By Brett Wade, PhD, E-RYT 200
Change is inevitable. When somebody says to me, “I don’t like change”, I try to sensitively remind them that, whether you like change or not, change does not care. Change happens anyway. Even things that appear static and solid such as mountains and stones are constantly undergoing change. Our bodies and minds, too, are constantly undergoing changes as we all are affected by the same forces of nature. Nothing seems to change as fast, however, as the latest trends in fashion, diets, music, technology, fitness and…yoga.
Although change is inevitable, there are only two types of change: the changes that are driven by the unconscious forces of nature such evolution, entropy and gravity, and then there are the conscious changes driven by economics, science, philosophy, religion and government. When we look at the changes yoga has gone through in just the last hundred years, we can see that many of the aforementioned factors have played a prominent role in the change.
It is generally agreed that the origin of yoga is that of a darshana (school) developed by Patanjali as a means of understanding the true nature of reality. Yoga is often listed as one of the six main darshanas which existed between 1000 BCE to 400 BCE. Yoga, along with Samkhya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Vedanta, and Mimansa, has in common the goal for the removal of ignorance and suffering and the attainment of eternal bliss by the union of the individual soul (Jivatman) with the Supreme Soul (Paramatman). There are some philosophical differences between the schools but they are all united by this common goal.
When we examine Patanjali’s Eight Limbs, we see that these limbs were intended to be the rungs of the ladder with each rung bringing the sadhaka (practitioner) closer to attaining samadhi (dissolution of the duality of mind and body). In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the four chapters sequentially guide the sadhaka through yamas, niyamamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, to samdhi. It is important to note that Patanjali makes scant reference to the asana. Only three of the 196 sutras discuss asana. In fact, the asana is described as a stable base of “steadiness and comfort” through which the sadhaka, can have a clear mind that can be free from the dualities of body and mind and can achieve a unification of body, mind, and soul. Patanjali dedicates many more sutras to the last three limbs (samyama): dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi. The focus of the asana, as the third limb or rung was merely a preparation for the rungs to follow. The asana only required balance, stability and comfort.
Fast forward centuries later and yoga, as a school of Hinduism for understanding the nature of reality, begins to change. In fact, there eventually become six schools of yoga under the over-arching yoga darshana. While each of the schools: Raja yoga (Patanjali’s Eight Limbs), Hatha yoga, Bhakti yoga, Karma yoga, Jnana yoga, and Tantra yoga are practiced quite differently, the goal is the same: removal of ignorance and suffering and the attainment of eternal bliss by the union of the individual soul (Jivatman) with the Supreme Soul (Paramatman). Hatha yoga (often known as the “six limbs of yoga” for its lesser emphasis of on yamas and niyamas), which was influenced by Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, added a greater emphasis to the asana and pranayama (also adding cleansing techniques, mudras and binds). The 15thcentury CE, Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swami Svatmarama, describes fifteen asanas – most of which are variations of the seated posture. Swami Svatmarama describes Hatha yoga as the preparations for Patanjali’s Raja yoga.
Today, when most people say they do “yoga”, they generally mean they are practicing a version of Hatha yoga. Almost all modern yoga practices from Yin yoga to Iyengar to Bikram come from the evolution of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs to a slightly more movement-focused Hatha yoga. With the evolution of Hinduism through the Vedantic period, changes in philosophy caused shifts away from some the Vedic-based darshanas – including yoga. In fact, Hatha yoga and Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga were all but forgotten until a small sect of Hatha yoga practitioners in Tibet were discovered. These Hatha practitioners had fused Tibetan Buddhism, Indian gymnastics and British military calisthenics into the new Hatha practice. Disciples of this new style of Hatha yoga were BKS Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois (modern Ashtanga power flow). From here our current Hatha yoga practices have, more or less, the elements focused on asana, pranayama, mudras, binds, chants and chakras.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the Eight Limbs of Yoga would have been completely forgotten if not for the efforts of Swami Vivekananda. Vivekananda came to the United States as a representative of Hinduism and yoga for the World Parliament of Religions in 1893. Vivekananda who had a disdain for Hatha yoga and its greater emphasis on postures, told the receptive audience about Patanjali’s Eight Limbs – which he called Raja yoga. Vivekananda translated the Yoga Sutras and taught the Western world about Patanjali’s contribution to yoga and self-realization. While Vivekananda’s passion for Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga may have delayed the Hatha movement starting in the United States, the fitness craze of the 1970s saw yoga move towards the more physically active styles of yoga such as Jois’s Ashtanga Vinyasa and Bikram’s style of hot yoga.
A quick look at the styles of yoga today and we can see that some yoga has moved far away from a practice originally developed as a school of Hinduism with the goal of removal of ignorance and suffering and the attainment of eternal bliss by the union of the individual soul (Jivatman) with the Supreme Soul (Paramatman). It doesn’t mean that Goat yoga or Beer yoga or Cannabis yoga can’t be classified as “yoga” but in order to be considered as yoga, I believe there has to be enough elements of Patanjali’s original eight limbs. If it is just about asana and no other elements of yoga such as focus on breath or mediation, then it is really more a version of gymnastics and calisthenics with, in some cases, added gimmicks. Yes, change is always happening and societal trends and culture can influence change in practices such as yoga – Hatha yoga, after all, was a change from Patanjali’s Eight Limbs but Hatha yoga still had, at its core, the same overall goal.
As I often say to my students in a Hatha yoga class, “The asanas, as we practice them today, bring significant sensation to the body which the mind can use to focus on, and if we continually guide our mind back to the physical sensations, we have the opportunity to begin the practice of Raja yoga in an effort to achieve samadhi.” Whether one has a goat on their back during downward facing dog or one is swilling beer after a yoga class in a brewery, all of these gimmicks, while not to my personal taste, could still be considered a form of yoga if most of the other elements of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs are included. Change is not a problem but when we consciously decide to change a practice like yoga, we must ask ourselves, “Have we lost connection to essential elements of the practice?” Singing and dancing while worshipping Shiva may not seem like yoga but this form of Bhakti yoga has similar goals of spiritual connection and ultimate emancipation.
I recognize my own personal bias towards Raja yoga. I haven’t tried all the variations of Hatha yoga but I have taken enough Bikram, Yin, Hatha, Vinyasa, and Restorative to know that there is a core philosophy connecting them all. I remain open-minded to the ever-changing yoga world but yoga without a focus on more than just the asana or the gimmick is not yoga…I don’t know what it is…but it is not yoga.
By Mahan Khalsa, CYA-E-RYT500
As I sit and contemplate the every changing expression of yoga, as its popularity grows in the West, a quote by Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, comes to mind. He said “Change is the only constant in life. Living and dead, waking and sleeping, young and old, are the same.”
My consciousness spirals back in time, to almost 16 years ago. My first trip to India. As an open-minded, heart on my sleeve, 26 year-old woman, I was hungry for the meaning of life and understanding why I was here on planet Earth... My passion for self-discovery, as well as my human suffering, brought me to yoga and this was the beginning of a lifelong journey. Discovering teachers, traditions, temples and tadasana, I dove deep into myself through the ancient practices.
