I often start my yoga classes by “taking the temperature” of the room. I ask questions and try to get a sense of what my students want from their class. Sometimes that means getting requests for specific postures or muscle groups to stretch, but more often it just informs the pace, intensity, and overall vibe of the class.
Last night as I was taking the temperature before a vinyasa class, a student told me she wanted nothing but relaxation. Straight to the savasana! When I suggested that she might have chosen the wrong class, she told me that even though she didn’t feel like a challenging flow class she knew that she would appreciate it later.
You probably do the same thing all the time. You may not want to go to bed early, but you know you need it. Sometimes you would rather just sit and watch TV but you need a little evening walk. You want potato chips, but you need vegetables. There is often a wide gulf between what you desire and what you require.
Every yoga class, and every yoga practice, offers a choice between what you want and what you need.
This is not a rant against staying up late, watching TV and eating chips. I like all those things! But I also like early bedtimes, walks, and veggies. And those are things I need. The fact is that without late night Netflix and Doritos I would be just fine. I do not need them.
You need to move. You need to move in ways that challenge you and encourage your body to adapt so that you can continue to grow. You need the things in which you are deficient. You live in a very loud, crowded world so you need space and silence. You live in a very busy world so you need to slow down. When you get sedentary you need movement.
I have an assignment that I give to my kinesiology students early in the semester. It is a course on the philosophy and practice of yoga. They are assigned a few articles that describe different styles and brands of modern postural yoga. Then they have to interview a friend or family member who does not practice yoga and decide which style would be best suited for them.
Almost everybody chooses the style that seems most aligned with his or her subject’s personality. Somebody who is very “type A” gets hot yoga. Somebody who is out of shape gets restorative yoga. But that is giving people what they want, not what they need. The type A powersuit probably needs some bolsters and blankets. The couch potato probably needs to get on their feet and flow a little.
As a teacher, this is not really up to you. Your students show up to the classes they choose and it is your job to teach that class. I believe that as yoga teachers our primary responsibility is to serve the student. You need to believe your students when they tell you what they want. Never assume that you know somebody’s body better than they do. That is not your job.
As a student though, you need to choose your teachers and classes well. In past centuries your teacher would tell you precisely what and how to practice. Your guru was the undisputed authority of your practice. But times have changed and so have yoga teachers. Now yoga teachers are specialists. They each have a niche market and a field of expertise. They proclaim the benefits of their own style and approach, but you will rarely find a teacher advising students to go elsewhere in order to find a better match.
You need to do your research. Get educated about different styles and approaches to yoga. Try a number of different studios and teachers, but not necessarily to find the one that you want. Try to find what you need. What nourishes you and leaves you feeling refreshed? Find the yoga that feels more like veggies and less like Doritos. Find the teachers that serve you and the practice that fuels the fire in you.
Ultimately, if you can find ways to desire the things you require you will be serving yourself in the best way possible. Stubborn determination and sheer power of will can help you “push through” your cravings and get you practicing in ways that are aligned with your needs, but that is exhausting. Finding creative ways to start loving the things you require will mean you are intrinsically motivated to practice (ie. you don’t need a kick in the ass) and that your practice is well-rounded and nourishing.
That might mean asking more questions of your teachers, but more likely it means asking more questions of yourself.
Are you getting what you need?
How would you know if you were not?
How many of the things you want are also things you need?
How many of the things you need are also things you want?