We live in a world of information overload. Or as Arianna Huffington put it: “Ours is a generation bloated with information and starved for wisdom.” But what does that have to do with yoga, asanas and one of Germany's most famous yoga teachers? And is there actually a difference between knowledge and wisdom?
I chose this photo of the two of us atop the Arunachala, the holy mountain in India because the whole trip was filled with encounters & experiences that brought so much wisdom to us.
I will give you the simplest of all examples. If you tell a child to not touch a burning stove, you give the child knowledge. One day though it will touch the stove, whether voluntary or accidentally doesn’t matter here, and burn itself. That’s when the knowledge hast turned into wisdom. It is a combination of knowledge and experience.
Again you might ask, and how does that relate to yoga?
Over the last few years yoga has experienced a boom all over the world. It has become one of the leading markets around the world. The money that can be found nowadays in Teacher Trainings, Yoga Retreats, Yoga Clothes and Accessoires is sheer endless. And it is a growing market. More and more people hop on the train and discover the benefits of yoga.
Yoga isn’t a registered career though, it isn’t something that can be fit into a standard, it can’t be measured. So here organizations like Yoga Alliance came in and put their stamp on it, tried to find requirements for a yoga teacher that would fit all. And what does Yoga Alliance measure? Exactly, knowledge. Most of us in the western world want prove of someone’s knowledge, want to see a certificate, want to see something that shows them that the person in front of them is a professional.
The certificate shows that the person holding it has certain knowlegde in yoga. And that is it. That’s where it ends. Can this person lead a professional, heart-felt, compassionate, mindful and empathic yoga class that insures people won’t injure themself, won’t go over their limits, that people will benefit from this class, improve their health and more importantly, come one step closer to discovering their real Self?
"We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us." Marcel Proust
But that has nothing to do with the certificate. That’s where experience comes in. How long have they practiced? How dedicated are they? Is it just a job or a calling? And is yoga just another form of movement or a way of life and a self-realization path like it was intended to be? And do they practice what they preach?
Nowadays it is really easy to get knowledge. The internet is full of it. Courses, articles, workshops, you name it, it is there. Which is beautiful. I absolutely use this advantage. You don’t need lots of money to get knowledge. So everyone can get knowledge. But knowledge doesn't equal wisdom.
I invite you go look behind the knowledge. I would love for people to make the same beautiful experiences I did. To find teachers that warm your heart, that guide you in the right direction, that light a spark inside of you that will not rest until it has discovered the Self. Teachers full of wisdom.
Go look for wisdom.
And maybe you won’t find the wisdom in this beautiful well-built person in their new and fancy yoga wear (do not get me wrong here, I also like to have nice yoga clothes). Then again, maybe you will :-) And maybe you will find it in an old yogi without any certificate who lives the most simplest of lives, wears whatever is available and just wants to share the yogic life. Look beyond appearance.
"Trust not too much to appearances." Virgil
I had my share of being fooled by knowledge, appearance and fame. Quite at the beginning of my “yoga teacher career” I went to a yoga conference in Austria. I was so excited about all the amazing teachers from all over the world, all the profound knowledge, about everything I was about to learn. I had not thought learning would come the way it did.
In one of the classes one of Germany’s most famous yoga teachers lowered my knee in a pose (a lunge if I remember correctly). The teacher saw it as an invitation to ask in a mocking voice (in a room of about 200 people via the microphone) if my knee was getting tired and if I wasn't able to lift it. He kind of tried to shame me into going back into the pose. Luckily I had done enough inner work already to not let it affect me (Don't ask me how it would have affected me 5 years earlier). I know my body and what it can and cannot do. I know my limits. (I might sometimes have pushed them too much myself; I do not let others push them though.) So I just said yes and stayed in my variation. Now imagine someone struggling with their body image or their self worth, how it could have affected them?
Later during the day he came up to me and wanted to talk about it. He was actually really nice. I told him that my yoga practice wasn't based mainly on asana. His answer hit me. “What else is there?” That coming from one of Germany’s “biggest” names in the yoga market. Not everything that shines is gold. Sometimes it is just glitter.
Go and look for people where you can feel something bigger present in their presence. Where you can feel the light. Not just the glitter. Where you know you will not be judged on whether you wear Alo yoga pants or a pair of sweat pants.I actually had someone ask me once if in my yoga class people were all perfect, never sweating and wearing a perfect outfit. It is so sad that that is what it has come to in the western world in many studios. My answer is: some do, some don’t. Some sweat. Some don’t. Some wear brand new expensive yoga wear and others wear a jogging pants. It does not matter. Yoga isn't about how your body should look like and what poses it is able to do.
It does not matter whether someone is able to do a handstand. It has nothing to do with being an advanced teacher or practicioner. While you certainly can admire someone who does a handstand for having shown great discipline, focus and working on their strength and balance, it is no different to admiring any other athlete out there who has done the same. It has nothing do to with yoga though. It is just an asana. A tiny little part in a whole way of life, a path. The main purpose of yoga is discovering the Self behind all the layers that are hiding it. Asanas is one of the layers.
A real yogi, the one with wisdom, does not focus on the asanas (yoga postures). Knowing that those where just the preparation of the body to be able to sit in meditation for as long as he wants to. Of course he can still do asanas, but there is no attachment to them any longer. They have served their purpose. They have paved the way for something way deeper, for the wisdom that can be attained through the practice and experience of meditation. Discovering the Self again can only be attained through self enquiry, through going within, through finding who we really are and who we are not. And the body we certainly are not.
A real yogi has the strength, the discipline and the focus to stay on a path of self-enquiry, let go of any attachments, of everything that isn’t aligned with the yogic path and to going deeper and deeper along the spiritual path. They walk the talk.