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Can there be too much ‘yogi’s choice’?

Can there be too much ‘yogi’s’ choice?

There is a definite trend lately in the yoga culture in Johannesburg, South Africa that is encompassed in the catch phrase ‘yogi’s choice’. I have heard this statement a lot outside of Indie Yoga, in classes where a teacher guides to follow his or her instructions but ends the statement with ‘or, yogi’s choice’ .

This brings up so many questions for me:

  1. are teachers today trying so hard to be liked that they need to appease every student with an ‘or not’ option, so that the students can leave having gotten what they wanted and project ‘like or love’ onto the teacher as a result? I thought yoga teachers were meant to teach yoga – which may sometimes go against the grain of a student, and definitely, if we consider the system, will push boundaries for one and all. Yogi’s choice allows us to sidestep our boundaries and habits, remaining only uncomfortable physically and superficially based on what we have decided is ok to deal with, instead of opening ourselves to the greater process we can access.
  2. were the decisions that were made for us in certain styles of yoga – like the precision of instruction in Iyengar yoga or the right leg first in various asanas in the ashtanga vinyasa model not put there for a reason? When the mind is given choice, it unleashes the very monkey the system is trying to tame or contain or form. I have read that Einstein wore the same clothing every day in an attempt to not stimulate his mind unnecessarily.
  3. has the final achievement of yoga – surrendering to a higher power to attain bliss – been eradicated in an attempt to give students what they want rather than what they need? the very act of yoga asana practice in a taught scenario is a surrender to a higher power – the teacher in that moment (a buddhist thinker recently put it in those words for me)- for that time, the student is giving power over to someone else but if constant ‘yogi’s choice’ is offered, or students choose to do their own modified practice within the context of what the teachers is offering, they are put straight back into the drivers seat and lose the lesson of savasana – giving yourself up.
  4. has ‘know thyself’ or the journey of Svadhyaya (self study) been taken too literally and superficially where we are given the power to make a choice for ourselves constantly without the necessary practice to understand the growth of not making choices for ourselves or to explore the choices of a system that has outlived any of us practitioners and is designed to give us autonomy over our wants and desires so we are freer from the suffering of our outward tendencies?

I have explored yogi’s choice as a teacher for the last 20 years: I have vacillated between the above questions from a system of ashtanga where the rules were there to bind the mind into strength, focus and sublimation to Spirit (and thus peace of mind that everyone wants) versus classes taught that were designed to give autonomy back to students in the practice (a lot of yogi’s choice), in an attempt to undo the sheep mentality of following without discrimination, doing what one is told without question. This see-saw continues but I think a few things are important to note:

In always getting our own way, or doing it our way, we overstimulate our ego control mechanism (when we do everything to extreme/right, our way and we think we are entirely responsible for it), and it decreases our connection to Spirit.

The ability to fully have true yogi’s choice comes through many many years of svadhyaya. Knowing yourself is to realise that your personality self making decisions on a day to day worldly basis, is not the self that yoga is asking you to realise. The path to peace of mind is not through getting what you want but rather through cultivating an understanding of true need). Yogi’s choice becomes irrelevant when discrimination and self inquiry are strong in the practitioner, and the difference between being a sheep and surrender become like chalk and vegan cheese (exercising adamant and precise control over diet is just like striving in asana, an exernalised attempt to remain in control which heightens ego in the name of spirituality and increases separation and the lack of love).

I think yogi’s choice is a dangerous offering – the same as saying, ‘when you are ready, do ‘x”. Both presume that the person will cooperate in a certain way – in other words be ready within the next few seconds, so it is not really when you are ready, and also, that the student is trained sufficiently for the great responsibility that yogi’s choice bestows.

Trusting a student, like we might trust a child to climb a tree a little higher than our reach, might fire up in them a sense of trust in themselves, or unleash an all-knowing prohibitiveness to actual growth and thus cause the student to break a few metaphoric bones…philosophy only provides questions…

As a student, what is your feeling on being given yogi’s choice?

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