We don’t have good words for certain things in English. (There is an entire academic debate about whether we have as many words for snow as the Eskimos). One of the words we don’t have commonly is one for knowing something through experience versus knowing information intellectually. This first kind of knowing is what we’re after in yoga — and I would hope in life, but our culture is very set on the second kind.
My teacher, Alan Finger was talking to a new group of teacher trainees about how he grew up. His father had become a passionate yogi and converted part of the family house into an ashram. Alan said, “I grew up learning yoga like we learn English.” That’s the first kind of knowing.
I had taught a technique in class not long ago. Afterwards a student came up to me and said, that was amazing, it made such a difference. I wasn’t surprised, but I was glad that the student came to “know” the practice in that first way — she experienced the technique and thereby knew its effect.
What surprised me was what happened next. As soon as she told me she got it, she asked me where she could read more about it. The technique was rather esoteric, so it’s not spoken of much in general how-to yoga books. I had seen it only once, and then only as a mention. I told her that, and assured her that she had learned all she needed to know about it. Now she just needed to use it.
She was dissatisfied with the answer, and I could see that she was likely to go home and try to find more via Google. I was sad because I had taught her something so simple and powerful — something that bypassed intellect to work energetically, and she wanted to wrap her mind around it instead.
We live in an age of information glut. Just having familiarity with the information is like knowing it’s snows in Denver when you’ve never been out of Southern Florida. Knowing snow is what you get walking around New York City over the past few days as it went from falling to slush to freezing.
It’s important to remember the importance of knowing instead of knowing.