I remember my partner at the time, much older than I, who had practiced yoga for almost 20 years longer, and who had lived in India many decades ago, was irritated and disappointed by the changes he saw both in an evolving India as well as an evolving yoga practice. You see, my partner was rooted in the traditions of yoga and had great reverence and respect for the teachings and their deep ancient roots.
After living in India for years, we returned to the West where my partner was astonished to see what he considered “diluted versions” of yoga spreading rapidly around the globe. Whereas he had practiced under the guidance of one beloved teacher, who had practiced decades under the guidance of one beloved teacher, yoga in the West was like a buffet dinner. One was free to nibble away, or binge on any, and every style of yoga under the sun from prenatal or cannabis classes to practicing yoga with a goat? Seriously? A goat?
In the West, one could practice with as many teachers, or no teacher, or by watching a teacher on the internet lead the class... Rather than turning in to connect with one’s higher self, yoga in the West was predominantly body focused, fashionable and dramatically overpriced. What was becoming of this ancient practice that my partner and I were so passionately committed and devoted to?
Truthfully I thought to myself, “Who cares why people practice yoga? All roads lead home.” These ancient teachings when put into practice initiate an inner transformation that will always lead one home; to one’s true nature. “Yoga is the journey to the Self, through the Self.” As you practice yoga, you discover more about yourself, and the world around you. Regardless of your initial intention to practice, if you become a happier, healthier human along the way, then I believe you must get good karma points in heaven, right?
I have studied with teachers who were steeped in tradition, deeply connected to the old ways… embodying the ancient teachings. I lived in ashrams, chanted mantras, practiced on a sheep skin (not a Lululemon mat), wore a turban for 8 years and birthed my child in India. I have an intimate relationship to the integrity and purity of the paths I walk: both Sivananda Hatha Yoga and Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan. I bask in the radiance and the glory of those who have walked before me and share their stories of real life moments with their gurus. I’m open and into ALL of it! I’m a Spirit Junkie, according to Gabby Bernstein.
As the mother of a teenager daughter, I am well aware of the ever-changing landscape of life. Too much ritual and woo woo may deflect rather than attract someone who could truly benefit from a regular yoga practice. I celebrate the diversity of yoga today. I celebrate the accessibility of yoga to people of all ages, races, gender expressions, religious beliefs, and so on. I celebrate the integration of wisdom teachings from all over the world, and enjoy doing vinyasa to deep beats and base.
I’m still open-minded and continue to wear my heart on my sleeve…. Through my 19 years of practicing yoga, I have learned a few things that I’ll share today. With every exhalation, I let go of judgment, resistance and opinions. I focus on what makes us the same, where we are able to find true connection. Yoga is that space for me.
Almost 2 decades after I found yoga, I now operate a corporate yoga business, spreading the seeds of yoga, passionately igniting transformation… feeling a part of the evolutionary spiral of life! The great mystic, Rumi shares, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there.”
Maybe we can downward dog together… with goats or wine. I’ll meet you there. Namaste.
By Vadivambal Rajagopal. PhD, CYA-RYT200
Yoga has become one of the most popular words around the globe and has become very trendy in the West. The scientific community around the world has started investigating yoga for its physical, mental and psychological benefits and thousands of research articles, covering all aspects of yoga, have been published in the last few decades. Beginning as a spiritual and religious practice, yoga has now been accepted as a proven science. It is definitely good that yoga has reached millions of people crossing all borders.
First, it should be understood that yoga is not just the physical postures. The postures are just the beginning of the journey of self-realization. According to Sage Patanajali, asana (posture) is the third limb (or stage) and then there is pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (blissful state). However, most people understand yoga as a therapeutic exercise and practice it only for their pains and aches. Of course, that is where most of us start to learn yoga but it is the duty of teachers to make their students understand that yoga is practiced not just for physical aches but also for the ultimate goal of self-realization. Sage Patanajali says, “Chitta vritti nirodha yoga”, which means stilling the fluctuations of mind or becoming meditative.
In ancient tradition, yoga was offered only to a select few who had renounced all the worldly desires but in modern world, it has become a common household practice. It has spread far and wide, in every direction around the world, and has reached millions of hearts, which is the most wonderful change that has happened in the yoga tradition.
But in its travel from the East to the West, yoga has certainly lost some of its core values and has gained lots of unnecessary add-ons. Yoga is not a fun activity or entertainment. However, in its reach far and wide, to attract more people, yoga has been converted into a fun activity with permutations such as Partner Yoga, Naked Yoga, Beer Yoga — so many disturbing variations which aim at bringing more people to yoga but which have lost the essence of yoga.
In the process of self-realization, having a partner by your side or a cup of beer in your hand has no place. These variations are degrading the value of yoga and give the impression that yoga can be sold by a cup of beer or by encouraging participants to perform naked. To all who promote these kinds of yoga, please understand that yoga needs none of these embellishments and that it can still survive for millions of years without all these trappings.
The ancient tradition of yoga emphasizes practicing in a quiet environment, focusing on oneself, observing every breath and looking inside oneself, paying attention to every single movement and breadth. But in trendy studios with loud music and lights, focusing inwards becomes challenging and most people tend to look at others rather than at themselves.
The commercial popularity of yoga has resulted in so many brands now making yoga mats, outfits, water bottles, pillows, cushions, towels and what not. All these products are sold at a premium price when they add “yoga” as a prefix. Yoga has a brand value now and anything that can be used in a yoga class has its price bumped up at least twice or thrice. All this commercialization revolving around yoga is basically to increase the price of products but, in reality, the principles of yoga are slowly lost in the process.
Yoga is an art and science that has survived and flourished for thousands of years and will continue to grow and spread for millions of years even without any marketing gimmicks. The power of yoga is to transform any individual to the highest level of consciousness and, with that power, people will realize the potential of yoga. Once this realization starts to happen, the small distractions and distortions now happening will gradually diminish. Everyone who follows the path of yoga will eventually become a realized soul.
By Gopala Amir Yaffa CYA-E-RYTGOLD
After years of resisting making technology a big part of my yoga training business, and on the verge of releasing my first online Children's Yoga teacher training, I reflect on the benefits and harms of screen time.
I was never a big admirer of technology. In fact, I don’t let my kids use it. I only use it because I need to for my work. I get annoyed when my wife looks at her phone instead of at me, and she rightfully gets upset if I look at my work emails when it is family time. We really try to avoid being trapped in those modern habits because we believe in love.
My 9-year-old boy has been asking us to let him play computer games for years. But our answer is always, “There is a beautiful and fascinating world all around you; we want you to explore it and engage with it."
I believe in nature, real live connections, communication, touch, play and love. There is no real love in computers and phones. You can communicate love through electronic media, but it will never feel like holding a puppy or hugging a loved one. Looking at Facebook on your smart phone is a very different experience from the connection of actually looking at the face of someone you love. These devices steal time that really belongs to our family, our love life and our friends. Relationships, whether they are with our children, partners or friends, need nurturing and care. To grow and to thrive, our relationships need us to invest time in them.
