I've been reading Ganga White's Yoga Beyond Belief. I'm currently reading a library copy, but I might just buy myself a copy ― or give it to my friends with an interest in yoga. I find myself learning a lot from what he wrote, and I find myself reconsidering my own approach to yoga.
Don't let the foreword by Sting fool you: Ganga White is not a flash-in-the-pan rock-star yogi. Reading his book, it is obvious that Ganga White is an experienced teacher, full of insights and ideas on the practice. There is so much to learn.
He addresses the core principles of yoga, always emphasizing the need for the student to pay attention and figure out what works best for them. Yoga is essentially a prescriptive and individual practice; what works for one may not always work for another. White encourages us to approach yoga with an open mind; it is important to listen and follow the teacher, especially in the beginning, but even at the beginning you should be developing your own intuition on the effects of the asanas on your mind and body. The key to deepening your practice is your intuition: Develop it, sharpen it, trust it.
In earlier stages of practice, perhaps for several years, it is importaqnt to follow predominantly the teachings, practices, and techniques learned from qualified sources. During this time you should allow your own unique inner process to awaken and develop, and look for teachers who encourage this personal development. This inner process can develop from the beginning, even while you follow instructions and practices from a teacher. While learning, you emphasize receiving information, and as you progress you put more emphasis on your own inner process. [p. 94]
Do not mistake Ganga White's message as an incitement to disregard the teacher. Rather, he is reminding the student to take responsibility for our practice, that the best teacher is our own body. Sensations such as pain can be good indicators of how our body is responding to the practice ― and can help us heal ourselves. Teachers are important, but they are only guides to point the way to your own journey.
One of the dilemma for someone who has received conflicting teachings from different teachers is whom to trust? There are so many variations on the asana, and different schools of yoga have their different interpretation. For a rookie such as myself, it can be overwhelming at time. I take Ganga White's message here to heart:
Don't focus only on getting into the posture, but consider also what you are getting out of each posture. Form follows function; this principle of design can also be applied to asana. The form of the asana is secondary to the desired effects it produces. Adjust poses by using the alignment that creates the best energy flow, by means of internal feedback and internal effects of the pose. When you are not sure of how to align an asana, pay attention to what others have said and also to which modifications give you the best results and best flow of energy. This is the bottom line ― not a picture in a book or a teacher's assertions, but what your body is telling you. Making sense out of conflicting opinions about asana practice involves balancing what you have learned from others with your own experience and inner guidance. [pp. 94~95]
"Form follows function" ― How often do we mistake the form for substance, forgetting the spirit of things?
Ganga White's message is so relevant to life: Where there are mixed messages and varying opinions, who do we listen to? It's an active process of "balancing what you have learned from others with your own experience and inner guidance." This means keeping an open mind to diversity in opinions, to learning ― all the while staying grounded in our core beliefs, paying attention and sharpening our intuition to make the right choices.
The journey of yoga is towards Life.
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