Google…ahh the very word sounds like music to my ears. I love that within a few seconds we can find ‘answers’ to pretty much any questions that we can imagine. How did we survive before the invention of the world wide web?
I’m so guilty of relying on Dr Google for almost everything. Got something funky going on with my body, I’ll just type in a few symptoms and diagnose myself. Looking for inspiration, I’ll type a few key words and add ‘inspiring quote’ to the end of it. Need a yoga studio in a town I’m visiting, look it up and I'll get all the info I need. Want to get from Point A to B, yep plug that info in, talk to me phone and your every wish is my command.
This is a really awesome thing, often very helpful but lately I’m starting to question the value of having so much information available at our fingertips.
Firstly, anyone can post stuff on the internet, you don’t need to be a respected authority, you don’t even need to have half a clue what you are talking about, you can publish that stuff and it’s out there in the world for everybody to see.
Secondly, often you’ll find so many answers to your question that they will contradict one another, who is right and who is wrong. Often we choose the one that works best for us, not necessarily the ultimate reality, just the one we want to hear, sound familiar?
On top of all of that we often don’t get the complete picture. Every human body is unique, every situation is unique, there is no one size fits all, how can we ever fully encompass and address the diversity that lies in front of us…
In some regards information can be really damaging, particularly when we don’t have the discernment to see if for exactly what it is, in many cases it’s just an ‘opinion’.
Here are a few recent experiences of mine that have got me pondering about the value of so much information readily available to us.
Exhibit A - Carpet Stains
I messed up my carpet with a small patch of coffee coconut water that had leaked in my bag. Went straight to Dr Google to find out what to do, after consulting multiple sites and following the instructions perfectly I attempted to fix the stain, only the suggested remedies made it worse. So what next, call in an expert. Turns out I did all the wrong things and made the situation way worse than it needed to be - an expensive mistake. Lesson learnt.
My advice here go straight to the person who does it for a living, not the random person who made a little boo boo on their carpet, picked up some household products, decided to film their handy work and magically made it disappear. While people have good intentions in sharing this information, every case is unique and different (what type of carpet you have, now long the spill has been there etc) and its not always a one size fits all approach.
Exhibit B - Advice on how to practice/teach yoga
Every now and then an article comes up in my news feed that catches my attention ’10 Alignment Cues you should stop using’ ‘how to stabilise the shoulders in chaturanga’, the list goes on an on. Ever notice how you click on one and then all of a sudden all you are seeing is similar stuff come up in your news feed ?
I often click on them and have a read, I’m always looking to deepen my knowledge and teach more effectively, but in the last few weeks I’ve come to see how contradictory all the information out there can be. Open up one article and its telling me that jumping back to plank is a good practice, very next article says never jump back to plank. We are overloaded with information, one yoga school teaches it one way, the next teaches it completely different, what’s right and what’s wrong?
In the ancient tradition of yoga where the practice was passed down from guru to disciple the information was handed down directly, there was little room for mis-interpretation. Even going back to how Krishnamacharya taught yoga, he was very clear in saying that it must be tailored to the individual. So why is it now that we have this blanket sets of rules that are designed to be applied to everyone?
I recall a great quote from a recent training that went something along the lines of ‘the one thing you need to be most wary of is the person that claims they are 100% right, they are almost certainly going to be wrong’. The more I study the more I come to realise that I don’t really know anything for sure. While something might work for 95% of people there is always going to be the 5% exception.
Getting to the Truth of Things
I subscribe to the theory that no one philosophy or teaching is 100% complete or correct. We need to find our own truth and live/teach according to that. But how do we do that?
In the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali we are told that there are three ways to gain more correct knowledge. These are though:
Many yoga traditions advise that direct experience is the path to true knowledge, wisdom and spiritual growth. In other words you need to be your own guru.
I'll use the example of jumping back to plank and establishing whether that is a good or bad thing, how do we get to the truth of that?
Well firstly, don’t blindly accept the advice you are receiving, go do it, see how it feels, film yourself doing it, does it look strongly supported/safe? What happens around the core/lower back?
Then get a few friends with different levels of experience to do it, or observe people doing it in a mixed level yoga class. Does it look safe/strong/supported?
Based on what you know from your study and what you have just learnt observed, how would you safely instruct this transition? What are you trying to achieve? Do you really just want people to go from standing to a plank position, does the jump add any value?
Find the truth that works for you based on your training and personal experience and if needed seek the advice of teachers that you respect and trust. But most importantly recognise that every one of your students is a unique being, what works for one might not work for the next. If you have asked them to straighten their arms 3 times and its still not happening, don’t think its because they aren’t listening/trying, have a discussion with them to find out what they are feeling, give them alternatives and a way to practice that is safe for them.
In the case of carpet stains, or that niggling injury that won’t go away. We don’t really want to mess about with home remedies if we don’t really know what we are dealing with (just to learn from direct experience), there is too much at stake. This is where we consult with a respected authority and as much as I hate to say it, I really don’t think Google is a respected authority.
I don't think the amount of information out there is the issue, I think it's more our filters that are somewhat broken. Many of us are disconnected to ourselves, we've forgotten how to feel into our bodies and discern for ourselves what does and doesn't work for us. We are often looking outside of ourselves for answers simply because it seems like the easy way out.
Seeking the easy way out really neglects the work that develops true wisdom and will also prevent us from fully experiencing what is on offer to us in every moment.
I choose to be my own guru, I have nothing but love and the utmost respect for all my teachers. I'm grateful for all the information that's out there in the world and I will forever be thankful for goggle. However, I know that all of this is nothing more than a guide, it's my responsibility to find my own path and what rings true to me and the best way I've found so far to do that, is to give it a test run for myself.
I'll never tell you that my way is the right way, I can only tell you why it works for me. Maybe if we all acknowledged that every single one of us on this planet has their own unique truth and nobody is right and nobody is wrong there would be a little more love and respect and less war.
That's a perfect little lead in for me to finish off and share one of my favourite Sanksrit words.
Svarupa - the shape of your soul. Your own condition, character, nature. Wise, learned.
Mandy Habener (Dumas)