“ What’s your style?”
Any boy who grew up in the 70’s, or 80’s even, will surely know the answer to that question.
“Iss called da ard of fighding widoud fighding” ~ the immortal words of Bruce Lee.
When someone asks me what style of yoga I teach, being a child of the 70’s, I often hear these words pass through my mind. Once I start stumbling through my overly long and unnecessarily complex answer, which I’m sure loses them after the first minute (What?! your answer lasts more than a minute?!) I find myself yearning for an answer with the punch of Bruce Lee’s.
And so I have been advised to work on my ‘Lift Speech’. “Sum up what you do in 10 seconds”.
Really? I can’t sum anything up in 10 seconds. My brain likes to complicate things, which makes me a pretty bad networker. A preferable quality it seems for someone trying to earn a living from what is now a multi billion dollar industry! Wow, I didn’t see that coming when I first put foot on this path back in the early 90’s. You were lucky if you could find a class in the local gym back then, and the only yoga clothes were dodgy tie dye pants from Camden market.
I struggle with the modern day commercialisation of this ancient spiritual practice, but at the same time I ask myself, how else am I going to get by in these times of rising rents and living costs if I don’t succumb to that which I loathe? (loathe might be a little strong but you get the point).
“So what do you do?”
“I teach yoga”
“Oh right, what style do you teach?”
“There is only one style of yoga at the end of the day. It’s called the art of shovelling shit. Your own shit. Cleaning up your house and throwing away your junk. Polishing your floors and opening the windows to let the air circulate, oiling the hinges so they don’t squeak, then getting a nice big fire going. What happens after that depends on how well you took care of the basics.”
Hmmm, I’m not sure that’d work as my lift speech. Perhaps people are asking the wrong question.
The word ‘yoga’ means different things to different people and this is an important point, because as soon as I tell someone I’m a yoga teacher they instantly project their understanding of the word yoga onto me.
It’s like watching a movie and thinking ‘oh right, this is like that comedy I watched last month’ or Horror, or Si-Fi, or whatever. We like to categorise things, put them into genres, into pigeon holes. If someone already has a clear idea of what yoga is, then whatever ‘style’ I teach they will naturally pigeon hole it. ‘Hatha’, ‘Vinyasa’, ‘Dynamic’, ‘Flow’, ‘Dynamic Vinyasa Flow’. It’s not a perfect analogy but you catch my drift. Maybe the exchange should go more like this:
“What do you do?”
“I teach yoga”
“Yoga! What’s the point?!”
Hmmm, that caught me off guard, what use is my lift speech now? I’ll try this..
“Well…it calms the mind”
“I don’t need my mind calming”
“It’s good for your breathing”
“I can already breathe”
“Do you have tight hamstrings? It can help with…”
The Yoga Industrial/Complex (I just made that up) has one objective. Selling yoga. Why would it make the effort to open up meaningful dialogues with people about what yoga might mean to the individual, when it can simply sell pre-packaged variations from the ‘yoga shop’? Why encourage people to think when you just want them to consume? For all the new ‘styles’ of yoga out there, how many of them teach one to reflect and look deeper inside themselves?
If you want to sell yoga in the market place, get people to look outside and compare themselves to others, to read glossy yoga magazines and see the beautiful adverts with sexy yoga models who perfectly reinforce the global presentation of what yoga is really about. It’s highly marketable, but it’s a trap, and it limits ones perception of this ancient practice, this science. It’s subtle, insidious and it’s powerful. You don’t feel yourself falling into this trap, so you don’t try and get out. And even if you did…would you? You love being a sparkly ‘yoga guy/girl’, don’t you? Go on, admit it.
This is where the guidance of a good teacher comes into its own.
The art of advertising is convincing someone they need your product even if they don’t, or that they need your version even when they already have someone else’s. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to sell a product. I don’t want to convince someone that they need my version. But…but, I do need to let them know what I am offering and how it might benefit them personally.
“So what do you do?”
(Don’t say teach yoga, don’t say teach yoga!) “I help people”.
“Hmmm, intriguing. What do you mean? How?”
OK, I staved off the “What’s your style?” question. What next?
A meaningful dialogue perhaps, about how my skills and knowledge may be able to positively impact their life on a more personal, individual level? Perhaps.
We’ll have to talk about it and find out.