Saturday, September 30, 2006

Duncando? Nuts to that!

A friend in Tokyo asked me if I knew a certain yoga teacher currently on tour in Japan. I didn’t. When I noticed that this teacher was giving a workshop here in town, I decided to check him out.

He sat in front of us a long while in meditation before removing his shirt to reveal extensive tattoos covering a fine physique. Then he began to talk, saying that today, he wasn’t going to break down poses or talk philosophy. He simply wanted to do some yoga together. I thought, "Oh great! I paid 7000 yen to do yoga in the same room with this guy." (This is an ongoing peeve I have about Ashtanga , where far too many teachers lead us through the poses without any attention to alignment.) He then went on to explain his system, a cross between yoga and martial arts. I misheard him call his style, "Yoga Garb," which seemed appropriate since I was surrounded by many of the spandex and tattoo set. He next mentioned "ahimsa" the yogic idea of non-violence. . Ahimsa as a concept extends well beyond our media defined notion of non-violence, into areas such as how you use language, and how you show respect. Yet within minutes, it became clear that he knew little about the topic. When his translator seemed to be having difficulty, he began to verbally abuse her, growing ruder and ruder to her to the point where he actually said, "Say what I say! Do your job! Go!" This lack of respect extended to how he treated the bodies of those in the workshop, pulling us suddenly into poses beyond our abilities, or even sitting on them. The poses themselves (if you can call them poses) flowed from one quick bouncy movement to the next. My joints certainly felt no ahimsa that day. Any trained yoga teacher will have a certain knowledge of anatomy. Any martial artist will have keen experience on the workings of the body, an experience rooted in the pain he feels during hard training. A joint moved suddenly and sharply will be damaged. (It ain’t socket science.) So, because I respect my own body and try to practice ahimsa toward it, I left the workshop. It was at about the point where the teacher did some flashy poses which showed his ability but had nothing to do with what we were doing. Or no, wait. It was when the dancing began. I won’t go into ego here. Or perhaps I already have.

The idea of a fusion between yoga and the martial arts intrigues me because I have a history in both disciplines. But there are solid spiritual and philosophical systems underlying both. To miss this is like eating a full meal without enjoying the flavor. Perhaps it’s best to get a proper grounding in one before starting the other. Things like "ego" and "respect" and "non-violence" are usually mentioned the first day of training.

Here in Japan, the current yoga boom is entering its third year. And as the commerce of yoga has certainly taken a foothold, we’re beginning to see more and more unseasoned teachers, some of whom are outright dangerous. When we leave a class frustrated, we’ve nullified the whole reason we went in the first place. (Though, that being said, perhaps this is the lesson after all. It’s easier to ignore the ego when it is appeased. Being unhappy is to stare it in the face.)

My friend Leza said (in print) that you can best judge a teacher by how they act off the mat. If you’re looking to do some Tae Bo aerobics with some yoga poses cobbled on, then ignore this post. If you wanna do real yoga with a quality teacher (even Ashtanga), there are plenty of people I'd be happy to introduce you too.

On the turntable: Led Zeppelin, "Physical Graffiti"

1 comment:

kyokoshell said...

i miss your yoga classes :(