It was the year 2000 at the Midwest Yoga Conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Only a few years into my yogic training, I had developed an affinity towards a strong physical practice. I signed up for workshops with Vinyasa and Ashtanga teachers like Tim Miller, Seane Corn, Jonny Kest and Shiva Rea, who all taught strong, physical classes. Following a workshop with Gary Kraftsow, I asked him and Rod Stryker, "wouldn't it be interesting to conduct research on how Yoga compares to other forms of exercise?"
Both their faces winced in a sweet, considerate way. They looked at each other and then me, responding "I think there might be more interesting topics to research." Later as I thought about their response, I told myself that what they were trying to say was, "Honey (a.k.a. yoga noob), there are so many 'other' aspects of Yoga besides the physical." It was then that I had the light-bulb moment that Yoga is much deeper and more remarkable than just a physical exercise.
This defining moment inspired me to study with teachers like Tias Little, and others who embodied the full practice and taught philosophy, anatomy, sound, alignment, wisdom training and subtle body anatomy. I was no longer interested in mainstream yoga but wanted more of what might be called traditional yoga.
An example of one of the "other" aspects of Yoga which I have discovered, and am passionate about sharing with students, is Pratyhara (or sense withdrawal). The fifth limb in Patanjalis' yoga sutras is about drawing the senses inward. We live in a world of overstimulation and often "max out" our sense organs. One way to promote Pratyhara during our asana practice might be to encourage students while in a difficult pose like utkatasana (chair pose) to soften their eyes or perhaps relax their jaw away from their ears. Keeping the muscles of the face soft during a difficult pose will encourage the inward attention and also train students to not overreact when the going gets tough.
It took many years of studying with sublime teachers and many hours on my own mat to figure out how to teach in a manner which was more than "just an amazing workout." Some tricks of the trade might include: slower pacing, silence, pausing, stillness and attention to sensations to help induce both clarity and peace of the body and mind.
Recently, a friend asked me what was the difference between fitness Yoga and traditional Yoga? I thought I could take this question in a lot of different directions, but decided to keep the answer short and simple.
"Fitness Yoga could be a good doorway in for a lot of people. I only hope they don't stay stuck in the doorway."