Now, I have a big family of four children (!!!) and a successful yoga business that just keeps growing and demanding more time. I also have passions, interests and a need to learn new things. Without these, I don’t feel alive amidst all of life’s business. So, when do I find time for me — my ambitions and my growth?
Well, now I have come to realize one of the benefits of technology; it is a great way to share knowledge at a time that’s convenient for the user.
There is so much more I want to learn in the short time I was given on earth, but it is not always available to me where I live, or at a time that is practical for me and my family and business. So I started taking online training courses on different topics that intrigue me both professionally and personally.
When everyone else is sleeping! I gain the knowledge online, and I put it into practice in my work and in my teaching and even in my parenting. The Internet is a magical place full of information that can be translated into action in real life.
With all of its drawbacks, the Internet has its benefits. I remember one of my teachers, Geshe Michael Roach, leading a year-long project to put Tibetan manuscripts that had been saved from the Chinese invasion online. What a great way to distribute this knowledge that otherwise might have been totally lost!
I was a Hindu monk in an ashram for ten years. I have spent the last 22 years teaching yoga to people of all ages and 15 years training teachers; I have a lot to share with the world too.
Though online trainings will never replace the experience of being in the presence and learning directly from a person who is experienced and passionate about what they teach, they are a great second best choice for busy people like me. And that is why I believe that my online Rainbow Kids Yoga Teacher Training, the first among many more online trainings to come, is an amazing and easy way to spread this practice to more children, families, and schools all around the world.
Communication is a powerful instrument that can heal of destroy. There are lots of negative things on the Web, so now I feel compelled to fill it with more positive knowledge, joy and fun. We are here to make the world a better place, and our impact can be bigger if we use the communication tools the modern world has to offer us.
What do you think?
By Betty Pierce, CYA-E-RYT Gold
Yoga has had a significant role in my life for approximately 40 years. I began my journey in the 70s, when traditional yoga began arriving in North America through its introduction by Swamis from India. I embraced the thought of how yoga could possibly offer total health, both mentally and physically. Using the tools of breath (pranayama) and movement (asana) was said to be a path to mental and physical well being. I was eager to learn then and, with regular practice, I soon began to identify with some of these benefits. With a continued interest, I read many yoga books and attended varied workshops, which also led to an interest in pursuing the practice of meditation. I was blessed to have been able to attend workshops of Swami Vishnudevananda and Swami Rama.
Over the years, and with the increasing popularity of yoga, I have witnessed the many changes that have occurred with teaching Hatha Yoga classes. Many of the classes now have moved from yoga studios, to gyms, alongside regular aerobic and fitness classes, with all levels of practitionersattending the same open class.
For safety, Hatha Yoga needs to begin with specific steps of learning; however, this is not being considered in many classes. Yoga has been slowly loosing its true meaning and the ugly has been showing for some time! Unfortunately, it appears to be taking on the aerobic style! I cringe at the commercializing of yoga, when I hear of Dog Yoga and Goat Yoga etc. I feel sad to hear that yoga is being used by those for profit! I have encountered some students coming to my classes, who have experienced little or no basic abdominal breathing lessons. Breathing (pranayama) is a most important step in Raja Yoga... # 4 in the Eight Limbs of Yoga.
“Pranayama is the link between the mental and physical disciplines of Yoga. While the action is physical, the effect is to make the mind calm, lucid and steady.” — Swami Vishnudevananda
Unfortunately, there are many who have taken Hatha Yoga or other yoga classes who have said they do not like it. In most cases they have not been taught what yoga has to offer and miss out on the abundance of benefits. Yes, it does require some discipline, time and practice. People appear more rushed, lacking time to do things and this presents a problem for incorporating traditional yoga. Taking fifteen minutes to half an hour for daily practice, for the well being and overall health of ourselves, seems to be a small sacrifice to make! This is better than no time!
The practice of mindfulness has become more popular and is beneficial for the every day stressors. Basic work with pranayama is, in itself, a very beneficial mindfulness. I would compare this to Transcendental Meditation, which was also considered meditation in the 70s. Neither mindfulness nor Transcendental Meditation would be considered meditation by my teacher whom has been teaching for over 50 years.
I have incorporated proper diet, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper exercise (asanas) and positive mental attitude in all my classes. This includes introduction to meditation. Lots of handouts are also given to students, in order to inspire them to continue their practice.
“You can have calmness of mind at all times by the practice of yoga. You can have restful sleep, you can have increased energy, vigour, longevity, and a high standard of health. You can turn out efficient work without a short space of time. You can have success in every walk of life.” — Swami Sivananda
More anxieties seem to be prevalent in the past 20 years! Possibly modifying yoga practices seems to be necessary, however, this means the loss of some benefits that come along with the traditional practice.
Yoga for me is a lifestyle!
By Yves Panneton, CYA-RYT Gold
I like bazaars. The Middle East probably has the finest ones where you can find literally everything from housewares to things you would not dare mention. In North America, we have a lame variety, the flea market. An upscale version is the conference exhibition hall.
In the exhibition hall of a yoga conference, I found schools and associations advertising their services along with publishers promoting yoga literature. Fair enough. I also found skillful sellers offering organic food, jewelry, clothes, and all sorts of ergonomic equipment. There were travel agencies offering exotic trips, hair salon proposing trendy cuts. There was even a photo studio where I could get a picture of myself in my favorite yoga asana… in the nude. As my head was spinning, I could not help wondering, where did this come from? Where are we going?
Technically speaking, there are three forms of Yoga: Karma Yoga (yoga of action), Bhakti Yoga (yoga of devotion) and Jnana Yoga (yoga of knowledge). The yoga we know in the West is derived from Hatha Yoga which, in fact, is an adjunct to the three traditional yogas. Its aim is to “have a body made in the fire of yoga” or, in other words, to achieve optimal health in order to practice one of the three traditional yogas. Over the years, it became a path of its own and its techniques found applications in Ayurveda, Indian traditional medicine.
Yoga (Karma, Bhakti, Jnana, Hatha) is effectively a spiritual path within Hinduism, the practice of which for many years was mostly confined within the Indian sub-continent. From 1500 CE, there was a progressive cultural, political and economic interpenetration between orient and occident. These exchanges included discussions on Hinduism, which gained momentum after 1800 CE.
The most important movement responsible for the transmission of Hinduism in the West was probably theosophy through the Theosophical Society under the leadership of Colonel Olcott (1832-1907), Madame Blavatsky (1831-1891), Annie Besant (1847-1933) and to a lesser extent Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986).
