Yoga as Exercise, Exercise as Yoga……

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These past ten years have found me increasingly re-evaluating my work as a Yoga Teacher Trainer, within an ever widening proliferation and saturation of Yoga teacher training options, amidst accompanying concerns of competitive bar-lowering in teacher training programme course lengths and entry criteria.

This on-going re-evaluation has also sat within the ever widening debates, around the dilution/merging/hijacking/branding/re-labelling of Yoga and amidst multifarious claims as to the ‘origins’ within the oft used generic of Modern Postural Yoga. These debates and origin/ownership source arguments now exist not only within the West but even within its original home in the Indian sub-continent.

Adapting the form of Yoga is one thing.
Adapting the roots of Yoga another.
Better not to confuse the two when choosing.

Aside from this, at the heart of my concerns, amidst the backdrop of the increasing compromises I experienced in trying to ‘fit’ the methodology and process I learnt in India into the Western educational large group learning paradigms, was a wish to reflect even more studiously the 121 and small group teaching mediums that were the lifelong foundations of  T Krishnamacharya‘s and TKV Desikachar‘s work in Chennai.

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Āsana is not just another form of exercise……

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In exploring the principles that underpin the practice of Āsana the first idea to consider is that our practice is not just another form of exercise. Yoga Āsana are more than just physical postures or exercises to stretch and tone the body, or enhance our sense of personalised well-being. From within its Haṭha roots the concern of Yoga is our relationship with the force which is behind our movements and its source that initiates our every action.

Further the different practice elements that constitute a mature Yoga practice are not separate compartments. They are linked through the principles underpinning them. For example a respiratory competence learnt through the practice of Āsana facilitates progress within the seated practice of Prāṇāyāma. An enduring stable posture learnt through the practice of Prāṇāyāma supports the cultivation the meditative attitude inherent in progress towards Dhyāna or meditation.

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Some people use Yoga to move away from something undesirable……

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“Some people use Yoga (or even training for a career as a Yoga Teacher),
to move away from something undesirable for, or in their lives (Abhāva).
Others use Yoga to move towards something desirable (Bhāva) for, or in their lives.
Either can be positive, however good to be clear about our motives,
especially if our relationship with that which we wanted to move away from,
or that which we wanted to move towards,
changes along the way.”

Musings on the Student’s Relationship with the Teacher

Memories from my early days, over 40 years ago now, of going to teachers to teach me Yoga were generally around the notion, replete with conscious and unconscious expectations, that the teacher was there to bring out the best in me.

For example I feel that many of us if group class teachers are used to working with the Lazarus factor (raising folks from the dead each week). Here we can get caught or even need the expectation, both in you and/or in the student, that you will be or are ‘the one’ to revitalise the students tired and/or wired bodies as well as restoring confident dispositions.

However my experiences arising from working with TKV Desikachar stood that notion on its head. This was not through anything he said or did but from my own slowly acquired realisation that my way of looking at the relationship was confused.

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Chatting with TKV Desikachar during a lesson in the early 1990’s…..

Chatting with TKV Desikachar during a lesson in the early 1990’s I commented on an observation formed from discussions with my students within a study group I had brought to Madras (Chennai) for a two week programme at the KYM during my personal study stay that year.

As a part of this particular study group visit to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram some of the students took up the option of 121 lessons with teachers at the KYM. Sharing the content of the practices with me revealed the introduction of a sequence that I had not come across before within, at that time, my nearly 20 years of studies within the work of T Krishnamacharya.

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Yoga Practice is about a re-turning towards our inner life.

Yoga Practice is about a re-turning towards our inner life.

Yoga Practice is about a re-turning towards our inner life. However, even without outer obstacles, we can encounter inner feelings that arise and manifest as obstacles to that re-turning.

Here it might be helpful to reflect on the four pillars of Maitrī, Karuṇā, Muditā and Upekṣā and the role they can have in helping to transform the unhelpful aspects of these inner feelings.

Bhāvana is a beneficial attitude that is consciously cultivated despite tendencies to the contrary”
– T Krishnamacharya commentary on Yoga Sūtra Chapter One verse 33

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Who needs just Yoga as just Yoga anymore?

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“Has the original and ancient Yoga gene now become merely a non-genetic Yoga meme
and thus is only capable of being imitated rather than propagated?”

