Teaching Yoga: Venturing Off The Beaten Path

Are you stuck in a rut in your yoga practice? Perhaps it is time to step off the beaten path and explore alternatives that will breathe life back into your routine. “I took the road less traveled by, and it has made all the difference”, wrote acclaimed poet Robert Frost. I took in such lines along with my Cheerios and bedtime stories as a child, my father being quite a fan of the poet. There is a lot of wisdom in that line, both in life and in yoga.

Going beyond words on a page, my father has shown me the value of exploring the unknown – through his own life and through how he has guided me to live my own. A recent example occurred while visiting him in Florida. He took me to a hidden gem of a gift shop/art gallery that was only accessible via a windy, dusty road. The closest available bathrooms were in a restaurant about one-hundred yards away, and a wooden sign greeted us as we entered the shop.

Amidst this quaintness we found some of the most unique, accomplished works of craftsmanship that I’ve ever seen. Offerings included native Florida sea life crafted in various media. Some were made to hang from ceiling-tied strings like piñatas, while others could be imagined resting on fire mantel-places, adorning kitchen appliances, and the like. Other, perhaps more traditional paintings, beautifully depicted scenes of local wildlife and their habitats in a skilled balance of abstraction and realism. Pleasantly awestruck, I immediately understood my father’s girlfriend’s statement that the store is “incredibly unique [and] something not to miss.”

Yoga Teaches Us to Be Open to New Experience

My experience with this little shop reminded me of Patanjali’s advice that we remain open to new experience. Doing so can help us to connect with our dharma or purpose, feel more personally fulfilled, and be of greater service to others. Even though in our modern age this may look far different than what Patanjali envisioned, his wisdom continues to prevail.

Western culture offers an immense opportunity to engage in yoga practice in myriad ways. Yoga studios are commonplace, online sources for yoga practice videos and articles are abundant, and there are countless numbers of books and DVDs that can guide individuals in practice. That diverse availability offers individuals many different avenues through which to pursue their own personalized yoga practices, but it can also be quite overwhelming.

Moving Off the Beaten Path

Some follow the example of others rather than exploring the plethora of options out there. Although it can be important to seek social when taking up a yoga practice, it also eliminates the opportunity to tread into the unknown. Perhaps the gems and precious works of art lie “off the beaten path.”

For instance, we can try a new class or studio that may not yet have attracted many students. Diving into the unknown can help us not only to grow, but also avoid falling into comfortable ruts.

We can also explore the unknown within our yoga practice. A tricky-looking arm balance or inversion might be an interesting place to explore. Take a deep breath, face your fear, and ask a knowledgeable instructor to guide you.

Would you like to build a home practice but hesitate without the guidance and assurance of an instructor? Lay out your mat in an open and quiet space in your home, take baby steps with postures and sequences that you are comfortable with and see what happens.

Yoga teachers can “take the road less traveled” by taking classes, visiting studios, and consulting new or innovative sources of inspiration. We can also take this exploration into our teaching by trying new sequences and examining alternative approaches to teaching that we’d previously shied away from. Whatever the case may be, whomever you might be as a practitioner or instructor, venturing away from the conventional may indeed “make all the difference.”

Kathryn Boland is a third-year Master’s degree student in Dance/Movement Therapy at Lesley University (Cambridge, MA), and an E-RYT 500. She is originally from Rhode Island and attended The George Washington University (Washington, DC) for an undergraduate degree in dance (where she first encountered yoga). She has taught yoga to diverse populations in varied locations. As a dancer, she has always loved to keep moving and flowing in practicing more active Vinyasa-style forms. Her interests have recently evolved to include Yin and therapeutic yoga, and aligning those forms with Laban Movement Analysis to serve the needs of various groups (such as Alzheimer’s Disease patients, children diagnosed with ADHD, PTSD-afflicted veterans, all demographically expanding). She believes in finding the opportunity within every adversity, and doing all that she can to help others live with a bit more breath and flow!

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