Hinduism was also promoted through individual initiatives. In 1883, Protap Chunder Mozoomdar (1840-1905) was one of the first Hindus to speak about Hinduism to Westerners at the invitation of the American Unitarian Association. He was soon followed by other speakers and teachers such as: Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), Sri Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950), Ramana Maharishi (1879-1950), Paramahamsa Yogananda (1890-1952), Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977), Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1914-2008) and B.K.S. Iyengar (1918-2014). Others, such as Swami Sivananda Saraswati (1887-1963), Anandamayi Ma (1896-1982) and Satya Sai Baba (1926-2011), attracted Westerners to their Indian ashrams.
Westerners proved lukewarm to the practice of Hinduism and the study of Hindu philosophy. On the other hand, the practice of yoga was welcomed as a means to maintain and improve health, while the practice of meditation was seen as an effective way to control and reduce the stress generated by modern living.
Swami Vivekananda, Swami Sivananda Saraswati and B.K.S. Iyengar were probably the most important individuals to have influenced the contemporary Western practice of yoga. Swami Vivekananda adapted Patanjali’s teaching in a form of yoga that emphasized the performance of asanas and the practice of meditation. Because of its emphasis on body and mind, this form of yoga came to be known as Psychosomatic Yoga. Swami Sivananda Saraswati disseminated Psychosomatic Yoga throughout the centers and ashrams his organization established worldwide.
In the mid-nineteen hundreds, Psychosomatic Yoga branched out into two specialized forms of yoga namely Meditational Yoga and Postural Yoga. Meditational Yoga focused on the practice of meditation while Postural Yoga focused on the performance of asanas and the practice of breathing exercises (pranayama).
B.K.S. Iyengar was instrumental in promoting Postural Yoga. His system combined asanas, pranayama and light physical exercises to adapt yoga in a form of practice like gymnastics so that literally everyone could have access to its benefits. His teaching aimed at improving overall health by achieving and maintaining physical fitness.
Since the late fifties/early sixties, we have seen a rapid evolution in modern yoga practices. While some remain close to traditional Hatha Yoga such as Kriya Yoga and Kundalini Yoga, we can also observe a movement towards more “athletic” forms such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa Yoga and Bikram or Hot Yoga. We even have yoga competitions. Other schools blended with different religious traditions such as Yin Yoga, Japanese Yoga and Zen Yoga. I must not forget to mention the emergence of interesting eclectic forms of practice such as Aerial Yoga, Laugh Yoga and, of course, Naked Yoga.
The seventies saw the emergence of the New Age movement, which meshes various esoteric traditions and borrows on the paranormal. It counts among its prominent figures Franz Mesmer (1734-1815), Carl Jung (1875-1961) and Fritjof Capra (born 1939). New Age accepts a focal point for the making of the universe, holds the oneness of creation and aims at cultivating human divine potential. It proposes holistic spiritual practices that include yoga, meditation and alternative medicines such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, homeopathy, reiki and visualization. Progressively, New Age came to form an important spiritual backbone for the practice of yoga in the West.
Yoga health benefits did not escape the watchful eyes of Western medicine, so yoga and meditation were the subject of much scientific, medical and psychological research. Yoga techniques are more and more integrated into mainstream medical and psychology practices, when they do not form the backbone of alternative health practices.
Yoga is now experiencing what I would call the “ParticipACTION” effect. For those old enough to remember, ParticipACTION was a national program promoting physical fitness with the ultimate aim of reducing health care costs. In the beginning, sport had to be promoted. Eventually, sport became so popular that it was used to promote other products. We are seeing a similar situation with yoga. Its popularity among a segment of the population is such that it is efficiently used to promote various services and products.
Hence the bazaar we see at yoga conferences. Although, I am still not decided which posture I should chose for my naked picture, I am definitely looking forward to seeing where our Western yoga tradition will head next. I wonder when we will see yoga as an Olympic competition.
By Maya Machawe, CYA-E-RYT Gold
Today over 300 million people practice yoga all over the globe. Yoga’s increased popularity and its physical and psychological benefits are encouraging more individuals to take part, mainly to build physical strength and flexibility and to reduce stress. However, it is essential to note that the modern practices of yoga vary from its traditional forms. This article is a short review to reveal how yoga has survived throughout civilization and followed the course of its journey from East to West.
The origins of yoga have been speculated to date back to pre-Vedic Indian tradition. It is one of the best examples of our ancestors’ wisdom and one of the branches of spirituality. Though yoga has a long historical background, it has many obscurities. Researchers believe the early roots of yoga were developed by the Indus Valley Civilization in northern India over 5,000 years ago. Archeologists have also found some evidence in fossils and statues that show Lord Shiva adopting bodily poses that seems to be yogic in nature.
There are no written records mentioning the invention of yoga. It began long before any written document came into existence. Historians and researchers discovered that during the early days of yoga, spiritual leaders practiced yoga to achieve supreme states of being by using yoga as a sacred spiritual tool. That practice was passed down to their students through oral traditions.
Eventually, as humans learn to write, the theories and practices got recorded. Unfortunately, the early writings on yoga were transcribed on fragile palm leaves that easily got damaged, lost and destroyed. However, the word yoga appeared in an ancient Indian spiritual script, the Vedas, and later in the texts of Upanishads. These surviving texts do not mention any of the physical practices of yoga as we recognize them today but refer to yogic philosophy and meditation.
The credit for mentioning the physical practice, or asana, in written text goes back to Sage Patanjali who is the author of the Yoga Sutra. This book is one of the foundations of yoga and a part of almost every aspiring yoga teacher’s training curriculum. Patanjali did a great job of decoding the sparse ancient wisdom and binding together all the essential aspects of practicing yoga. He defined eight important components for transforming one’s body and mind in order to achieve spiritual advancement. Beyond a brief reference to meditative poses, physical practice is absent in his work. From Patanjali’s point of view, practicing moral codes of conduct and self-discipline (yama-niyama), maintaining tension free body (asana) and steady breath (pranayama) creates a strong base to cultivate spiritual wisdom. Patanjali’s work has given us an opportunity to experience the essence of yoga today in the modern world.
The need to prepare the body to experience higher states of mind emerged later with Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga focuses more on the body than the mind and insists on cleansing and purifying the body before establishing any other forms of practice. This new form undertook a reassessment and reformation in the practice of yoga. The principle founders of Hatha Yoga, Matsyendranath and Goraksha were great healers and masters of the Indian system of medicine (Ayurveda). They introduced a collection of practices for body purification (kriya), yogic poses (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), and yogic-gestures (mudra).
Between the second to fifteenth centuries, many commercial and cultural exchanges happened that carried yoga from India to the Arab, Persian and Greek civilizations.
In 1893, yoga was presented to western culture through Swami Vivekananda who introduced the eastern spiritual essence of yoga in his speech to the Parliament of World Religions held at Chicago. This presentation was welcomed with great appreciation and thus yoga’s first journey to the West began. Later, in 1920, Paramahamsa Yogananda visited Boston. He had another great impact on western minds with his comprehensive teaching of Kriya Yoga and meditation. The hard work and dedication of these two yogis inspired many westerners like Theos Bernard or Richard Hittleman to visit India and explore yoga more deeply.
