One of most favourite yoga teachers in the world ( besides my mentor Katherine) is Elena Brower. I have never practiced with her personally I have only had pleasure online. She is simply lovely. She studies yoga and tantric philosophy very seriously as well as the system of yoga I love, Anusara. Her classes are laced with philosophy devotion and really meticulous asana alignment.
I was inspired to see Ms. Brower comment on a story in the NY Times about an up and coming yoga instructor named Tara Stiles. Ms. Stiles has been the topic of conversation with Yoga Teachers everywhere. During her classes she doesn’t talk about philosophy, she doesn’t speak in sanskrit, and her focus is more on the asana practice of yoga. She has successfully branded her style of yoga and has even become the personal yoga intstructor Deepak Chopra. Wow….
As an Anusara Inspired Yoga Teacher, we are taught that Yoga is first a spiritual practice ( opening to grace-align with divine energy) and the physical practice takes a back seat to the spiritual endeavours of yoga. Elena Brower (Certified Anusara Teacher) who is very spiritual in her teachings commented on the article about Ms. Stiles. Her reaction was very loving and supportive toward Ms. Stiles and her journey through yoga. She praises her for being herself authentic self and for being truthful to her own beliefs.
I have watched Ms. Stiles Youtube clips in the past while I was training to be a yoga teacher. I was intrigued by it mostly because she prefaces each segment by telling the viewers she is a model. I used to find that interesting. I always wondered why that part was so important that she had to mention it? From a marketing standpoint it makes sense because it draws the viewers in but it made me feel a little less then adequate in my struggles for the perfect yogic body ( which I now have set aside)
I read the story in the NY Times and was surprised by her observations of some Yoga Teachers that criticized her. She refers to them as bare footed mean girls who burn incense. I had to laugh because I felt that way about some Yoga Teachers I have encountered. Lots of yogis weighed in to bash Ms. Stiles about her style of teaching. The general consensus was that yoga without spiritually is simply calisthenics. I have repeated that mantra many a time myself. In the city where I have studio in there is plenty of yoga offered that focuses on asana and nothing else and it is wildly popular.
The question is, are we as Yogis being total snobs when we dismiss any practice of yoga that does not embrace the spiritual ? Are all the naysayers of Tara Stiles just being mean? Are they secretly jealous that Deepak Chopra considers Ms. Stiles his personal teacher?
What I really think, is that it ultimately comes down to the individual. I teach yoga from a place my heart. This is what draws me to the Anusara practice. When I first started practicing yoga it was definitely just a physical practice. My acceptance of the spiritual aspects of yoga was surprising to me. When I first starting teaching yoga from the hall at Tecumseh United Church, my focus was to work everyone to their fullest potential and to work them powerfully. I was lost in just kicking everyone’s butt. While my students laid in savasana; I would go to the chapel and pray for guidance. I would ask God to help me help my students. Was I supposed to be doing this? Then somewhere along the way with the help of Anusara Teachers Sara Davidson and Katherine Schaefer I found something more to the practice. If I worked well through alignment both physically and spiritually, if my intentions were strong and I focused my actions, I could open the door to possibility and to growth. I figured this out during the physical practice.
As Yoga Teachers we are not religious leaders; as Yoga Teachers we are not spiritual leaders. Yoga Teachers are here to simply share the experience. Yoga Teachers are here to make the experience available to everyone. I simply share the journey; maybe I point out a few sights I found interesting along the way.
Your path to yoga is your own. Whether you decide to connect with what is going on around you or just power through the asana; it is your decision to make. One thing is for sure; if you practice yoga consistency it will change your life.
As for Tara Stiles I embrace her path . Good for her to speak her truth! As for you whether your intention is to be Strong , Sexy and Calm or to change to the world I encourage to jump in with both feet! Those of us looking for spirtual fulfillment will find whether our yoga teacher teaches about it or not……