I got an email recently from a young woman, distraught because a knee injury had derailed her yoga teacher training. “I often feel defeated and hopeless about the whole situation,” she wrote, “and it makes me want to scream.”
Well, that’s totally understandable. I blew out my left hamstring in the middle of my teacher training in 2010, which was not only physically painful, but also a bitter pill for my ego, which had begun to become obsessed with my asana awesomeness, to swallow. This young woman said that she had to start over, but that’s not exactly true.
I’ve said it here before, and elsewhere, and so have lots of other people: Yoga is not about the poses. Just look at the recent public humiliations of Bikram Choudhury and John Friend, two modern asana masters, and that fact should become obvious. Those guys mastered their physical “systems,” but some of yoga’s deeper lessons seem to have gotten obscured along the journey.
When I wrote the woman back, I advised her to practice meditation, and pranayama, and even just to practice being nice to people. There are other limbs to the yoga tree, I said. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, while not an unwise suggestion, it was somewhat incomplete. Of late, I’ve begun to understand that yoga is way deeper and more complex than I’d ever realized. It ‘s almost like a bottomless well.
A few weeks ago, I gave a talk and a kind-of asana class at a yoga conference in Houston. After that was over, a friend and I went to hear a lecture by Master Del Pe, an eccentric “pranic healer” who lives in the area. Now, Master Del Pe may very well be a snake-oil salesman. The bio on his website claims that he received his training from “4 advanced masters from the Himalayas and Asia.” Beware the man who’s unspecific about his spiritual lineage. At the same time, he had some fascinating things to say about the chakra system, taught me several mudras I’d never experienced before, and had a ballroom full of people doing exercises that mixed pranayama with martial-arts stretches. I felt fantastic when it was all done.
“So many technologies,” my friend said.
There are indeed. As Hamlet says to his dear friend Horatio, “there are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
A couple of years ago, another friend of mine took a month-long business trip to India. The stress of work and travel and the overwhelmingness of daily Indian life took a toll on him. After a couple of weeks, he was feeling lousy. So he went to nearby Pune, to seek help from the great B.K.S. Iyengar. He walked straight into Iyengar headquarters, where he found the ancient master at his desk, doing paperwork.
“I need to do some yoga,” he said.
Mr. Iyengar doesn’t offer walk-in privates, but he did send my friend to a nearby shala. The guy running the place took one look at my friend, pointed to a couch, and said, “go lie face down over there for an hour.” My friend did, and when he stood up, he felt a lot better.
This, too, is yoga. We think we need to contort and sweat and exert and get all serious about everything, but sometimes we just need to lie down for an hour. So if you get injured, don’t worry. There’s almost certainly a yoga technology out there just for you.