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!




{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

sharon September 18, 2010 at 11:42 am

I’ve been reading your site for awhile now. Everything you talk about makes so much sense. Hope in the furture you will offer something that will take in the 4 week training on a cd/book. Not able to attend something for 4 weeks. I’m a 200ryt yoga instructor. Help Sharon


jennifer September 18, 2010 at 7:27 pm

You know I always love your information because it makes us all take a step back and think at the very least. I must argue some of the points that you make about Bikram’s TT in this one though. You make very broad generalizations that teachers are told to never correct the students even if they are doing the pose incorrectly and that he says technique doesn’t matter. On the contrary, Bikram emphasizes that form is the most important thing…he says it does not matter whether you can do 1% or 99% of the posture, just that you are doing it 100% the right way in order to maximize its benefits. Form and technique are the foundation of the posture. Depth is what doesn’t matter. Also, you say he teaches us to never correct students…wrong. What you are taught is that as a brand new teacher, unless a student is doing something that is going to cause injury, don’t worry about correcting it because you will become so caught up in trying to do that that you will forget to get them out of the posture or even forget what posture you are on. Most people attending his teacher training have no formal experience standing up and leading a group of people to do anything so they are “beginners” all over again in a whole new realm when they start teaching (just as your trainees will be). We’ve all been there and the suggestions that were made at my teacher training as far as no corrections for 6 months, form over depth, and learn to read individual bodies before you push them, correct them, adjust them, etc were very valuable for me when I first started out. As far as people making faces, grunting, groaning, etc I think that is a function of human nature – to try to get someone to pay attention to you especially if you think it might get you sympathy in the middle of a difficult class. It is a distraction to the other students and really does not need to be outwardly addressed by the teacher…I do notice and watch my students when this happens and then can assess whether or not they are okay and just seeking attention or whether I should encourage them to sit out a posture and take it easy. My feeling is that each student is on their own individual journey as I still am on mine. One person’s definition of struggle is going to be 180 degrees different than someone else’s definition. At first you struggle just to breath and look at yourself in the mirror for 90 minutes. Then the struggle might be to get better alignment or more depth of the posture. Then the “struggle” becomes finding the surrender in the postures to let the proper parts of the body relax while the other parts are engaged, allthewhile keeping the mind still and free of judgment. For me, the struggle is no longer physical but I still would say that I struggle…I struggle to be still in between the standing postures without fidgeting or moving my hair or clothes. I do like what you have to say here but I think you are being a little overly judgmental of Bikram. Remember, he is the reason we are all where we are right now teaching his guru’s lineage of hatha yoga and I don’t think it is very yogic to criticize especially when what is being said isn’t really the whole truth. Jennifer


Gabrielle September 19, 2010 at 3:56 am

Hi Jennifer

Thanks for your words.

My post above is only observation and comment. I am not critical of Bikram. I am grateful that I have this yoga. My words above indicate that we have a differing world view. My words are observations only. Perhaps worth a reread!?


Bonnie September 19, 2010 at 12:46 am

I totally agree with the last sentence of Jennifer’s comment concerning critcizing other yogi’s ways of doing things, it is not a good thing to do. I still love recieving and reading your e-mails of useful information, Bonnie


Glenn September 19, 2010 at 2:41 am

Extremes are not good period. Saying Bikram is wrong and another way is right are extremes in my mind. I do Moksha and Bikram and they are both good. It depends on me and the instructors. I have had Bikram instructors explain and show the proper wayto do a pose to the entire class and I also seen the other side were some figure the hotter the better … I have seen Moksha instructors who are , mild, explain and others that think we should all be able to hover off the ground with no points touching the ground .. but I like them all .. why .. because it is my practise and i like all the differences and positive things I take from each class and instructor … If everyone taught the same way what a boring world it would be .. I would probably quit yoga

my 2 cents as a student


Gabrielle September 19, 2010 at 4:05 am

Hi Glenn

Sure, the world is an interesting place. Again, I point out that my words are commentary on our differing world views. That is neither right nor wrong. Extremes can and do exist and yes, deciding that they are not good is a judgment of your own and is entirely dependent on context and is rather subjective! Thanks for your contribution.

Gabrielle 🙂


Jackie September 20, 2010 at 5:39 pm

If you accept the responsibility of “teacher” then you need to scaffold the learning so “students” can make progress in their practice. The degree of support students’ need changes and it takes a really good teacher to know when and under what circumstances to comment. Scripts are fine but when you get stuck on something , good individualized instruction can’t be beat.
I find your “world view” to be very positive 😉


Susan Mulanax September 21, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Well in my Bikram classes I’m ALWAYS hearing: “it’s not how far you go, but HOW you go”….that really makes me pay attention to technique as well as makes me feel good when I’m not bending 90 degrees right in half-moon like the pretzel next to me…..:)


ooohlaa September 26, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Hi, I love all your work that I have seen for free so far, and plan on eventually doing a basic course. Mostly why I would choose you is your decency, your meticulous way of filming your teaching, and your attention to detail and professionalism. I can feel your heart and do not feel it is judgmental but that you have a particular calling and since it is different from what you were taught, you are just drawing the distinctions, not being negative or critical. Those who recognize this difference as exactly what they were looking for will find themselves wanting to join you, and those who do not should not. Life will lead us exactly to our next step if we listen and then follow. Those who do not agree with your style will find what’s right for them and the beat goes on!! No worries, its foolproof. Thanks for your generous style, I look forward to seeing how I fit in.


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