A yoga of understanding
● The oldest printed texts in existence, the Upanishads, show that “yoga” is a philosophy with a metaphysics of meditation and spirituality at its core. Exercise is not the primary aspect of yoga practice. Although asana is an integrated part of yoga practice, it is to prepare the bodymind for meditation, on whatever level the mediation is practiced. Asana on it’s own simply not yoga.
● Patanjali is said to have compiled the Yoga Sutras around 400 CE from older traditions, to present a useful vantage point of “ancient” yoga for the modern times. It outlines a concise consideration of what “being yogic” is. Without a deep understanding (not merely reading or giving a nod) of these principles – what not to do, and what to do, a yoga practice is essentially lacks its holistic origins.
The first of five yamas or “things not to do” is “ahimsa” or non-violence. To strive for this quality in everything done in and around yoga, and life itself. Applied to asana and attitude for instance, the practical lesson is “safety first”. Don’t hurt your body, or the bodies of others, with ambition or ego, and follow the natural flow of life. The second principle, truthfulness, suggests a way of integrity and transparency – also an important ethic of our times. The is applicable to any practice or teaching of yoga, be it asana in a yoga class or meditation, or those as aspects of any other modality.
In the Sutras there are also five niyamas or “personal observances” that relate to one’s inner world. This is applicable for anyone committed to yoga in context of its greater spiritual and philosophical meaning. (Sacha) purity, (Santosh) contentment, (Tapas) self-discipline, training your senses, (Svadhyaya) self-study, inner exploration, (Ishvara Pranidhana) surrender (to God).
● The techniques of hatha yoga as a “whole yoga” in deep consideration of what the chakra system represents with regards to the ancient knowledge it holds, fused with modern holistic and medical scientific research, technology and other advances, as well as innovative therapies, may combine in a revolutionary understanding of body-mind-spirit wisdom.
● Teach from beyond yoga. Self-realisation has always been the essence of why yoga practice. To go “beyond” yoga just is to not mistake the technique or anything else in yoga or life as the goal. The “ultimate” in yoga is to constantly explore personal evolution of greater consciousness.
● A personal yoga practice in view of teaching a deeper understanding of yoga must be based in a deep immersion into the essentials of the greater yoga. Such a teacher must walk the talk and be the path, not just look the part, and not present an incomplete, misrepresentation of what yoga is.
● Training teachers and teachers understand or acknowledge that everyone serious about yoga is on a personal journey to a greater wisdom -a courses is only the tip of the iceberg of the greater practice.
Photograph of Johann by Kevin Rack, at a yoga event, Muizenberg, March 2018.
The wisdom of understanding
Because yoga is a vast discipline it is impossible to teach “all of it” in one course. Acknowledgement that even a lifetime of learning is short, and a solid grasp and firm working knowledge of the basics provides the solid confidence of a functional working system. The ability to manage effective aims and outcomes with sound techniques and practices and their application, combined with an understanding of what such yoga is, prevents possible overwhelm in the face of its multitude of techniques, theory and rich history.
● Wisdom is knowledge that is applied in action
● All learning takes place on a level unique to the learner and its application
● All actions should be based in unique individual consideration
● Has to be an understanding of the greater yoga
● Acknowledgement that whatever one learns is relative wisdom
Inspire to elevate with simplicity
Yoga wisdom of the unfathomable depth of the meaning of life is grounded in solid, common sense life skills. Yoga promotes simple, universal principles and techniques to elevate everyday well-being. While the hidden aspects of yoga may be more for those interested in the yogic goal of self-realisation and a bigger universal picture, it is always rooted in the undeniable fact that our life on the planet happens in the body, and in ordinary, everyday reality.
Any teacher or practitioner or teacher of yoga, beginner or advanced, can only benefit from a deeper understanding of the simple truths of authentic yoga.
● Teach only that which you know well and have mastered yourself
● Strive to be what you teach, else your teaching will have little authority, integrity, may appear shallow or unconvincing
● It is the understanding of the yoga teacher that matters, not only the doing of yoga, rituals, phrases spoken, and image of yoga
● Be who you are, don’t pretend you are more, or less than you are – be humble, and honour yourself, know your current ability and acknowledge your potential
A non-ultimate teaching
Any yoga practice is a personal interpretation or representation of yoga. No one teacher or system is the ultimate authority.
Yoga as a system is meant as a representation of the “greater union” of “all that is”. It is useful to keep an eye on the fact that any wisdom that is imparted via yoga is really an energy – call it prana or chi or consciousness – that comes “comes through one”. No-one, yourself or another, is the ultimate guru.
Share when you teach, and keep on learning
On a practical point remember that when you teach you are teaching, not doing your own yoga. The focus is on the client or class. And on yourself, honing your teaching skills, not your ego.
Push the envelope within yourself. Make time for more study and innovation, expand, question, research and study. Just keep on learning. And keep on sticking to the basics and basic truths. Be guided by the yoga energy or Prana, life itself, and you will get the job done and grow in your own understanding of yoga.
When we share from our own experience our yoga is authentic.
Yoga for non-yoga modalities
Crossover training such as yoga for nurses, for massage or sports and other modalities, cutting edge sports science and integrative medicine is important in that it shares holistic yoga information and bodymind wisdom. But crossover training should also include the bigger yoga understanding, to not dilute the “real message” of yoga teacher training as briefly stated in preceding notes.