The yoga “demonstration”

In my first class for teens, I taught an active, but basic, sequence, with lots of jumpings and standing poses. Most were absolute beginners; even the basics were demanding.

After class, however, the teens’ teacher, an Iyengar yoga student herself, made a request. “Next week show them some of the fancy poses,” she said. “Fire them up. They don’t know anything about yoga and need to see where it can go.”

In my typical adult classes, I demonstrate a pose only if relevant to the day’s sequence. Rarely, almost never, would I demo a pose if I’m not teaching it. Here, she was asking me to do just that.

So, the next week, I gathered the group together. After a brief discussion on the eight limbs of yoga, I did a mini demo for them. I linked the poses that we’d tried the prior week with related, but more involved, poses.

“Remember Trikonasana, the triangle,” I said, “it can lead to this,” doing Utthita Parsva Hasta Padangusthasana.

I proceeded to show the links between the following:

  • Sukhasana and Padmasana
  • Dandasana and Paripurna Navasana
  • Chatushpadasana and Urdhva Dhanurasana
  • Gomukhasana and Salamba Sirsasana

That day I taught them sun salutations and backbends, culminating in Urdhva Dhanurasana. I helped a bunch of kids up and, indeed, they were fired up.

The yoga “demonstration”

To introduce yoga to Westerners, BKS Iyengar did numerous yoga “demonstrations,” asana performances before an audience. He knew that asana would catch people’s attention.

Are such demonstrations done by Iyengar yoga teachers today? No. Why? Well, I can answer only for myself, but I suspect that most Iyengar yoga practitioners consider public performances of asana rather showy.

But such performances have their place. Take Patricia Walden’s backbend videos from a 1990 yoga conference and from her 60th birthday performance. First, we can learn a lot from watching her demonstrate advanced backbends. Visual learning is invaluable. Second, it is fascinating to see a practitioner’s development over time; to me, her practice at 60 is superior to her star performance at 36.

On the blog Yoga Bound, I found a video of a demonstration by three Canadian Iyengar yogis at the University of Toronto. A great way to introduce university students to Iyengar yoga!

Nowadays the venue for yoga demonstrations is not the stage, but the Internet, where countless yoga videos can be viewed. Some are instructional “how to” videos, but many are simply performances, from snippets of home practice (“what I did today” or “look at me!”) to choreographed sequences set to music. Part of me wonders a bit about motives. What compels yoga practitioners to film themselves and upload it for the world to see? Show and tell? Attract students? Attract attention?

That said, I enjoy some bloggers’ home practice videos. First, as an Iyengar yoga practitioner, I never tire of observing different bodies. Second, if a blogger is funny or revealing, I might feel a sense of camaraderie. Third, as mentioned regarding the Patricia Walden videos, I might learn a new method of approaching a pose, just by watching a person perform it.

I steer clear of Facebook and other “social media” (I have a private life), so I can’t imagine posting random videos of myself doing yoga poses. But from my experience teaching teens, I see how “seeing is believing” when it comes to anything new and strange.

Light on LifeBKS Iyengar on spiritual maturity and demonstrations

The trouble with demonstrations is the inevitable ego element, as stated here by BKS Iyengar in Light on Life, “Living in Freedom” chapter:

“…Spiritual maturity exists when there is no difference between thought itself and the action that accompanies it. If there is a discrepancy between the two, then one is practicing self-deception and projecting a false image of oneself. If I am asked to give a demonstration before an audience, there is bound to be an element of artistic pride in my presentation. But alone, I practice with humbleness and devotion. If one can prevent the inevitable egotism from entering the core of one’s life and activities, it means one is a spiritual man…”

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6 thoughts on “The yoga “demonstration”

  1. This blog post inspired a lively conversation in our home, got us all watching the Patricia Walden video again, and motivated me to send a link to my students to excite them (perhaps) in the way that your teens got all revved up! Thank you for your continuing prompts to get us looking deeper.

  2. Totally fascinating! It’s a double edged sword isn’t it? The video loses a bit of it’s charm (for me) by having an audience but I also found it extremely motivating.

  3. Great to read this! I do think there’s something inspiring about watching what yoga can give you in terms of possibilities. I had Stephanie, Jane, and Suzanne (the blog that you shared of the demo at U of T) come to two of my university classes one year. They did a demo and then showed students some basic poses they could do when they were tired, needing energy to study, or unable to release stress. My students loved it, and I hope that it introduced them to the possibility of taking yoga classes in the future!

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