Some years ago I helped teach a class for a boy scout merit badge called “personal fitness”. I figured I would do well with this badge as I had worked in the 'fitness' field for quite some time. When I read the booklet for the badge though I found that physical fitness was only a part. They also talked about other dimensions of fitness: mental, spiritual , and so on. So we taught the class not just about how long they could run, or how any push ups they could do, but also with speakers (such as an occupational therapist and a psychiatrist) who could talk with them about these other aspects of what it is to be human.
I think this is really important. Just as if every time someone went to the gym they only did bench presses, because that exercise really interested them, other parts of their physical body would atrophy, so too if someone ignores all but one of their being those other parts can atrophy. This understanding is at the root of yoga philosophy.
Most people with a familiarity with yoga has heard the word 'Hatha'. As in, “what kind of yoga do you teach?”, “I teach Hatha yoga, but not of a particular school”. Hatha is usually defined as 'the yoga of the physical body'. Remember that a yoga practice is a path. Hatha is one path. There are others: Jnana yoga, Bhakti yoga, Karma yoga, Raja yoga. Jnana is the path of study. Bhakti is the path of devotion. Karma is the path of service in work. Raja (the royal path) is the path of meditation.(My apologies to yogis for simplifying what is MUCH MUCH more complex and subtle).
More important, I think, is to remember that even if one path dominates in a person's life (which I think is often the case) it is vital that the others are not ignored. If you throw yourself into good works: working with the homeless, giving money to charities, saving abandoned dogs, visiting the sick and lonely, but you have not addressed the Jnana part, how do you know how to choose which are the best places to give your time and money? And if you open your heart to the intense love and devotion of bhakti without going out into the world to share the love you feel, it risks falling into self indulgent narcissism. This is why my mantra is: head, hands, and heart. We are beings whose ability to think can lead our hands to do that which is breathtaking or heartbreaking, and it is our heart that determines which it is. And it is the undeniable fact that “No man is an island” that shapes everything. It is only the start to find our own multidimensional personal fitness. You can have the most fit beautiful body there is, but if you do not love, if you do not connect with others from the heart, you are like the person doing all those bench presses with atrophied legs.
So yoga is about physical training. But it also encompasses an idea of a person as more than the physical dimension. And that physical training is about more than asana. In fact if all a teacher teaches is down dog and head stand, even if they are the most beautiful down dog and head stands ever, they are teaching calisthenics or gymnastics if that is at the core of what and why they are teaching. I recently was honored to take training with a really wonderful teacher. He said a great many things that I will be thinking about for quite a while, but one thing really stuck with me: “We don't teach asana, we teach people”.
A final note: As yoga has become popular many people have wanted to teach it. As people have wanted to teach it many schools have arisen to allow them to do so. The Yoga Alliance arose to try to set some standards for what is included in this teaching. Remember that in the early days of yoga a person would go to study with some great teacher, more like an internship, or apprenticeship. There were lineages, rather than schools. And it took YEARS of study to become a teacher. The alliance sets a standard for at least 200 hours of teaching. While it is not years, it is a good standard. It allows enough time to start to master the basics. And I do not mean just the basics as in the names of the postures and how do do them. I mean why we do this work, how our body works and how the postures work on the body, about the breath, how the postures and the breath affect other organ systems, about mental discipline, concentration, meditation, focus, working through all the layers of our being: mental, physical, interpersonal. I think this is important for those who would like to teach, and those who wish to find a teacher to understand. A weekend workshop, or an online class is like a sprinkle of oregano.... first you need the pizza to put it on.