By Kathryn Boland
Here’s a story about being off the beaten path in yoga. “I took the road less traveled by, / and it has made all the difference” wrote acclaimed poet Robert Frost. I took in such lines along with my Cheerios and bedtime stories as a child, my father being quite a fan of the poet. Going beyond words on a page, my father has shown me the value of exploring the unknown – through his own life and through how he has guided me to live my own. A recent example of that effect was when visiting him in Florida, he took me to a hidden gem of a gift shop/art gallery. It was accessible only via a windy, dusty road. The closest available bathrooms were in a restaurant about one-hundred yards away, and a wooden sign greeted us as we entered the shop.
Amidst this “quaintness” (as one might describe it), in my humble opinion, were some of the most unique and accomplished works of craftsmanship that I’ve ever had the pleasure to view (and I say that having been a frequent visitor of many Smithsonian Institutions and the National Gallery of Art while I lived in Washington DC, and presently a regular at the Museum of Fine Arts where I live now in Boston, MA). Those works included various types of Florida-native sea life crafted in various media – made to hang from ceiling-tied strings (like piñatas), rest on fire mantel-places, adorn kitchen appliances, and more. Other, perhaps more traditional paintings beautifully depicted scenes of local wildlife and their habitats – with a skilled balance of abstraction and realism. Pleasantly awestruck, I immediately understood my father’s girlfriend’s statement that the store is “incredibly unique, something not to miss”.
I believe that my experience with this little shop has much to inform us as yoga practitioners and instructors, and/or reinforce our core beliefs. Considering traditional yoga theory, Patanjali advised us to remain open to new experiences. Doing so can help us to feel more personally fulfilled, serve others, and ultimately reach our life’s dharma or purpose. The modern age changes how we might do so, however, quite different from what Patanjali might have envisioned in his day.
For instance, 2014’s Western culture offers an immense amount of opportunities to engage in yoga practice (not to mention the mind-blowing amount of more general media, other information, and ways to productively spend one’s time); new yoga studios are opening up all the time, online sources for yoga practice videos and related articles are abundant, and there are countless numbers of books and DVDs that can guide individuals in practice. On the one hand, that diverse availability advantageously offers individuals many different avenues through which to pursue their own personalized yoga practices. On the other, it can all seem like a lot of overwhelming “white noise”, so to speak.
In order to find something to pursue in the midst of what can seem like too many options, some individuals flock to what others are doing. Hence, the phenomenon of trends. Though I fully believe in seeking social support in the form of others’ views of what they’ve tried, I propose a different route. I challenge you, dear readers, to try something “off the beaten path”, as the saying goes. You might just find a hidden gem like that great little shop in Florida. You may come to see that going down that dusty road was well more than worth it!
For instance, as practitioners we can try a new class that might not yet have attracted all that many students. In general, trying classes apart from the ones we’ve frequently found ourselves taking can challenge us to grow and help us to avoid falling into comfortable ruts. In another way of trying out the unexplored, we can give that new studio – tucked behind buildings and down a one-way street – a confident shot.
A tricky-looking arm balance or inversion intriguing you, yet you’re hesitant to try it? Take a deep breath, face your fear, and ask a knowledgeable instructor to guide you through it (granted, that instructor evaluates that you have the physical abilities to safely execute it). Would you like to build a home practice, but you hesitate to practice without the guidance and assurance of an instructor? Lay out your mat in an open and quiet space in your home, take baby steps with postures and flows that you are comfortable practicing alone, and your practice will build. In an even larger cultural scope, we can dare to defy current trends by passing up that packed “Pump it Up Power Vinyasa” class (meaning absolutely no disrespect to such styles, as a fan of them myself!) in favor of a physically gentler Yin or Chair Yoga, or even strictly meditation, class.
For instructors, we can “take the road less traveled by” through challenging ourselves to grow in the same ways – taking classes, visiting studios, consulting sources that ourselves and others might not yet have discovered are indeed valuable. Our teaching styles can also be beneficially unconventional. If we find ourselves always guiding certain advanced students in our classes (because we might – understandably – want to push them even further to their potentials), we can shift our focus to see what other perhaps more novice students can offer. We can also take (healthy and measured, albeit) risks with alternative approaches to guiding students through postures or imparting yoga philosophy, amongst other elements that we offer in our classes. Whatever the case may be, whomever you might be as a practitioner or instructor, venturing away from the conventional can indeed “make all the difference”.
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