Variety is the spice of life – and of yoga! (Guest post)

Read on for a guest post about going to different yoga teachers and what it taught the student, not just about yoga, but about herself.

“In the 25+ years of my life that I’ve been practising yoga, I have always been quite a ‘monogamous’ student. In the various places I’ve lived, I have always managed to find a yoga class, and if I liked the teacher, I would practice only with that teacher for as long as I was there. My faithfulness can be attributed to the fact that I’ve come across some really great yoga teachers over the years, but also because once I find a good teacher, I subconsciously want to get fully into their way of practice, and learn as much as possible from them.

“My current teacher for example is a rather quirky, energetic, flowing-haired, bearded Italian, steeped in Indian tradition and with a penchant for chanting mantras. Lessons with him are always engaging, frequently challenging and never disappoint me. I’ve been attending his weekly classes for 10 years now, as well as going on longer yoga weekends with him every summer, in outdoor and rustic surroundings. It’s a perfect relationship and I wouldn’t change him for the world.

On retreat - Walter, my Mum and my sister
On retreat – Walter centre, my Mum and my sister (author of the guest post)

“Or would I? Out of the blue last summer a really interesting opportunity came up. The company I work for was providing space for an Iyengar yoga teacher to hold weekly classes. It seemed ideal – held over my free lunch hours, with no travel time involved, and with friendly colleagues. I did briefly hesitate, thinking ‘but I’m not looking for a new teacher, I already have a great one’… but then curiosity got the better of me and I went along to my first Iyengar class.

“I suppose my first reaction to that class can be summed up as ‘an overload of instructions’. I found the experience of being instructed by a different teacher challenging and disconcerting. The class itself seemed strangely unrelaxing and more like a series of strict physical exercises. I left confused both by this new practice, and also my reaction to that, and I knew I had to try again.

‘I realised that sometimes we can have the most flexible bodies but the most inflexible minds’

“Since that first class, I have continued with both my usual teacher and a weekly Iyengar class. Slowly but surely I have come to value and enjoy Iyengar’s rather particular approach. I have had to re-learn certain postures that I thought I had already mastered, such as Sirshasana (headstand). For weeks I was only ‘allowed’ to do that in stages, against the wall. Imagine my joy the day the teacher said I could do it unaided in the centre of the room! Despite my initial resistance, I have come to appreciate this very meticulous approach to yoga which has a fabulous attention to detail, and a 360° understanding of each posture. It might not be as creative or free-flowing as my usual teacher, but it has taught me plenty.

“But what has this got to do with the title, about ‘variety being the spice of yoga’? Well, the experience of trying a different teacher and their different approach to the uniting of body and mind which is yoga, has taught me to have a more flexible mind and learn to listen better. Now I realise that my usual teacher has also been giving plenty of valuable instructions, but that I probably wasn’t ready to hear them.

“It was too easy for me to fall into the habit of knowing one teacher inside out, and let my practice become static.I think that anyone who has practiced yoga for a number of years has therefore plenty to learn from trying different teachers. An easy way to do this is by attending yoga weekends where you can sample a variety of styles, teachers and even locations. Why not even try outdoor yoga…? Yes, the ground might be bumpy making your tree pose wobble a bit, and an insect may chose the wrong moment to land on your face, but there’s nothing like the fresh air and sounds of nature around you – be that beach, mountain or forest.

Yoga class outside in Italy
Walter’s retreat in northern Italy

“Taking my yoga practice back to the start and overcoming my resistance at receiving instructions on postures I thought I’d already mastered has made me humbler, quieter, and frankly, a better student of yoga.

“So perhaps I can now say that my mind is catching up with my body in terms of flexibility!”

Thanks to my sister Catriona for offering this insightful and open view about experiencing different yoga teachers and how it has changed her. What are your experiences/views on this?

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