Recently I’ve been very fond of this 24-year old singer from Kazakhstan whose name is Dimash. Despite his young age he demonstrates incredible musical skill and unbelievable vocal range. He is also a great performer and a very sweet and humble kid, which is the icing on the cake. Few weeks ago, he auditioned for this new show on CBS called The World’s Best where the panel of three American judges and 50 (!) international judges voted on whether or not he would become a part of the competition. All but two judges thought that he was amazing. One of the international judges (a music producer) who voted against him later reasoned that art is subjective and he cannot be asked to separate his professional and personal opinion on the subject. He said: “You cannot judge art like you would mark a math exam.” However, other music producers and vocal coaches strongly disagreed. One of them, for example, argued on his YouTube channel that, in fact, in singing you can most definitely assess any singer on his/her range, control, intonation, and other things. He said: “I say music is 50 percent art and 50 percent technicality. So yes, there is absolutely the artistic – you have a blank canvas and you get to paint whatever you want – that’s awesome. I agree with that, it’s very subjective. But when you combine the technical aspect with that art, it gives you a much greater tool box for your ability to expand that art in other ways. They have to work hand in hand, it’s not one or the other.”
This response resonated with me very strongly because I feel the same way about yoga. I keep hearing that every yoga class is a unique manifestation of the teacher’s style and approach, and that you cannot judge it on its own merits. It is similar to that “blank canvas idea”, where whatever you put on it, even if it’s totally random, will come out as art. Even if somebody piles up a bunch of poses into a yoga class without any rhyme or reason, it’s still expected to be something great and useful. May be, maybe not. To me it’s like listening to my 7-year old who knows nothing about music play piano – it’s adorable and I applaud his effort, but it’s no symphony.
In my mind, those types of experiments can be delegated to the “art” part of yoga practice design, but they can never replace the technical aspects. There always need to be some basic universal principles that hold the practice together. For example, every yoga practice needs a purpose (otherwise why bother?); in every practice the body needs to be taken care of (with preparation and compensation for more difficult postures, for example); there needs to be some logic to the order in which poses are introduced, and some way to evaluate the effectiveness of the practice (both subjectively and more objectively). Each yoga tradition might have its own flavors when it comes to those elements, just like in music we have different genres (pop, rock, opera, rap, etc.), but some structural things still need to be present, otherwise we end up with a yogic equivalent of cacophony.
It is also my understanding that not all traditions and not all training programs offer sufficient tools for yoga teachers to feel comfortable with intelligent practice design. I heard things like “Just take Sun Salutation and throw more poses into it” as a sequencing strategy. Over the next few weeks I would like to spend time exploring different aspects of “yoga technicality”, so to speak, from the viniyoga standpoint. Viniyoga offers one of the most developed and well-articulated strategies for sequencing yoga practices that I am aware of. Personally, it gives me great comfort to have the sequencing structure that I can modify according to my needs.
In fact, my teacher Gary Kraftsow often likes to joke that before yoga teachers can get to heaven, they have to defend every yoga practice they ever taught from the perspective of logic and effectiveness. In my early days of teaching I remember leaving my classes thinking: “I am going straight to yoga hell for that sequence I just taught.” This hasn’t happened in a very long time because I taught and practiced a lot, learning from my mistakes. But if you don’t have a system to even evaluate your own classes, how would you know whether or not they are effective? With this upcoming series of posts, I want to help you establish your own system for structuring your yoga classes and evaluating the results, so you, too, can grow as a yoga professional. Along the way we will analyze some preconceived notions about teaching yoga, and may be even argue a bit about what makes more sense. I do not need you to agree with me on everything, but I do think it’s necessary for all of us to occasionally question our preset ways. I hope that you will find it useful.
Oh, and by the way, you can check out one of Dimash’s performances (with English subtitles and a little background on the song) here. This kid is in no danger of going to “singing hell” 🙂
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