Noted amidst a flurry of competing exercise/mind and body workout adverts in my local village newsletter:

  • Booty Barre fuses legendary fitness techniques from Pilates, Dance, Callisthenics and Yoga creating balance, posture and body awareness.
  • Pilates Fusion Flow is a mix of Yoga, Pilates and Dance Movements which will strengthen the body and calm the mind.

So on top of Yoga being reduced down to postural exercise with added stress reduction and/or autogenic relaxation techniques, we now encounter a further dissipation of even that element in terms of it being a name or technique that can be bolted on or blended in to other exercise entertainment offerings.

Plus they are all competing for the one stop shop marketplace cakeshare in terms of offering a fitness building and stress reducing marriage.

Who needs just Yoga as just Yoga anymore?

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Reflecting on the relationship between Svadharma and Dharma

TKV Desikachar teaching at Gaunts House

“Once I am very clear about what is to be known – Svadharma,
then I can be clear about what is universal Dharma.”

Reflecting on this quote  from TKV Desikachar posted on February 15th 2014 on the relationship between Svadharma and DharmaI feel we first need to understand our personal place within our inner world, only from there can we understand our universal place within our outer world.

This is a concept that can appear to be contrary to the more usual expectations within the Yoga world whereby we are often given a set of universal standardised principles which we are told to constantly aspire to and strive towards realising.

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Even these days the influence of Krishnamacharya’s teachings……

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Picture courtesy of KYM Archives

Even these days, the influence of Krishnamacharya’s teachings around Yoga are primarily known through his exacting teaching of Āsana. This has also been mainly experienced in the West with the developmental work of his early students, such as through the choreographical artistry in the work of Pattabhi Jois or through the geometrical precision in the work of BKS Iyengar.

However this area of Āsana teaching, though itself multifaceted and hugely influential, if disproportionately predominant within Yoga today, only reveals one aspect of the many dimensions of practice expressed within his teaching. This teaching evolved and refined over 70 years, from his return from his long stay around the borders of Nepal and Tibet in 1919, to his death in 1989

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Medicine, Mastery and Mystery within the field of Yoga.

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Paul Teaching in Zinal, Switzerland in 1999

Medicine, Mastery and Mystery

An Interview with Paul Harvey by Joseph Le Page. Joseph is the founder and director of Integrative Yoga Therapy. This interview took place while Paul was teaching at Zinal for UENFY in 1999.

JL: How do you adapt Yoga to the individual?

PH: I can approach that in two ways, the chronological and the psychological. Chronologically, the starting point is the age at which people begin Yoga studies.

There are three stages of life, or Trikrama. The first is the stage of growth and expansion (Sṛṣṭi).

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Yoga Learning without Teacher Training and within Group Classes

TKV Desikachar teaching at Gaunts House

I have just come across a post on the “Pros and Cons of Yoga Teacher Training” by J Brown from July which rolled up yesterday in my Facebook newsfeed via YogaDork.

He raises some good points in his blog such as the observation that running Yoga Teacher Training Courses have become a de rigueur for Yoga Teachers and, I would add, especially Yoga Studios, to the point that as a new studio opens its doors, such offerings are part of its programme from day one.

As I observed in a post from March 2012 on:

Further musings on Yoga Student and Yoga Teacher Trainings……

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Religiousness in Yoga: Study Guide Compilation Chapters One to Nine

Religiousness in Yoga

Picture courtesy of KYM Archives

Picture courtesy of KYM Archives

TKV Desikachar

Lectures on Theory and Practice

Chapter by Chapter Study guide

‘Religiousness in Yoga: Lectures on Theory and Practice’ by the University Press of America,
a transcript of recordings of a one month Yoga Programme in Colgate University in 1976, published in 1980.

Unlike the later redacted edition, re-published in 1995 as the ‘Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice’, it captures the evolution of the retreat with the days lectures and Q & A dialogues as they alternated between ‘lectures on the principles and purposes of Yoga and discussions related to the practice of Yoga with special reference to the postures and the breathing techniques’.

TKV Desikachar, in his forward to the original version wrote:

“These lectures and discussions, printed words put before persons I might never meet,
are but reflections of that deeper result that grew out of a living face-to-face encounter.
Coming to learn of Yoga only through reading leaves much to be desired.
Yet, something worthwhile about Yoga might be shared through the medium of the printed word.”

