Two ways struggle can define your practice …

by Gabrielle on September 18, 2010

It’s a continuing story …

So guess what? I actually had a great live Skype conversation with JT (Bikram yoga teacher) the other day.

To refresh your memory, here’s the link to the blog post called “The Dilemma of the Faithful” where you’ll read JT’s email to me: http://hotyogadoctorpro.com/the-dilemma-of-the-faithful

We had a great time learning about each other and talking about coming to Hot Yoga Doctor Pro Teacher Training next year in May (you know, in Costa Rica!). And we kinda stumbled upon some amazing realizations and I thought you’d be interested to hear them … oh, ok read them!

Over the years I’ve toyed with this in my mind and when talking with JT we both realized something very pivotal about perceptions and beliefs and how they could be affecting your practice and your whole yoga experience (whether teacher or student).

In fact it could be the very reason why you and I are drawn together and exploring other ways of teaching hot yoga and why you’re even curious about coming to Costa Rica next year.

A pivotal ‘aha’ moment …

And I have to tell you that for me, personally, it was a big aha moment. Perhaps you’ve noticed that one of the major themes that goes through many hot yoga classes – and I particularly mean Bikram yoga classes – is the notion of struggle.

… about Bikram yoga and struggle

From my experience with Bikram I am of the opinion that he firmly believes that the yoga IS the struggle and if you can get through that then you can get through anything. More on struggle in a moment … but first …

It all depends on your world view

To be very clear, this is his world view, and we all have a right to view the world in any way we choose. Later I’ll explain why I have a different world view and encourage you not to think of this as who is right or who is wrong. But certainly, in your life, your power is in your moments of choice.

Should you let them ‘stumble and make tons of mistakes’?

So as a result of that world view, you’ll find that trainees at that particular program are told:

  • You shouldn’t tell your students too much.
  • You shouldn’t correct them too much.
  • The technique’s not so important.
  • Let them make lots of mistakes because basically the struggle they go through is where they’ll grow.
  • So don’t worry when you see them hurting, or struggling, or pulling faces, or throwing up, or doubled over.
  • Don’t worry if they’re not doing the poses correctly.
  • They’ll eventually get it and find their own way.

On the surface that sounds as if it makes sense. But does it?

This world view has been adopted, probably unconsciously (maybe it’s some kind of osmosis?) by a large part of the hot yoga community that has trained with Bikram. And I realise that this is what doesn’t ‘sit’ well with me. Never has.

Mind you, it doesn’t change my love of this yoga or my commitment to it.

So that approach could work, couldn’t it? You could just show people a rough guide of the poses (recite them ‘that’ script) and let them at it … until they get it. Surely that would be OK!

Done well or badly … somehow you still FEEL good!

The truth is, that you will feel good going through the series even if you do them badly. And most people actually DON’T get all the benefits because there are many facets of hot yoga asana that are simply not covered in most hot yoga classes due to the observation skills, knowledge and habits of the teacher.

There is a better way. I KNOW you know that otherwise you really wouldn’t be reading these emails and blogs!

So on the surface leaving people to their own devices sounds fair – because we all have big challenges in the room at some time or another. And hopefully we all keep learning.

What if you believe that the yoga is a struggle? Or the struggle is your yoga?

But my philosophy is that the practice of the asana themselves and the YOGA itself, that experience of mindfulness and self-awareness requires you NOT to struggle, but to pay attention and be mindful of what’s going on.

Maybe something’s not right

For me, your struggle is a tap on the shoulder that something’s not right. Is it your asana technique or is it something else?

If you’re in a class where it doesn’t matter to the teacher whether your asana are sound then there’ll always be that question.

And hence why most students end up having an internal battle and try to find the answers by trying to reach for that perfect bow, or those locked out legs in Hands to Feet. Because they think the struggle’s about the outcome of their poses.

Take the asana out of the equation … and grow!

On the other hand, if your pose technique is sound and you’re struggling then you know it’s not the asana creating the struggle.

The asana is one of your most accessible and tangible tools to your awareness and to your benefits. The better you can learn the techniques, the better you’re taught them, or the better you can teach them to others, the more you can facilitate the REAL yoga, and that means the better the benefits! Bingo!

I love to put it this way: The asana is what you do, BUT the yoga is how you are in your asana.

So if you can give and receive the best instructions you can remove the ambiguity from the asana practice. Then the struggles you will experience will by default be more intangible and even easier to let go!

What my teacher training program will coach you in, is recognizing the struggles in the room and in people’s practices based firmly on skilling yourself in strong teaching technique and deep pose knowledge.

