Function over Form
Yoga is taught in three basic contexts: the context of a group class (these
vary from the very general to classes with a specific goal or designated
for a specific group of people), private instruction for developing a personal
practice, or Yoga Therapy.
The goals of each category of class (group, private, and therapeutic) vary.
However, a principle that holds true for each of them is that when applying
the tools of Yoga, function is more important than form. In other words,
as teachers, it is our responsibility to adapt the tool to suit the needs
and abilities of the student, so that he or she may get the desired benefit
Typically, improvement in “form” will come with time and effort. Improvement
does not imply that a perfect forward bend or perfect chanting pitch will
be achieved for certain, but perfection is not the goal: improvement in
the student’s health and sense of wellbeing is.
Group yoga classes
Group classes are for personal maintenance, self-education, and general
well being. They also provide students with a positive and enjoyable experience
of community. The teacher makes every effort to honor each student’s abilities
and needs, however, group classes, by their nature, work at a "common" level,
as they need to address a broader range of criteria to keep everyone safe.
Not just any group class…
Not every group class is for every student. In keeping with the principle
of viniyoga (proper and continuous application of the tools of yoga), we
should choose a class pertinent to our needs, goals, and stage of life.
For example, a pregnant woman will switch from her usual "energizing" practice,
which can be quite vigorous, to a prenatal class to support her throughout
her pregnancy. A sportsperson training for a competitive event might choose
a vigorous, strengthening class that assists in developing stamina, as well
as a meditative class to enhance mental edge.
As a student progresses further along in their practice, it becomes clear
that group classes are useful only to a certain degree. We begin to understand
that each of us has a unique physiology, skeletal- muscular structure, mental
patterns, energy level, etc. To heal these areas of the body and mind a
very specific Yoga program should be followed on a daily basis. This is
when we look to our teacher for one-on-one instruction - the ideal and traditional
form of Yoga instruction. The student consults with their teacher regularly
and practices daily on their own using a practice designed for them by their
teacher. Also, the student provides the teacher with feedback so that the
practice can be refined, as needed. In this way, Yoga becomes a personal
journey, and the student develops the skills to observe the subtle changes
that occur in his or her own system.
Like private instruction, Yoga Therapy is offered on
a one-to-one basis. In this case, the teacher adapts the tools of Yoga to
help heal the student of a specific problem. Where general Yoga keeps us
on the steady path of wellness and regular practice provides the equanimity
to cope with the stresses and various stages of life, Yoga Therapy specifically
targets the root cause of affliction. Or, where this is not possible, as
with HIV for instance, the goal of Yoga Therapy is to heal by appeasing
the symptoms, positively enhance quality of life and thereby reducing suffering.
Because it is not chemical, Yoga Therapy is a complement to other systems
To read more about Yoga Therapy click Here.