"...But One System Among Others"
"Teachings on Yoga appear first in passages of the earlier Upanisads... In these texts, different authorities promote diverse teachings and definitions of Yoga. This diversity reflects the situation in ancient India, where different systems of Yoga co-existed. In the course of time, however, the Yogasutra or Yogasutras (YS)... has become the 'classical' text on Yoga and the basis for a system superseding other systems of Yoga. Although is has received an extraordinary amount of attention from modern scholars, as well as from contemporary Yoga practitioners, one should keep in mind that the system of the YS is but one Yoga system among others."
From "Eighty-four Asanas in Yoga" by Gudrun Buhnemann
Demonstrating: Imitation and Mirroring
Each teacher has a different style of teaching. Some practice with the students, doing every posture while describing the motions. Others are mostly verbal and occasionally demonstrate. Others are completely verbal, using only explanations to lead the students through the practice. These teachers do not demonstrate at all; it is especially common in my tradition - Ghosh yoga - including Bikram.
As teachers it is important for us to consider how our students learn; how any students learn. Imitation is one of the most basic and powerful forms of learning. We see it as children develop - they do what their parents, older siblings and peers do. This is called Mirroring; when we imitate an action because we have seen someone else, especially an authority or role model, do it.
Bringing this concept into the yoga realm is easy enough. Our students will learn better and faster if they have role models to mirror - if we demonstrate what they are supposed to do instead of just describing it.
This is a huge improvement we can make to the Ghosh and Bikram traditions that function largely on verbal cues. If we add demonstration to the cues, the students will comprehend more readily and progress faster in the right direction. They will learn from seeing someone execute the postures correctly.
Yoga Brings Us Many Things
If we are weak, yoga makes us strong.
If we are rigid, yoga makes us fluid.
If we are shy, yoga makes us confident.
If we are too bold, yoga makes us humble.
If we are selfish, yoga connects us.
If we are altruistic, yoga connects us to the self.
If we are quiet, yoga shows us our voice.
If we are loud, yoga shows us silence.
If we are of the ether, yoga brings us into our body.
If we are of the earth, yoga shows us the universe.
Humility & Stress
The world is a complicated place. Life in our culture can be fast paced, stressful, confusing and frustrating. Yogis are not immune to this stress; hopefully we can recognize it in ourselves early and release it, keeping the mind, body and spirit calm and present.
My life has been particularly stressful lately. Lots to do, lots to learn, places to be, people to talk to, plans to make, plans to execute. I can't remember a time when I have been so busy and pulled in several directions.
So my most important yoga has been mental and energetic. I do a lot of breathing (Pranayama) to quiet the mind. I also remind myself constantly of who I am and what I care about. Humility.
I will work as hard as I can in an effort to make progress and follow through on the commitments I have made. But I need rest, I need quiet, I need to be still. I can not go, go, go for 24 hours per day. I will become stressed and ill.
I can only do as much as I can do, trying to keep my mind, body and spirit strong and healthy. My mind present.
Clean, Honest and Good
Most spiritual traditions have codes of conduct to guide us toward a better spiritual life. Judaism, Christianity and Islam each have a set of 10 commandments that are ethics and guidelines for worship. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali sets forth a similar group of ethical guidelines and disciplines.
The power in these ethical codes is that they are absolute: if we lie, we are not honest; if we kill we are violent. In this way, all that we have to do is follow the guidelines to be good people. It is really that simple.
My current favorite is Cleanliness/Purity. Keep the body clean, eat clean food, avoid dark and angry thoughts. When one acts and thinks in a clean way, one is and becomes clean.
It is even easier to be an honest person. All we have to do is tell the truth. Always. It can seem like an insurmountable expectation, but after a little while of being completely honest, the mind develops a clarity that is hard to ignore. After that, anything other than the truth clouds the mind and becomes intolerable. We want to tell the truth. We have to.
Being "good" is a little more vague, but that is why all these traditions specify behaviors to do and avoid. Don't be violent, don't lie, be generous, be kind. If we do these things, we embody the person that we have always dreamed of becoming. We cease to be in conflict with ourselves and our better nature.
ps. The same is true of happiness. To be happy, what we must do is be happy.
I have seen it happen to so many great yogis: when they start teaching regularly their personal practices drop off and maybe even stop altogether.
We only have so much "yoga time" in our lives, and if we let both teaching and practicing eat away at that time, it is inevitable that when we add teaching, our practice must diminish to balance things.
Teaching is for the students. The teacher makes him/herself available as a guide for less experienced practitioners. This time is self-less for the teacher, who is completely focused on the presence, ability and needs of the students.
Being a good teacher requires a lot of personal experience and knowledge which usually comes from practice. So the best way to be a good teacher is to have a good practice.
Personal practice is time dedicated to progress and introspection. This makes it quite distinct from teaching. While practicing, a yogi focuses intently on the self, obliterating all distractions and separations.
Practice is introverted, teaching is extroverted. Practice is for the self, teaching is for the student.
Come Back Tomorrow
Regardless of how we feel today - good, bad, energetic, lethargic, strong or weak - the most important element of our yoga practice is persistence; that we come back tomorrow.
Yoga is not an accomplishment. It is not something to pursue until we can touch our toes, stand on our hands or put our feet behind our heads, only to quit once we have achieved our goal.
It is just like eating well. You wouldn't eat the perfect meal and then say "Okay, I've eaten the perfect meal. That's all I need! I don't need to think about eating anymore."
Yoga is like eating. It is most valuable when done well over the course of years and decades. It doesn't do us much good to practice really hard for a month and then quit.
Whether your day today is great or shitty, whether your body feels amazing or tight, practice today and practice again tomorrow.
Insight From Buddha Bose
I have been working with a lost manuscript by the great yogi Buddha Bose (much more about this later!), one of Bishnu Ghosh's early prodigies (a couple decades before Bikram). In the preface to this volume, Bose gives the following insight about yoga practice.
"Yoga means union - union of the human soul with the Spiritual Soul or Spirit - God. The Yoga Asanas or exercises greatly facilitate this union for they aid the aspirant in achieving that most necessary and desirable quality in approaching that state, viz., the power of concentration."
"The student requires perseverance, patience, the ability to concentrate, and above all, a willingness to adopt healthful and regular habits."
"No one, however skilled, should perform all of the asanas every day. It is better gradually to increase the duration of practice of each exercise than to strive to practice a large number of them for a brief period."
Practicing Slowly and Simply
When practicing Postures/Asanas, move slowly.
Enter the postures slowly, with control. Hold the posture where you can have proper alignment in the body, especially the spine. Find stillness in the posture. Come out slowly. Return to standing, sitting or lying and rest for a few moments, letting the circulation, heart and breath return to normal.
This may seem like oversimplification, but it is harder than it sounds. Moving fast and clumsily is easy to do. Moving slowly is difficult, stillness even more so.
Remove the complexity and the rushing from your practice. Practice slowly and simply. The body and the mind will develop quickly. Stress will dissipate. Clarity will emerge.
This journal honors my ongoing experience with the practice, study and teaching of yoga.
1) Sridaiva Yoga: Good Intention But Imbalanced
2) Understanding Chair Posture
2) Why I Don't Use Sanskrit or Say Namaste
3) The Meaningless Drudgery of Physical Yoga
5) Beyond Bikram: Why This Is a Great Time For Ghosh Yoga