We seemed to think that yoga as a performance art here in the West (and now the East...ahem) has a determinable offering. We assume the product in the market is fixed, that it has a link to the divine as part of its business plan. We tend to forget that it, as a product, has a growth, a sustainable period and end. It has it's own life cycle both economically and as part of service to the clients it attracts.
When I started yoga in the 90's it was all gung ho. You aimed and stretched and pushed your 80's left over spandex to its full capacity. One needed to catch up in class so we could all be One (om) together. A class that headstands together enlightens together.....we thought. Bimkrams yoga taught me to use my throbbing sciatic pain to get through the pain. I never felt so bossy of me.
Then some people blew up a the twin towers.
And concurrently we seemed to realise that yoga can create injuries (no om) so we bolstered up, we strapped and cautioned and went back to basics. We said "your ego is the one that strives" so we considered the prop our saviour; it kept us humble and saved our sciatic nerves.
But was it the fault of yoga in the first place?
My sciatic nerves calmed because of my Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle. It wasn't the yoga, it was how I came to yoga previously that was the problem. It wasn't the yoga, it was that I had learned, in the meantime, what a calm breath felt like and when to avoid a posture because I had exceeded it.
This, in turn, lead me to realise that not all yoga teachers have the insight to their students capacity with how they carry their breath and so the props keep it safe. The first time this occurred to me was when I was in a workshop with Srivatsa Ramaswami, a long time student of Krishnamacharya. He told us that if we didn't need the prop (bolster to sit on) then we shouldn't use it. This was an opener to me since I had not been advised to question my own capacity in a long time, I had been taught to play it safe for a group class.
Alongside an Ayurvedic instruction comes the insight as to individual capacity, again, not as a determinable end but as the opportunity to build on, at your own pace and personal insight. You learn to become an individual again when you learn about your Prakruti. You learn to honour the seasons and the changing climate. You start to see that as the day changes with qualities so does your yoga practise. Some days you need the prop and some days you don't but eventually you move toward independence in all aspects of your life and lose the dependency of another telling you where you should be at because your bodily signs and symptoms become your greatest teacher.
A bolster is a wonderful beginning prop. An Ayurvedic practitioner is a wonderful beginning prop. A therapist is a wonderful beginning prop. God is a wonderful beginning prop. But at some point, and with the mindfulness of watching your breath reaction, you innately know how far you can go.
A parent cannot be there to observe their child cross every road for the rest of their lives. A yoga teacher cannot observe every student in every pose but you can teach the art of independence via cultivating a relationship to prana to eventually switch the roles of the body advising it's mind servant how it can remain in balance today.