In the 1920s and 1930s Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India with the work of T. Krishnamacharya, Sivananda and other yogis practicing Hatha Yoga. In 1924, the yoga of Mysore palace offered an in-depth look at the style of yoga offered by T. Krishnamacharya. His style of teaching was under the influence of the book Srittatvanidhi. This late manuscript includes 122 Hatha Yoga postures. Many of these postures are recognizable by yoga practitioners today but with different names.
The yoga boom in the West started with the teachings of Indra Devi, a Russian woman who studied with Krishnamacharya and made yoga popular among the Hollywood elite. The fitness fad in the West increased the popularity of Hatha Yoga and great teachers like B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar and Pattabhi Jois had many people gravitating towards asana training. They attracted many people with athletic backgrounds as well as physicians and kinesiology students. Thus yoga in western society became synonymous with the practice of asana. To captivate yoga fans, yoga instructors designed special teaching programs or training methodologies that contributed to the development of various styles of Hatha Yoga. Meanwhile, some western scholars like George Feuerstein and David Flyaway explored the deeper dimensions of yoga and introduced its valuable roots to western society.
The growing popularity of yoga caught the attention of many scientists and researchers who studied the psychological and physiological effects of yoga and were very impressed by the positive outcomes. The conclusions of medical research on yoga show that many of its techniques are remarkably potent and have the potential to further the reputation of yoga in the therapeutic field. Thus, westernizing the eastern tradition of yoga is the fruition of our ancestors’ wisdom.
Many yoga practitioners are simply in search of fitness, health and a meaningful life. Practicing asana without being concerned with yoga’s mental or spiritual aspects may not be injurious but can produce imbalance. On the other hand, considering only the spiritual aspects of yoga without paying attention to its physical practice is also unbalanced. Our ancestors have woven together the practice of ethics (yama & niyama), asana, pranayama, meditation, mudra and kriya to bring transformation and the perfect state of wellbeing. But only practicing yoga cannot bring about a change in personality. One’s ultimate aim and efforts towards that goal is important for transformation.
To conclude, yoga has gone through various changes over time. Modern yoga differs from its original roots and is more focused on both physical and mental health rather than each individual. The modern approach towards yoga is more science based. It is essential to note that practicing only one aspect of yoga may result in an imbalance between body and mind. Even though, this does not harm the practitioner, it is advisable to include all the aspects of yoga practice to gain ultimate satisfaction. Practicing true yoga, needs dedication for spiritual fulfillment.
By Gayatri Pathak, CYA-RYT200, Reiki Master
The transformation of yoga in Western culture has become a grand phenomenon. Communities all across America have started to move towards a minimalist and spiritual lifestyle. Through yoga, people are able to experience and control the steadiness of their minds and bodies while living in such a fast-paced world. However, while many Western practices stems from the traditional practices, they do not possess the core techniques that provide the full spectrum of benefits to heal the mind, body and soul. The commercialization of yoga advertises practices such as Dog Yoga, Goat Yoga, Cannabis Yoga, Hot Yoga etc., which actually disturb the true focus of yoga. The definition of yoga, and what the traditional practices are meant to achieve, has become lost in translation due to the popular demand for these extensions. Yoga is a discipline that includes meditation and the support of specific postures, in rhythm with breathing exercises, to enhance stability and control over mind and body.
While many of the variations of yoga, such as Animal Yoga or THC incorporating yoga may be enjoyable and a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon, they will not achieve the goal that the traditional yogic practices will. These extensions cannot be practised long term, whereas the traditional variations of yoga such as Hatha Yoga can be done on a day-to-day basis.
Hatha Yoga can help you focus, de-stress and create great results for your body and health in the long-term. THC, cannabis or beer infused yoga can be fun and an enjoyable de-stressor for many, however, these are hoaxes. Yoga is about focusing on your breath and being completely in sync with the natural rhythms of your mind and body, whereas cannabis infused yoga will do the complete opposite. Even if you feel relaxed and in tune with your body, it is not being naturally done through your efforts to work with your body. The same is true with animal yoga. It will only give you temporary satisfaction. Dog Yoga is not the same as Dog Therapy. Doing yoga alongside an animal will only distract people and steal the focus away from the poses. Any therapeutic purpose will be gone due to the lack of concentration.
Hot Yoga has also become very popular in the last few years; however, even hot yoga takes away from the purpose of traditional yoga. It serves almost no purpose due to the appearance of hard work and activity through intense perspiration. It makes it harder to see progress due to such temperature. Although it has its benefits, especially during winter, it has its limitations as it dries your nerves and can cause health issues. More progress and positive results have been found through Hatha Yoga.
Although such variations are due to the appreciation of yoga, they defeat the root purpose of yoga; to experience one’s breath and enlighten one’s mind and body. Yoga embodies the unity of the mind and body through thought and action — the realization of restraint and fulfilment, creating harmony between human and nature. This is why all these divergent forms of yoga are not correct.
Moreover, with the advancement of technology and online resources, yoga using online instructors has become very popular. However, this is actually very dangerous. Yoga incorporates breathing exercises with each pose and, without an instructor physically there as a guide, a student can easily injure themselves. Online yoga creates more room for error, as yoga will only benefit a person when done correctly. Without an instructor present, there is no saying that one is doing it correctly. Yoga is a practice people use to become more in tune with their body and mind. Online yoga defeats this purpose as students will be more focused on copying the instructor in the video and keeping up with the pace. Many people opt to practice yoga this way due to convivence, however, it is inefficient, creates room for error and injuries, and defeats the purpose of becoming in tune with your body and breath.
Yoga with nature, outdoor yoga, yoga in the workplace are all in tune with yoga’s purpose. As long as there is an instructor physically present to correct and guide people, they can actually achieve their goals correctly. The true yogic practices can be done anywhere — from home, in community group classes, at work, outdoors etc. since these do not distort the purpose behind yoga.
Some other yoga practices that actually serve as a useful and positive extension of the traditional practice are Prenatal Yoga, Kids’ Yoga, Seniors’ Yoga, Chakra Yoga, Ayurvedic Yoga and even Yin Yoga. Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga are excellent for women, as they encourage the ongoing practice of yoga, while also supporting and strengthening different areas of the body to increase strength, flexibility and reduce the stress that comes with bearing a child.
Kids’ Yoga is also an excellent extension. In India, where yoga originates, children are taught to practice yoga from an early age. It encourages children to face their personal challenges at a young age and find the potential within themselves to conquer those challenges. Similarly, while Chair Yoga may also be unconventional, it provides inclusivity for those who are unable to do traditional yoga asanas due to physical challenges. It allows people of all ages with physical disabilities to participate and enjoy the benefits of yoga.
Extensions such as Yin and Chakra Yoga also offer different approaches and integration of different styles of asanas that help explore self-awareness on a deeper level. All these extensions are supported with the root concept of yoga and its original asanas. Whereas other Westernised extensions of yoga transform yoga into something it is not.
