practiced, impurities dwindle; then the light of understanding can shine forth.”