On Teaching Shadow Yoga

(re-posted from 2010.)

I am sometimes asked by teachers whether they can integrate some of the movements from the Shadow Yoga practice into their classes. The short answer is: it’s not a good idea. Here is a longer answer:

Yoga practice is systematic: each movement has a particular reason for why it is practiced, and where it appears in the course of the practice. This is true not only for each movement, but for each gesture and transition from movement to movement. The Shadow (Hatha) Yoga practice is like a combination lock; one thing follows the next, and the practice is effective because of the efficiency, specific sequences, and rhythm. It has been brought forth with consideration of the vayus, and nadi systems of the subtle anatomy. The understanding of all this can only come from personal experience supplemented by guidance from an experienced teacher. This is true of all useful yoga practices, but not always true in the modern world of popular yoga.

There aren’t very many Shadow Yoga teachers because the school’s founder, Zhander Remete, knows and has guided everyone who teaches it. This is to ensure things don’t go wrong through misunderstanding or confusion. Traditionally, yoga has been taught directly from the teacher to the student. Zhander offered guidance to those of his students who were inclined to teach, but his “program”-such as it is-has been limited to few people, maybe 40 students world-wide over the past 6 years.

Nowadays, there are many one-week or one-month, or 500-hour teacher trainings. In this case, there may be little relationship between the teacher and the student, and perhaps no recourse for the student to have a guide and ask questions after this brief program is over. Having completed this or that program of training, students are automatically given a certificate of completion. Invariably some unprepared teachers hang out their sign and unsuspecting students put their trust in them. The teacher’s pride in having to be the teacher and not make mistakes can lead them to hide their ignorance and inadvertently mislead students.

Many young teachers are aware that they need further guidance and do continue their studies, however it is also essential that we eradicate our own unfounded assumptions and unclear ideas, and teach only what we understand at any given moment, and what is practical and helpful for our students. As “teachers” we can also take ourselves too seriously, causing us to becoming egotistical or inflated. This will create a barrier to our own learning. Rather than becoming attached to the idea that “I am a yoga teacher” or even “I am a yoga practitioner” (or any other set idea), an open mind includes the possibility that we’ve taken a turn in the wrong direction, and allows us to be free. It is through practice and honest observation of ourselves that we may come to this point by seeing clearly who we are and where we are.

I had taken courses from Zhander and Emma Balnaves for a couple of years before I began a more intensive course of study with them, traveling once or twice per year to study with them for 3 to 6 week periods. Out of the group of 25 international students I began this program with, only 9 were accepted into the ‘teachers course” at the end of three years. This is because Zhander is more concerned with the state and progress of individuals than churning out ‘teachers’ who are unprepared. This shows great compassion, since it will prevent the young teacher from getting into more than they can handle, and will prevent the confusion and injury of the innocent people who would come to study with them.

Zhander brings a great deal of energy and attention to his teaching, and to those students he works with over the course of many years. From him I have learned that slowly through practice we reveal a mirror in which we can see ourselves; the way each of us approaches things and thinks and behaves. This allows each person to remain themselves, see who they are, how to respond accordingly, rather than following blindly along and mimicking what our teacher does. Likewise the teacher and student must have some trust and understanding between them. As Zhander has often said, if there is not trust or connection, it doesn’t matter how good the teacher is, or how much you try: without a connection, the student won’t get much.

As all of us who teach yoga know, it takes greater energy to care and engage with each student and correct things that are not right, than let the whole class glide by. Likewise, sometimes students are happier in class to not be corrected. I have had the experience while teaching of feeling tired, seeing something that is not quite right, and thinking “I could just let that slide.” However, it is the responsibility of the teacher to understand a few things, and put forth diligent effort to focus and guide the student. As far as the student goes, it is their responsibility to pay attention, put forth diligent effort, and be receptive. I know from being a student that in the long run it is far more valuable to be corrected and helped even when it is hard work or painful at the time.

It is one thing to understand these concepts, and another to experience them and know them to be true through clear perception and testing them. This is true for all of yoga practice, and is the reason it takes time, patience, and practice to integrate and understand it. Until there is understanding, you must trust that it is not fruitful to take some of the practice out of context and mix it in with something else. The practice bears fruit when worked privately, on it’s own, without a lot of fanfare. I was already teaching yoga when I met Zhander Remete, and was arrogant, young, and strong. I didn’t really understand what he was saying when he said “Less is More,” and “Practice this for a few years and then we’ll see.” But I did recognize that he was knowledgeable, was not personally invested in what I did or didn’t do, and cared deeply about the practice. So with trust in him I continued to teach what I knew at the time, while practicing and reassessing things in my own practice.

With yoga practice it is a mistake to rush anything, or teach anything you do not understand. Sometimes at first glance we believe we understand something, and it reveals itself later to be completely different. Sometimes practice shows us things about ourselves that we feel in the moment like we would rather not ever see, let alone allow anyone else to see. It is valuable to put your trust in a teacher and not teach or speak about something new, even if your ego suggests that you want to show off, or if your source of income seems to require you to entertain and inspire your students with new tricks. Taking time for ourselves to grow and understand will serve us in the long run. If we are patient, and allow knowledge to take root in us, it will grow and flower and give fruit with time. If we rush, we force the flower to bloom before it is time, and are fooling ourselves and left with nothing.

“In the mid-seventeenth century, Miyamoto Musashi, arguably the greatest martial artist in the history of Japan, wrote:

When you look at the world, the various arts have been tailored to be items for sale. Likewise, a person thinks of himself as something to be sold, and even the implements of these Ways are proferred as merchandise. This mentality divides the flower and the fruit into two and makes much less of the fruit than the flower. In this Way of the Martial Arts especially, form is made into ornament, the flower is forced into bloom, and the technique is made into display: one talks of this dojo or that dojo, teaching this Way or that Way, in an attempt to gain some benefit.”

(Musashi quoted from The Demon’s Sermon on the Martial Arts, Issai Chosanshi, translated by William Scott Wilson)

Although written centuries ago, one can see the similarity to yoga today, when the practice is made into a display, and one school or another school proclaims itself to be the best. As young teachers strive to make an income or distinguish themselves, they grasp at things they don’t understand, and promote themselves as brands or items for sale, before they’ve integrated much wisdom.
Requirements for success in teaching, then, include: a connection with one’s own teacher, clear understanding of what is being taught and what you are teaching, and students who are open and willing to work on what is given. Beyond that, our fate, our natures, and the events of life may or may not provide us the space and opportunities to teach, so, again, it is wise to practice detachment from being this or that.
The suggestion that this practice should not be taught by those not trained in the Shadow Yoga School doesn’t come from greed, arrogance, or pride. It comes from a respect for the practice and a sincere wish that it be conveyed in a safe, helpful and correct way. This would be to support individuals to evolve and adapt, without injury, misperception, confusion or fear.
I am grateful for the investment Zhander Remete has made in teaching, as well as the immense amount of work put into the Shadow Yoga practice, which he assimilated and put forth after decades of practice and investigation. It is a valuable contribution, and one that deserves respect and care in its transmission through others.
Please do not reproduce this article without permission;                                                          intellectual property of Lita Batho, August 2010

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