Some of us are really out here trying to teach this stuff and it's hard to be taken seriously.
With so many teachers in the world how is it that the public still has so little understanding of what Yoga is?
Why do I know so many people who have 'done yoga' for decades yet have never heard of or studied the Yoga Sutras?
How come so few people involved in yoga have a serious meditation practice or are familiar with samyam meditation?
How come I've had students who will not come to my class because I discuss reincarnation?
Yes, I’m talking about Yoga, the ancient mystic practice of asceticism, NOT groups of people stretching, de-stressing and saying namaste.
The teachings can be found in three main texts that all practitioners and teachers should know and adhere to for support:
First, the incomparable Yoga instruction Lord Krishna gave to Arjuna during the battle in the Bhagavad Gita.
Next, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali describes Yoga as an 8 stage process of detachment, self-control, self-purification and advanced meditation.
And third, the revelatory practice details offered by Yogi Swatmarama in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika where we find incredible specifics on the 6 highest stages of Patanjali’s 8 fold Yoga.
These books contain the yoga information. They contain what yoga is. They have what we need, we just need to understand. These texts came out of a time in antiquity when yogic power was at a maximum. As yoga students and teachers we need to know this information.
If is not known a legitimate conversation on yoga cannot be had. And what a loss! Yoga is so much, so beautiful, so difficult, so enthusing, healing, enlightening - we find the truth of yoga in these texts. It is not limiting to consider the standard practice in those ancient books, indeed it is freeing to get out from under the modern redefinitions, alterations, and even distortions which several teachers standardized as yoga but which are in contrast to the ancient approaches.
It is my observation that the majority of yoga teachers are actually teaching stretching combined with principles more related to the Age of Aquarius - and calling it Yoga. I know that most teachers, even Indians (India), offer up little knowledge of actual Yoga in its original, unalterable, super-advanced form delivered to us from the mouths of Gods and Masters. Everywhere you go, asana and world peace are the focus.
Let us not be so quick to dismiss it all if we have not even bothered to master what has already been done.
The other day, for the thousandth time during nearly 20 years of being a yoga teacher, I was asked the question: “What type of Yoga do you teach?”
I used to have my go to - Sivananda Yoga. Back in the day when I was less informed I was comfortable with this reference even though I knew in the back of my mind that they had NOT adequately explained Yoga and I didn’t know why. I thought I would really learn about yoga there, it seemed the most traditional training I could find. But as usual, even they focused mainly on asana. So much so that as a female my menstrual cycle shut down for a full six months. I had to cut back on the asana I was supposed to be doing as a teacher for it to start back up again. I should have been doing more studying and more meditating.
I don’t teach on behalf of the institute any longer, therefore, in a way, I lost the backing of that big organization. However, I also understand that had they ever really had my back, they would have taught me Yoga from the good books, they would have acted like the gurus they propped themselves up to be and taught me something important. Not diving into those books wasted my time back then and drove my body beyond the healthy point of utilizing asana.
Even though I made some efforts and the desire was always there, I myself avoided the real study of the books because I was intimidated. Luckily I located a teacher/yogi whose life is devoted to yogic purification with special focus on the above mentioned books, who has helped me understand.
So for the last four years, when someone random asks me this seemingly simply answered question of what kind of yoga I teach, I have been drawing what probably looks to the listener like a blank.
However, within me, what is happening is certainly not a blank. I am internally reviewing the words just asked of me and making an analysis of just how much this person actually even knows about the very question they ask.
The asker thinks she’s helping me out and offers some options, as I am still not answering: “Do you teach Flow Yoga? Vinyasa? Kundalini? Hatha?”
I hear myself explaining that I teach the original yoga from the scriptural texts. She looks annoyed and says she doesn’t know what that is. I say I teach from the Yoga Sutras and Bhagavad Gita, I don’t even get to mention the Pradipika before I realize I’m just pissing her off more.
I know what she wants so I cave and say I teach Kundalini Yoga - which is true, but essentially meaningless to her. Her question made it clear she doesn’t understand the words she was using.
Imagine you were going to ask a person about a Catechism class they taught but you knew little about it and barely spoke the language you were using. It might sound as smart as this:
“What type of Catholicism do you teach? Do you teach Christian Catholicism? Religious Catholicism? Theological Catholicism? “
As you can see through the use of the English, these words have very similar meanings and the follow up questions don’t make much sense.
I sometimes feel lost in a world of yoga where no one wants to talk about yoga. No one seems to know or care just how profoundly important Yoga is. Rather I see a strange, stubborn insistence on misrepresenting it - a digging in of the heels and hostile reactions to real information. Yoga redefinition teachers like Rodney Yee, Shiva Rea, Seane Corne and Somebody Stiles who run around the world glorifying themselves at the expense of accurate yoga truth are, in my book, committing a misdeed of unimaginable consequence.
I remember when Oprah started showing interest in Yoga, back in the early 2000’s. It made me nervous due to her status as reigning queen of new-age-ification. Then Madonna showed interest in yoga and it became even more mainstream popular. I thought to myself at the time that Madonna would never be the same once she learned about yoga. Obviously, she didn’t change and her interest, at least publically, did not venture beyond exploiting postures. Soon after she starred in a movie featuring her as a yoga teacher, she came out with even more superficial music material.
As a Yogini, these things scared me and made me realize that there was a possibility that due to this public misrepresentation of Yoga, I might not be taken seriously.
I write this article because after all this time of having Yoga in the west, look at where it is.
Celebrity yoga teachers are basically the bottom of the barrel and that includes those of Eastern descent (i.e. Bikram). I do not excuse someone from misinforming the public due to nationality or a pleasing accent.
It's up to us who call ourselves teachers to actually teach. But to teach you have to learn and the books are right there.
Inescapable concepts one should be prepared to hear about in a Yoga class:
· Karma/Phalam (action/result)
· Supreme Being(s)
· That there is a difference between the spirit, the subtle body and the physical body.
· That the world will go on as it is without you after you liberate.
· That our authorities are great yogi masters like Patanjali, Lord Krishna, Lord Shiva and Swatmarama.
· That we can liberate ourselves through this precise, perfected program on detachment.
If any of the above offends you and yet you say are into Yoga, it might be a good idea to take a second look at what you are doing.