Fear and guilt are the two core problems of humanity. Fear appears in a child around 2-4 years with the emergence of ‘I’ or ego. In the beginning, the fear is about death of the body and later on, it’s about the death of the personal self. We escape from the fear by taking shelter in family, which provides us with emotional security through love and care, tradition, customs, beliefs, religion and culture, and this package becomes our identity. We are confined and conformed by the borrowed identity unless we are awakened and realize that it doesn’t belong to us; that it was merely a mechanism to protect us until we became an adult and let go of it. But, when we want to defy this identity, we feel guilty because we think that the people who took care of us will be hurt by our actions; and we continue with it. This is called the world of Maya in which we have the illusion of safety through our identity. We feel safe because we live within familiar and known patterns, which we can comprehend, and which keep us within our comfort zone.
In the past, the world of Maya functioned through wealth, religions, politics, ideologies, traditions and other belief systems but, in the last few decades, it has entered the dimensions of materialistic science and technology.
The old ideologies and religions don’t comfort and sooth us with the same assurance as they used to. We are discovering their unpredictability and untrustworthiness. Now they are slowly being replaced by the new religion of science and technology. The reason why science and technology are taking over our lives is because their processes are tangible and recognized worldwide. Their achievements and results are nothing less than constant miracles based on reason, which we can understand and replicate anywhere. Science and technology is truly the first world religion that has transformed our world in a radical way. None of us can deny its power and none can reject it because it pervades all aspects of our life.
Wherever we go, we see visible improvements in the human condition initiated by science and technology. Humans are living longer, with better health and with more comfort and pleasure. We are able to do things that were impossible a century ago such as quick transportation and instant communication. It is the first time in our history that we have enough food in most places despite flood, drought and other natural calamities. In other words, we have deep confidence in the new religion of science and technology and are ready to give our full loyalty to it.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and genetic engineering, offshoots of science and technology are not new. But, in last few years, they have made rapid progress and are almost promising a heaven on earth with their advances and their capacity to transform our minds and bodies and the world around us. They are aiming for much longer and healthier lives, fewer accidents and to enhance the capacity of body and mind. Their goal is to create super humans who will be strong, free from diseases and will live longer than anyone can imagine. That promise is alluring, and we are going to take it because fear needs the possibility of endless power and a never-ending, comfortable life.
We may be so hypnotized by this promise that we will ignore its dangers and continue to trust it. That is where the problem comes because so far we think that we will remain the masters of science and technology and that our freedom and liberty will only increase with their progress. Which is true to a point. But such massive and powerful tools wouldn’t remain tools in our hands for long. They are controlled to a greater extent now, and will be completely controlled, by the privileged and powerful few. Just like in the past, religions were controlled and managed by a few priests, kings and queens. The old religions controlled and enslaved masses, and the same may happen again in the new religion of science and technology through AI.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the branch of computer science in which intelligent machines are created that behave like us and can do things that we do and may perform even better than us. Genetic engineering is the science of manipulating the genes in our body to make us healthy, prevent diseases and enhance physical or mental capacity.
It’s becoming clearer that in the future there will be hardly any human activity which AI won’t be able to do and may actually do better than us, including producing art, music, philosophy or providing emotional counselling, things which we thought were exclusively within the human realm. Already AI is producing better music than human musicians ever did. AI will take over most of the jobs that we do: from health care to communication, from transportation to food and from helping in our daily chores to making our life choices. We may be marginalized and become redundant.
So far AI has functioned by collecting information from us and, based on that information, has helped us to make informed decisions. But, in future, there is a real possibility that AI will make choices and decisions and tell what is right for us. It’s a repeat of the old religions. In the beginning, they stayed open but soon they imposed their rules on us and forced us do what they thought was good. People who rebelled against their dictates were either exiled or killed.
Now, the question is how can we stop AI from taking over our lives and making us redundant and slaves? We can’t stop the progress of science and technology. It’s going to grow and flourish. But we can take it in the right direction and keep it under control.
We need to take two creative actions to stay in the game and not lose our freedom and choices. Awareness is the key for both actions. That is where yoga becomes relevant and a force in our daily lives to deal with AI.
The first action is not to ignore but to understand and educate ourselves about AI and genetic engineering, to make informed choices and discriminate between what is good and what is not good for us. This will keep some checks and balances on its development.
The second action is to face our fears and insecurities, which, in the first place, were responsible for us accepting any outside controls on our lives.
In order to face our fear and guilt, we must understand the natural personality with which we were born. Knowing our natural personality will take us deep into ourselves, give us the experience of flow and well-being and slowly diminish our fear and guilt. This may lead to an existential crisis. But this crisis is a transformative crisis in which we face our fear totally so we can free ourselves from it and heal.
The transformative crisis will allow us to establish within our natural self. Natural self is our essence and a dynamic and creative state that takes us beyond the ego. We would no longer be slaves of the external forces. Our fulfilment and pleasure would come from within rather than being dependent on the world. Gaining independence would pave the path to becoming masters of our lives. We wouldn’t seek escape and take shelter in people and institutions. Our actions and choices would emerge from within rather than being dictated by the powerful few. This would be a silent and peaceful rebellion, which would never end, and we would stay ahead of AI and for that matter anything external which attempts to take over our lives.
By Liliane Najm, CYA-RYT300
Yoga, the sister of sages, the preachers of truth.
The pure soul cleansed through the control of breath and meditation
soon attains salvation
And becomes one with God through yogic Samadhi.
(Atharva 6.51.1) The Holy Vedas
From its beginning in India to modern-day approaches, the transformation of yoga practice and teachings has been remarkable. Yoga practice is now embedded in modern-day life. No longer limited to ashrams and temples, it is now taught in yoga studios, fitness clubs, church basements, community centers, corporate rooms, people’s homes and public parks.
From its original aim as the means to salvation and samadhi, yoga practice has become largely a method for improving health and self-image.
There are now so many genres of yoga that keeping up with new forms can be challenging. Different teaching practices have sprung up and diverged over the years. Some of them are Yoga for Sports, CorePower Yoga, Yoga for trauma and related mental health problems, Heart Rhythm Yoga, Vipasana Yoga, Quantum Yoga, Virtual Reality Meditation, Yoga Vashistha, Integrative Yoga, Yoga Therapy and Therapeutic yoga. 
Yoga is now practiced all over the world. Different cultures have put their own stamp on it and colored the practice with their customs and beliefs, such as Tibetan Yoga and Ignatian (Christian) Yoga, to name just two.
Fad yoga classes and dubious certification organizations have sprung up everywhere. They have put yoga students at risk of injuries due to unsafe practice, lack of adequate knowledge and sub-standard training.
But the natural development of life means the natural development of yoga. The status quo no longer works. People of differing religious and/or spiritual beliefs who are interested in yoga come to it for therapeutic or healing purposes. There is now an emphasis on health with anatomical approaches – anatomy, kinesiology and modification skills – and therapeutic approaches, such as the yoga-based postoperative cardiac rehabilitation programs for improving quality of life and stress levels. These new developments are commendable and have given hope to many people and improved the quality of their lives.
