A couple of months ago, I went to the doctor. I hadn’t been to the doctor in many years, for two reasons. The first reason is that I’ve been lucky enough to be healthy. The second reason is that our healthcare system seems very foreign to me, like it has nothing to do with me. I do have health insurance though, and since something had begun to bother me, and it seemed like it might be a medical problem, I thought I’d give modern medicine a chance.
At the office, the nurse took my temperature, blood pressure and weighed me. I changed into some laundered pyjama clothes, and stood alone in the examining room, examining the rubber tubes and metal tools hung on the wall. I gazed at an illustrated poster of someone’s insides. I considered the table with the paper cover. The doctor came in, and soon pronounced me to be the healthiest person she’d seen in months. At this point, I hadn’t mentioned what had been bothering me, and it occurred to me that I might like to NOT mention it, leave, and just see what happened. Maybe it would go away.
This inspiration sprang from my lack of trust, and faith, in the system at hand. Perhaps a little arrogance, because I know other modalities of healing and am predisposed to think I know better. Perhaps a little wishful thinking, as well. Would staying silent make the problem go away? No. Would I get any new information to consider? No. Was I testing my doctor to see if she could read my mind or magically ascertain why I had scheduled this visit? Maybe! After all, she’s a doctor and it’s her job to figure out what is wrong with me. Acknowledging these somewhat irrational viewpoints, I realized at that moment that I might as well talk to the doctor. To not do so would be a waste of the time it took to schedule an appointment and go to the clinic, disrespectful to the doctor who is sincerely using the system she has learned to help me, and a waste of an opportunity to get information.
It’s worthwhile to consider why we are doing things and what we expect to receive from them, which is what brings me to the topic of yoga class. I have sometimes had students who had quite a serious condition, but didn’t tell me about it either out of shyness, thinking they should follow the class and deal with it themselves, or not being aware of why they were in class or even why I was teaching class.
I teach yoga to assist with health, stability, awareness and personal growth. It's a system I've explored for 2 decades, and I know its value from direct experience. I am there because the people who come to my class are there. I can see many things from observing students, and often offer suggestions and modifications, or give an individual a personal practice, because this is the way hatha yoga works. The therapeutic qualities of the asanas will be effective when utilized at the right times and for the right person, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
I know from personal experience, as both a teacher and a student, that a student asking a question reveals at least two things: 1. That the student is aware of the issue and 2. That they’re looking for help with it.
When I am teaching and I see something amiss, or suspect an underlying condition, it is somewhat an invasion of that person’s privacy to bring it up; therefore in many cases I must wait to be asked for advice, or wait until a lot of time and experience with that student have allowed me to know them better. Asking a question is an opportunity for a student and teacher to get to know each other more quickly, and to establish trust. As a student, I have found that with trust in your teacher, you will be able to apply what they suggest and benefit from it. Without trust it doesn’t matter how famous or great that teacher is, or the quality of their advice: the advice won’t be taken in. To some degree, this was the case with my visit to the doctor: I arrived with a mis-trust of the system, and by extension the doctor trained in that system, and so I kept whatever advice she gave me at a distance, skeptical and hesitant to integrate it into myself.
Yoga was traditionally taught to one student at a time. A student would come to a teacher, and the teacher would offer some suggestions and the student would go away and work with those suggestions. The process of working with the material, and integrating it, is crucial. At first, the information is alien and outside of oneself. With practice, one may integrate the knowledge, and it is blended with each of our unique backgrounds and existing knowledge.
As Zhander Remete states in his book Shadow Yoga: “Theoretical information should be digested until it feels as if the information has sprung forth and grown from within one’s own self. Practice and theory will then be one inseparable living knowledge manifesting as wisdom and action at all times.”
Asking questions, staying alert, closely observing oneself, and maintaining an open, inquiring attitude will greatly speed up the process of learning in yoga, and your benefit from it. I have made the mistake of allowing months or even years to go by before working up the courage or humility to ask a simple question. I encourage you, if you are serious about yoga, to ask: find a trustworthy source and ask whatever you are curious about. The worst that will happen is that you’ll get information that doesn’t resonate with you, and that you discard.
Wishful thinking, ignoring pain, waiting for your teacher (or doctor!) to read your mind will usually not work. Asking questions and looking into why you’re doing things and who you are can only support your life journey, because time in this life is short, and we are here now.