Teach HOW to teach, your students have a FAST-TRACK to practising yoga

If you can learn how to TEACH and I mean REALLY teach these poses so that your students experience challenge in their poses, and the only struggle they encounter is their relationship they have to the poses and their internal or external environments, then everyone will have a better experience.

Realizing this dichotomy of ‘philosophies’ was for me a huge blinding flash of the obvious and explains what makes our approaches to yoga so different. Now, realize that I am NOT saying that one way is better than the other. But it’s my preference that I choose NOT to approach it Bikram’s way.

A quick perusal of our busy forums will show you that a ton of people are still looking for answers. And maybe trying to find a better fit for their own world view.

So what does it all mean … in a practical sense?

Basically, when you can look around the room and help facilitate good quality asana, based on sound techniques and principles and you correct what needs to be corrected, then the struggles that remain for people (or the obstacles that they encounter) determine and even define their journey toward self-enlightenment.

In a real way it clarifies your experience because your defining moments in the room will rarely be muddled up with the ins and outs of pose technique.

Is it you? Or is it the way you practise your poses?

Put it this way, your struggle could be because of the way you do Standing Separate Leg Intense Stretch Pose. Or, your general yoga pose approach could be rock solid, with only minor finessing so that you can finally put your asana technique aside and just get on with the yoga!

In my experience students respond infinitely more positively when the guesswork is taken out of the equation.

And when they emerge from well run classes they don’t spend unnecessary time obsessing over their technique, wondering ‘if only’ they could get ‘this’ pose right then they’d feel so much better about their practice. They can actually ‘let stuff go’ — and practise non-attachment to their asana.

And when the asanas themselves and ‘struggle’ do get muddled up, you’ll find that (to their detriment) students really are more concerned about the poses themselves rather than experiencing yoga. (And I spose we have to leave THAT for another discussion!)

Your choice: Solid asana work means you know you can let go of ‘stuff’

So by focusing on solid asana technique you can remove the guesswork. Which means that for me, suddenly your practice is (perhaps paradoxically) no longer about the poses because your mind and body are free to experience ‘what really is’ in an unhindered and unfettered way.

You completely take away the confusion so that when struggle really does come your way you can notice it, respond, go with the flow, and grow. And that to me is where the true yoga begins.

So if I hear someone say that they don’t get corrected because they tell me that ‘it’s not about the poses’, then you’ll now know why I think that just doesn’t work.

So here it is! I want you to come to Costa Rica and spend 4 weeks demystifying this asana practice so that you can really learn how to facilitate true change in yourself and your students that’s not simply about emerging through struggle where your practice is defined by how well you do the poses.

Instead base your classes on solid technique so that it no longer matters. And what you’re left with is the yoga.

For 4 weeks I will show you how to do that, and how to teach that

When you learn asana with great technique and breathe through your own intense sensations then that’s where you grow. It’s even better if you’re a teacher who can be more in control of the manner in which this growth occurs! And where people learn that their limitations are just temporary boundaries they butt up against from time to time.

When you come on this journey with me you’ll learn to use struggle as a great tool for change. But possibly in the opposite way to what’s been taken as the norm … up until now.

In fact you’ll find out that creating growth and enlightenment through yoga is not about struggle at all but so much MORE about ease and challenge instead.

I’d love you to join me!




{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara October 7, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Here is my advice to J.T. and anyone who struggles with loyalty: If you cheat on your spouse, you have been disloyal and might experience guilt. If you go to a different doctor, barber, or yoga teacher training class, you’ve simply made a choice.

Loyalty is a mutual relationship. Conversely, when power is conveyed to one side of the relationship, it is more aptly defined as control. Anytime you feel guilty about expanding your knowledge, choices, or opportunities, it should raise a huge, red flag.

Loyalty involves trust, support, encouragement, flexibility, and individual benefits. These things have no place in control, which more often discourages deviation from the message, ridicules detractors, and results in some type of isolation, from the relationship. It’s usually an “all or nothing” situation. Tactics are so successful that you will punish yourself.

With regard to any student-teacher relationship, loyalty should reasonably extend to acknowledgement of the teacher’s expertise, impact and guidance. The teacher’s side of the loyalty should also be evident, and extend to encouraging the student’s achievements, and efforts to continue to learn and grow. In one situation you have a value in the relationship even after it ends. In the other, you are a follower whose worth ceases when you move on.

To free yourself from guilty, be authentic. You can’t copy somebody else or try to re-create what somebody else does or calls their own. People recognize authenticity and are drawn to it. Teach from a place of authenticity, and you will free yourself from this needless guilt, and try not to subject others to the same control.


Sheryl February 7, 2012 at 6:03 pm

wow! You completely summed it up beautifully about control verses Freedom to choose. Authenticity is what I Look for in all relationships. That is pure honesty.
Thank you again,


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