John Schumacher: How a Dedicated Yoga Practice Builds a Better Future - Yoga Journal

Live Be Yoga: John Schumacher Reveals How a Dedicated Yoga Practice Builds a Better Future

The master teacher and disciple of B.K.S. Iyengar says it takes 5 steps.
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John Schumacher

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The first thing I noticed about John Schumacher was his flawless regal posture. It was unsurprising, as the Iyengar lineage—through which he discipled for over 30 years—is reputed for its strict style of alignment and stern disciplinary instruction. Schumacher looked as if he had abhyasa (dedicated practice) in his blood. Yet he also emanated an effortlessly flowing state of gentle kindness and grounded ease. Appearing to be the healthiest and most vibrant 72-year-old I have ever met, he has studied yoga for more than 50 years—longer than most yogis today have been alive. When we met with him at the studio he founded, Unity Woods Yoga Center, in Bethesda, MD, he shared how his three decades of apprenticeship with B.K.S. Iyengar himself gives hope in these uncertain times because the practice offers us the tools to change the world.

Step 1: Place Many Tools in One Box—Not One Tool in Many Boxes

These days, students begin their journey into yoga with an abundance of studios and online classes; they can acquire knowledge from a multitude of sources easily. However Schumacher is cautious about this approach. “There are a lot of teachers out there. In the beginning, keep shopping. Find someone that you resonate with and you’re happy to go see every week,” he says. Once you do, inquire into that lineage with consistent and dedicated practice. That’s how you’ll dig deeply into “an accumulation of knowledge, wisdom, and experience that’s been honed over a long time, where much trial and error has already been worked through.” There are no preclusions toward learning from many teachers. “Any structure or framework inherently has limitations,” Schumacher admits, “but [choosing one] also provides a substantial foundation on which to build.”

Step 2: Sharpen Your Lens

Our ability to see—to acquire and build understanding—is correlated to the details for which we look. Iyengar was unprecedented in his instruction of yoga asana through meticulous awareness, which amplified the benefits of the poses. “The very process of paying that kind of attention to what you're doing is the beginning of dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation),” says Schumacher. The scrupulous precision of the body’s position, a cornerstone of Iyengar yoga, unlocks an entirely new depth of skill. By increasing internal sensitivity of the microcosm, one becomes substantially more sensitive to how they interpret the macrocosm. Those efforts can be applied to anything, including daunting challenges like changing the world.

Step 3: Use “Limitations” as the Reason to Practice

“Whatever it is that you think you can’t do is the reason to do yoga,” says Schumacher. Yoga gives us the tools to progress through our perceived limitations with observation, regulation, patience, and sensitivity, so ultimately “you’ll open yourself up to something that you didn’t think you could do.” And when we taste the liberation of dissolving a limitation, we’ll be equipped with the skills to show up in places that may scare us. “When you meet those places and move through them, it empowers those who practice,” he says.

Step 4: Get to the Truth

This sense of empowerment is crucial to continue down the yogic path. As we sharpen our lenses and dismantle limitations, we get to the heart of yoga. Schumacher describes this as “penetrating ourselves to such an extent that we become clearer and clearer about who we really are.” The clearer we are with our own truths and what our work is as individuals, the better able we are to tackle society’s problems. “You can’t really do much about anything unless you can see clearly what’s going on in the first place,” Schumacher points out. This self knowledge, syadhyaya, is essential for building a better future. As the thirteenth-century mystic-poet Rumi reminds us, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

Step 5: Get Connected

With this deeper understanding and connection to the self, we begin to connect to other people authentically. “Once you see yourself as connected to the people you’re interacting with, there’s less likely to be abuse and people taking advantage of one another,” says Schumacher. Ultimately it is from this understanding—not by fighting against it, but through achieving true yoga (union)—that we are empowered to build a better future, which deepens self-understanding and fosters stronger connections with everything around us.