Comments on Teaching Yoga
By Kevin Kortan

Introduction

Upon reflection, I see that my teaching of yoga essentially began in my teaching of dance technique in the fall of 1993. The movement forms I was using were simple in shape, restorative, and often began lying on the floor. At that point, I was exploring movement from my sleeping and waking patterns which I recognized as similar to various developmental patterns in babies, and which I later learned are actually yoga forms.

The developmental movement progression of babies (lying, rolling, sitting, crawling, etc.) is movement that comes naturally from the body which prepares it for uprightness. Keeping this movement alive as adults helps restore and maintain the suppleness and strength of the body, and therefore the health and vigor of the entire person. Through following the needs and impulses of my own body, along with my knowledge of movement and anatomical support, I have continued to develop flexible yoga progressions that, to a great extent, mirror this developmental movement progression.

My formal study of yoga has had a definite influence on the design and content of these yoga progressions. However, these sequences have mainly been created by following the natural, spontaneous movement of my own body. In my view, it is the blending of tradition with one’s own experience that enlivens yoga for each person.

Similar to exploring the sleeping and waking patterns that I mentioned above, there have been other times when I discovered certain forms and energy pathways. I intuitively sensed they had meaning and utilized them for myself and for my students. Interestingly again, I’ve since found out that some of these forms and pathways are almost identical to existing yoga postures, qigong exercises, and aspects of do-in (self-shiatsu). I’m fascinated to learn from reading and talking with people that such self-discovery is essentially how the vast science and art of yoga developed: through spontaneity and sensitivity to the evolutionary energy of existence within each one of us.

When working with people, I provide them with a base from which to start. Then as we work, I suggest to them that their bodies can lead them wisely and spontaneously, if they open their minds to listen.

Discipline and Freedom

Is it possible to be innocent working with the body? Can we be sensitive to the organism’s wisdom and its ever-changing nature, and also provide the guidance that technique, anatomical support, forms, and discipline offer?

Dancers so often tell their bodies what to do – when, how, and for how long – primarily with regard to external design. In training, there seems to be a predetermined ideal of form and function into which the individual is fit or “corrected.” Even in many disciplines that profess to be “good” for the body, the mind becomes dominant, willing the body to do what is “correct” and “right,” disallowing certain “unacceptable” patterns -- instead of exploring their potential revelations. Somehow, trust in the body’s ability to guide is lost. It was this neglect of balance in my own dance training that led me to formally study yoga. I found that, although the postures of yoga may be visually pleasing, their external design is borne of internal energy. This distinguishes yoga from other forms of exercise and from much of dance where the visual design is the primary consideration. What further distinguishes yoga is that it can provide the dancer with a strong technical foundation, and, at the same time, maintain the integration of body and mind.

Of course, disharmony of body and mind doesn’t happen only with dancers.   Lack of awareness, emphasis on exterior appearance, forcing, and a glamorization of pain cause many people to tragically betray their bodies. And of course, yoga itself is not immune from misuse and poor application either; students and teachers aspire to “perfection” and “superiority” often at the expense of their own bodies’ integrity. Aspiring to an “ideal” is not yoga. Yoga is union of the person with himself, with life. Yoga ceases to be yoga when it is used as a spiritual whip. Yoga is compassion for the body, your body. Compassion for the body is compassion for the spirit.

Discover your body today.
Be aware of imposing yesterday’s memory
or tomorrow’s dream on your body
Your body is always speaking
its truth
Choose to listen,
through the breath . . .