The most noticeable change in the modern age has been the influence of technology. Online yoga classes and training are available at the click of a button. I am all for the use of technology in yoga. I am taking a Yoga Wellness Educator training with YogaU Online that I find useful. Without the use of technology, I would never have had the chance to study such a valuable course.
The regular and safe practice of any form of yoga helps bring harmony and balance between different organ systems, leading to better health and a feeling of well-being. Yoga is considered a fairly safe form of exercise. The practice of yoga poses aligns, strengthens and balances the structure of the body. Yoga postures comprise simple body movements such as standing, sitting, forward and back-bends, twists, inversions and laying down positions. Various yogic postures and sequences have been shown to activate specific muscles or groups of muscles. Among other benefits, yoga practice helps enhance the best possible control of core stabilizing muscles to reduce lower back pain through increased hip and spinal flexibility.
Challenges Faced by Yoga Teachers
Yoga teachers are facing increasing challenges both personally and in their teaching. Some of them face burn-out, having to juggle several classes to make enough money (or not enough) to cover the fees for payment of annual membership, liability insurance, CPR/AED certification, and ongoing education. Others have to cope, at times, with unsuitable physical facilities.
Yoga teachers must now cater to different needs in the same yoga session. Older students and seniors; people with special conditions who want healing; people with injuries seeking pain relief: all must approach the practice differently. Teaching mixed classes with people who are beginners/intermediate, healthy/sick or have normal/special conditions has its own set of challenges. Most popular yoga classes are too fast. They give little to no time for new yoga students to attain body awareness or for those who want to remain at the beginner level to do so.
Learning anatomy to ensure the safety of the practice can be daunting. Most yoga teacher training courses at the 200-hour level do not provide adequate anatomy training. They fail to prepare teachers to cater to the needs of a wide variety of potential students.
Another aspect of changing practice is students’ attitudes in approaching yoga as a workout, something to master rather than to practice leading some yoga teachers to ignore the spiritual aspect of yoga practices such as chanting. Many of these students lack patience with the journey to health and healing; others do what they want when they want; many do not appreciate the importance of regular and safe practice; some show a lack of respect for the yoga teacher.
Understanding unmet needs – Interviewing clients prior to starting the yoga practice to listen to their voices.
Emphasizing safe practice – Making it safe for all levels by learning anatomy, safe practice and mastering modifications of postures and the use of props (and making clients understand that the use of props brings more value to the practice).
Understanding anatomy – Teachers benefit from learning how to assess what is happening anatomically with clients when they are in a posture and how to modify, adapt or substitute postures in mixed-level classes. Knowledge of anatomy in its relation to function will not only enhance yoga performance but may also help to reduce yoga-related injuries.
Following research – Continued reliance on research and making it public knowledge to help educate the public. E.g. “Anatomical Correlation of Core Muscle Activation in Different Yogic Postures” from the International Journal of Yoga, (Vol. 10, Issue 2), May 2017.
Facilitating self-knowledge and spirituality –Hatha yoga practice focuses on the physical body. It helps to maintain flexibility and optimum functioning of the body. This is turn leads to an improved functioning of the nervous system that helps in the self-discovery and increased self-knowledge process. However, the modern practice of yoga just for the physical benefit of fitness and stress reduction has weakened it by taking away that aspect of yoga that allows people to discover the real causes of stress and illness.
It is the transformation of our selves – becoming aware of self-defeating beliefs and thought patterns – that will ultimately bring healing and wholeness to the individual. The biggest challenge facing qualified yoga teachers is to help practitioners on their self-knowledge path.
Yoga is really about the evolution of consciousness. Consciousness is always present. Our practice aids us in uncovering it wholly, by creating conditions that are appropriate to its unfolding and by removing obstacles that prevents its blossoming. This is spirituality.
 A style of yoga I find controversial is Marijuasana (a Las Vegas-based community of weed-positive yogis), especially after having learned of the damaging health effect of cannabis use on youth. Research done on behalf of the Government of Canada shows that the brain is not fully developed until around age 25. Youth are mainly vulnerable to the effects of cannabis use on brain development and functions. The THC in cannabis affects the same biological system in the brain that directs brain development. Cannabis use is linked with increased risk of harms when it is frequent, continues over time and begins early in teenage years. Some of the harms may not be fully reversible.
by Violet Pasztor
The theme of evolving yoga and its many forms, for this month’s Canadian Yogi, really intrigued me because having been involved in the yoga industry for nearly 15 years and as a practicing yogini of 30 years, I can certainly offer my two cents on the subject.
Did you know that in the beginning age of yoga, yogic teachings were kept secret? The teachings were profound and only a select few had access. As time passed, the teachings opened up and the world was introduced to this profound system of self-realization.
The self-empowerment attitude we have seen over the past decades and the ‘consciousness’ craze and/or the so called “awakening”, really sparked the movement for ‘yoga’ and the ‘esoteric’ teachings. In the 1800’s Madame Blavatsky was a pioneer in getting the rest of the world interested in spirituality. Yoga was at the root of it all.
When I was young, a child of the 70’s, people were just starting to talk about yoga in the mainstream culture. Even though it was popular during the 60’s hippy craze and Ram Dass, Timothy Leary and Mahesh Yogi and the Beatles made it popular, the children of the 70’s, (unless born of flower children living in communes), didn’t have much knowledge of yoga and its tradition. I’m speaking of course about general western culture of the 70’s.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, when I became interested in yoga, there was a substantial yogic movement where I was living in Toronto Canada and, also, in USA, certain ashrams like ‘Kripalu’ were getting quite famous and internationally known. For that time in my life, when religion and mainstream education did not satisfy the intellectual or heart-felt questions about reality and spirituality, yoga became my saviour and teacher. Yoga was something I experienced in my body (the true god-given temple) and put in motion a foundation of yoga study and practice for life.
I think, that as time has passed, since the 90’s, life has sped up, and I believe that due to technology, and the far reaching science of physics and exploration of the Atom, yoga has stayed with us and is even more popular than ever. Isn’t it neat that the energetics of yoga, through-out the ages, is still alive and well?
No doubt yoga is integrated in our society. I think this is a good thing; despite the many forms that it has taken and the delivery method. A yogini friend of mine, Sandra Sammartino (one of Canadian Yoga Alliance’s members and advisors) once said to me, “Violet! what matters is that yoga consciousness is out there and alive and people are doing it!” I think this comment came after I had made some remark about getting stoned and doing yoga (I’m laughing!) . Sandras’ comment was so well put and so very true to the heart of a true yogin. Who am I to judge?
So if we are doing yoga with a dog on our belly, or our baby, or a cat, or if we are with the goats on the roof, or studying with the latest internet guru, then that’s okay in my books because, ultimately, ‘yoga’ is universal and it belongs to everyone and everything and may come to us in many ways. And has over the ages.
For the orthodox, all this modern yoga may be an abomination, not the yoga itself, but the wishy-washy fluffy yoga delivery, and/or perhaps the lack of important historical, philosophical or religious teaching- conveniently left out for the fast-paced modern day yoga training.
