THE BLOG

Bypassing Yoga for Showmanship

11/09/2011 12:30 pm ET | Updated Jan 08, 2012

During a yoga class many years ago (while I was in my late 20s), one of my favorite yoga teachers, Rod Stryker, said, "One really shouldn't become a yoga instructor until after age 40." I accepted the notion, and yet I still excused myself from it by justifying that I was "special" -- wiser than my years -- and it was the "other" gymnast yoga teachers in their 20s who didn't understand the more holistic essence of yoga. Not me.

Now that I am approaching the big 4-0, I understand Rod's words with a greater comprehension and I have come to deeply appreciate the instructors who have their tenure or more. In hindsight I can see that I was focused primarily on the physical practice in my 20s and early 30s. I was jacked up on natural endorphins and ego that I forewent moderation and stillness because I loved my high. As we age, the focus naturally becomes more about balance and moderation, and as a result, the likelihood of students becoming injured in a yoga class with an older, more experienced instructor is much lower. Extreme yoga postures do not lead to enlightenment, nor are they "better" for you.

I took a yoga class tonight with one of LA's "Rock Star" gymnast yoga instructors. I enjoyed most of the class, picking and choosing which postures to execute. I felt at home in the physically-challenging environment since I also come from a strong Ashtanga practice. Yet, this instructor created several of his own postures, and honestly, I was not impressed. What I noticed about the majority of these movements and positions that he presented is that the level of showmanship overrode the physical benefits. With each of his suggestions I asked myself, "Is there more physical benefit from this posture versus performance value?" Sadly most of the time the answer was "no."

Here is my advise to yoga and fitness practitioners: Do your homework on what movements are contraindicated and unstable. Know your body's weaknesses and strengths so as to protect yourself in public classes. Take a moment before jumping into any posture that an instructor tells you to do. Ask yourself what benefits you will reap from it, and if that is something you need and desire. Is there a high risk of injury? If there are minimal benefits other than your ego feeling good, consider moderation and/or non-attachment to the more performance-based exercises.

Remember that yoga is an eight-limbed path intending to yoke the ego as a means to serve one's truth. Ironically, this Rock Star style yoga may actually be a hindrance if the seven other limbs are not practiced with the same fervor.

Training your body is not unlike training a child or a pet. It requires patience, consistency, presence, compassion, knowledge and understanding. You wouldn't throw your child into a position or situation that could potentially hurt him/her simply to feel glorified as a parent or pet owner, would you? If not, why then, would you do this to yourself?