A compilation of the chapter by chapter study guides is offered below with added verse and word cross-references where possible to support a a deeper linking with the teachings within these lectures and Q & A sessions.

This compilation Guide currently contains Chapters One to Nine. Future updates will be posted as the remaining Nine Chapters Study Guides are added.

View or Download the Religiousness in Yoga Study Guide Compilation of Chapters One to Nine

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Trumperies and Tactics for the Discerning Gardener……

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I agree it is not easy to work on ourselves and we might compare it to being a bit like encountering a garden that has been left to become overgrown and entangled over years of neglect.

Here the first stage is to look at how we might begin:

We might begin by clearing away the old rubbish that lays all around on the surface of our lives and hampers, distracts or confuses our view of what’s really underneath.

Of course this also means that we are able to discern between the nuances around what we perceive as useful to keep, what is rubbish to clear and especially what we see as precious is in reality useful, or is in fact actually dross we need to cling onto under the illusion (Avidyā) of it being essential for our journey.

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Yoga as a View, Practice and Tool – Part One

Yoga as a View, Practice and Tool

Part One – Yoga as a View

Rāja Yoga – Yoga and Samādhi

 

Yoga as a Process

– The View, Path and Goal towards Samādhi as in Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra

It is interesting these days that as a Yoga teacher the question I am more likely to be asked is ‘What kind of Yoga do you do?’ rather than ‘What is Yoga?’. It’s either that we think we already know what Yoga is or, more likely, that the view is becoming lost within the myriad of ways in which Yoga is offered.

These days there seems to be little apparent clarity around what Yoga is, or if there is a view, it is not very apparent.

This view may also be coloured by religious influences such as Hinduism, Sikhism or even bodywork paradigms such as physical culture, bodybuilding, gymnastics and even wrestling.

In the Yoga world of today in the West it seems as if many teachers are teaching without a clear ‘view’ of what Yoga is and how we might realize this view.

Look for example at how we appear not to even know or use the Yoga name for meditation. Here the most often used phrase is Āsana, Prāṇāyāma and Meditation.

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Yoga as a View, Practice and Tool – Part Three

 Yoga as a View, Practice and Tool

Part Three – Yoga as a Tool

The viniyoga of Yoga – Yoga and Sādhana

 

Yoga as a Tool

– The Art of viniyoga for developing a Personalized Practice

Yoga as a tool is more likely to be the starting point for most students these days in that we often choose a style or approach to Yoga as a starting point in our Yoga experience.

There are many, many choices these days, although the common denominator now appears to based around Yoga teachers rather than Yoga teachings.

For example we have Anusāra, Aṣṭāṅga, Bikram, Dru, Gītānada, Integral, Iyengar, Jīvamukti, Kripālu, Kuṇḍalinī, Sahaja, Scaravelli, Śivananda, Satyānanda, viniyoga of Yoga, etc.

Which is fine in itself. However the question that arises is how do the various methodologies relate to the principles of practice in order to realize the view of Yoga?

My own field of expertise lies within the teachings often referred to as the viniyoga (application) of Yoga, so I can only speak with experience from this perspective.

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Yoga as a View, Practice and Tool – Part Two

Yoga as a View, Practice and Tool

Part Two – Yoga as a Practice

Haṭha Yoga – Yoga and Prāṇa

Yoga as Alchemy

– The Place and Purpose of Prāṇa Agni Doṣa Nādī & Cakra

A further irony in the emerging role and identity of Yoga in the West today is with regard to the term Haṭha Yoga. The term is mainly used generically these days to identify and group ‘physically’ based Yoga practices.

As a teacher I am often asked in connection with the question what kind of Yoga do you teach, is it Haṭha Yoga?

The irony is that when we look at what Haṭha Yoga really is we find that the physical elements are relatively limited with very few Āsana discussed.

Furthermore within the few discussed, the most important are concerned with sitting, in preparation for practice elements other than Āsana.

Primarily to facilitate a quality of being able to sit still and as if move beyond the physical body.

Here, the primary concern and field of activity for Haṭha Yoga practitioners is with regard to the energetic ‘Prāṇa’ body or Prāṇamaya and its role in helping to facilitate a quality of energetic ‘clarity’ and energetic ‘stillness’, ultimately as a ladder to support the practitioners exploration of meditational states of being in terms of Rāja Yoga or the Yoga of Samādhi.

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