In a true sense, the profoundness of the VEDAS and scriptural studies of the ancient past, have given us such an immense treasure trove with which to learn from and live good lives. Both my heart & mind agree that there was a certain purity at one time in our remote past; but, as the world evolved, the delivery of yoga has changed from the masters in the caves, to the disciples of those masters, to the gurus of the ashram, to the Westerner looking for enlightenment in India, to the Western ‘school’ of yoga, to the 200 hr. yoga teacher training program, to the on-line yoga course, and probably, not soon off, our own personal holographic yoga teacher right there in our living room.
Orthodoxy will ultimately morph itself into a new face as well, over time. Over the ages, just as the delivery system for yoga and it’s ancient teachings have integrated itself in our culture, the orthodox will emerge in new textbooks of electronic nature, in u-tube video, in public educational programs and busy places of modern and safe worship.
What a wonderful world we live in! We have so many lovely options to learn, to grow, to evolve as good people; and yoga is still with us, through it all.
I think we should remember the profundity of the old teachings; (many of us have no idea what that actually means or where to get those teachings), honor the unknown, keep it pure. At least in our minds and hearts, we probably all agree that yoga is good and that yoga is helping millions of people around the world. Yes, there probably should be some controls put on the yoga, perhaps a university in Canada, graduating teachers of high degree; however, again, despite this idea, it may cause class division and label some as good teachers and some as not good teachers. I always go back to “judge not! least ye be judged!”. So therefore, yoga is in our heart, our mind and soul. It is in our Being, in our Consciousness. The true essence of yoga is Unity, and this is something we must all contemplate and discriminate about when we are taking yoga courses both in the West and India (or anywhere else in the world for that matter).
If the delivery method does not sit right with you, then let it go. For some it may be perfect and beneficial, and this is good. For others, other means of study may be more beneficial and satisfying. The key to mastership is individual intelligence. I think, despite all the nonsense of what appears to be a world lost in technological materialism, yoga, like mycelium, is underneath everything and is guiding humanity on the right path.
By Samantha Howick
I believe that the journey of self-discovery presents itself at the moment in time that we are ready for it.
The decision to partake in a yoga teacher training may not be what you thought it would be. Asana, which is one of the major inspirations for taking a course, melts into a much bigger constellation. Trainings are thought-provoking and the self-reflective nature of the course often reveals stored impressions you are unaware of. Exploring the deep emotional patterns and inner workings of mind can often bring you far out of your comfort zone, which can be very unsettling.
Trainings offer the support of others who have tread the same path. They also allow you to attract a sangha, whether it be in person or not. You make a conscious connection which is living. This backdrop for the holding of space for experiences, and the process of unveiling and letting go which are central to the “teachings”, is nurturing and facilitating.
Although it’s not always easy, I have witnessed almost everyone come out the other side with more clarity, ease, compassion and the ability to be their own best guide — seeing them continue to cultivate a sense of reliance on their own inner reference system, which is the goal of any yoga teacher training. Not to create clones or eternal dependents but rather to teach each person to depend on his or her own inner atman or teacher.
To be granted time within someone’s intimate journey through the individual self, to watch the innate understanding develop a life of its own, to grow with that person, to laugh, to sing, to cry, to dance. To trust and be trusted. Connecting to each other beyond words and language, on a level which fulfills and connects us to all beings. To be One. How could I ask for more intensely heartfelt moments?
During my years of leading these trainings (which usually lasted almost 8 months), I had my own aversion. The very powerful kleisha of dvesha nestled its way into my life and attached itself to the idea of doing the course online.
I knew I was out of reach for so many people, due to my location and the required time commitment, but my aversion made me believe that I could never present and preserve the information in a meaningful way online. The workload, the anti-personal aspect of my dinosaur mind with regards to technology, the lack of a support system, as well as a daunting amount of work, were all feeding my aversion and making my way “right” and another way “wrong”.
One day, I was made an offer by a photographer expressing an interest in filming my course. I just grabbed it, forgetting my aversion. I jumped through my own self-created blocks in my mind.
As I toiled through the information, to compile and present, I found myself facing all my fears step by step. The workload which seemed daunting and impossible before, with a bit more planning, learning acceptance of imperfections, letting go into the fact that often my plan isn’t the only possible plan and surrendering into the bigger picture…. just flowed.
I find myself now on the other side with over 55 hours of inspiring and unique footage. I feel that this online training can actually open many doors which were closed to people, before, because of their work or family commitment. I feel that, rather than being impersonal and dry, this training, due to its formula of continued contact and 6 days of residence, has taught me that my aversion was in my head, fueled by fear and ignorance. It prevented me from seeing that there is always a way to align ourselves to wholeness, whatever the configuration. Essentially, you can’t make anything un-whole that is whole, it’s only our perception which makes it so.
In letting things be and riding the waves of life, sometimes in a direction that we are not clear about, we open ourselves to a whole new world of even bigger possibilities and feelings of being part of life itself, which is not ours but rather being offered to us.
How did I do it?
How did I compile 8 months of study into a valuable formula?
How did I find the balance?
How did I preserve the unique connection?
And keep the love of relating to people?
How did I drop out of and into?
Well first of all this “I”, had a lot of support from friends and, especially, family. Each one of my four children and my husband. They all believed in me, inspired me and helped me out when I needed it most.
I’m not fully sure, and I’m not fully responsible for the answer. Like most important things in life, we are guided, we are led, we are inspired and we are helped. That’s when we know it’s meant to be, and our work becomes inspired for the love of it. We feel we are not fully responsible, not fully in the driver’s seat, and we detach from the outcome.
Yoga teacher training is not really about postures. I mean it is and it isn’t, at the same time. It’s about understanding the universal principles that underlay every asana, every breath and every moment in our actions and existence. It’s about balancing doing and allowing simultaneously. It’s about understanding body in all its layers, mind in all its facets, nature in all her ways… and how we fit in.
When our understanding is illuminated from within, our breath, our movements and our minds begin to take on new shapes. Our life, our asana, light up and things evolve into a fully integrated experience of the present moment.
So, if you are like I was, and thought an online yoga teacher training could not be all those things, I ask you to examine your reasoning and give online training a chance.
For me, there is still a large part of yoga teacher training for which I feel the need to be present. That is why I have preserved many hours of communication. I still oversee all of the assignments personally as well as require 6 days of residential study when a student feels ready for certification.
This unique formula, where a lot of work can be done on your own with guidance and individual fine tuning, combined with a short residential program is very much for the dedicated and self-motivated. I have split the course into two options, one is simply the course itself. The other is the course including full room and board for a 6-day certification. (Passing is not guaranteed, but students have many chances along the way to feel ready.)
“Let the beauty that you love be what you do” — Rumi
Samantha is the founder of One Yoga Academy. She is an artist, mother and longtime yogini who has been sharing and teaching internationally for almost 2 decades. Check out her new online program @ www.yogasamantha.com