Category Archives for "Yoga Education"
In my last blog post I discussed the need to attach purpose to the yogic techniques we learn, to not just have the tool, but to know what to do with it. The purpose of yoga is to know who we are, and how to handle ourselves; personal contentment and happiness allows us to serve the greater good of humanity. The elusiveness of such guidance in yoga class is, in part, because of the attachment to the idea of yoga as exercise. This forms a reluctance on the part of both teacher and student to be involved in discourse-based education: some things just need to be talked about, and there is a lot to talk about.
This isn’t to diminish the importance of physical health and exercise. There is a good reason the path to yoga begins with physical techniques such as posture and breathing. A healthy body is a vital platform for a healthy mind. So yes, whatever condition we are in, it is necessary to be as healthy as possible and yogic techniques are wonderful for doing this. The problem is the physical side of the path to yoga is vastly over-represented. As a teacher who has regularly offered lecture-based classes, I can tell you they are never as well-attended as classes where physical techniques are practiced. I can sympathize with teachers who don’t offer lecture-based classes because they need to be able to pay the bills so they can continue teaching the yoga that they do teach. For the students, I understand they often have never even heard of yoga as something other than just another type of exercise, which is unfortunate because they may very well miss out on the most transformative aspects of the path to yoga.
It is the antithesis of yoga to only be willing to engage with it when jumping around and holding shapes made with the body. A ubiquitous and respectable definition of yoga is “yogah citta vrtti nirodhah,” yoga is stopping the activity of the mind --- which brings to the surface consciousness we are otherwise unaware of. Knowing yourself involves leaving no stone unturned. The subject of this blog post is not meant to be a blame game, but a discussion about yoga not being approached in a well-rounded way. It also must be said that the bar has become so low for what constitutes a “yoga teacher” that the teacher is often unqualified to teach yoga in any other way than just another exercise (and often unqualified to teach yoga at all). A teacher’s registration with Yoga Alliance is no guarantee of competency.
If you are a capable yoga teacher, offer lecture classes even if it is just a few times a year, it will not break the bank and eventually more people will show up. If you are a student and you really love yoga, be willing to show up to some lecture-based classes. It will deepen your practice and open the true benefits of yoga to you. For newer students, understand it is natural to first approach yoga on an entirely physical level. It’s an important aspect of yoga and often the intended starting point and an ever-present aspect of your yoga practice, just know to not stop there. Ask your teacher when you feel ready to learn more. Yoga has much more to offer than physical health. If you teach yoga and feel you may not truly be qualified to teach yoga in a well-rounded way, realize lecture-based classes are for you too. A good teacher will be there to help you, not shame you. My textual-studies series and lecture-based classes will return in a few months when my own work load has lightened a bit (your teacher is a student too!).-- Marc-Cristobal Guilarte
You have attended a yoga class, or are thinking of attending one. Often the thoughts arise, “will this ever be easy, when will I ‘get it,’ and what will this do for me?” We learn how to do some poses and styles of breathing, yet often get only cursory guidance concerning the purpose of these tools and how to get the most out of them (or perhaps don’t realize this guidance is necessary!). The poses, breathing, mantras, and visualizations are not yoga itself; they are tools that lead to yoga. Yoga itself is coming to an understanding of what you are and what you are not. The tools of yoga are meant to present you with a challenge in order to reveal your personality: what are your motivations, aversions, desires, and habits of thought? And out of those, determine what is good or not good for you: what should be discarded and what should be cultivated. Advanced yoga is a mental state, not a pose or some other technique.
The goal is not for the tools leading to yoga to be easy, or even for you to be an expert (as the techniques of yoga are vast and diverse and sometimes even contradictory towards each other). If they are easy, they won’t churn up what is inside of you, and the aim is to be an expert about your own inner workings. Our mastery of the techniques of yoga is only so important as we know enough about what is safe for us, what gives us self-knowledge, and where to go from there. To know yourself is to be able to control yourself; to know what is “you” and what is not “you” is to know what is in your control and what is not. If you can control something and there’s a need to, then focus intensely on the task at hand. If you know something is out of your control, then relax and accept things as they are.
Once you have started to learn a set of yoga techniques and have found a good teacher to guide you, use what you’ve learned in solitude. Just observe your thoughts, habits, and reactions. Over time you will begin to acquire deeper and deeper insights about who you are, and thus begin to truly steer yourself towards a happy life as your true self. This touches on the need for lecture and didactic discourse in yoga studios: the willingness for the teacher to offer this, and for the students to attend.
-- Marc-Cristobal Guilarte
This is Part 1 of a 2 Part Post. Check Back Next Friday to Read Part 2.
This fall Marc Guilarte will be offering a variety of discussion based workshops about the nature of Yoga. Make sure to download our App and Follow us on Facebook to get notified about our events!
For most of my life yoga has been a private affair, which I didn’t really share with anyone else until I started teaching. Being a very introverted person, I never entangled with the yoga community beyond my own teacher; when I started teaching in studios I was frankly quite surprised that many people in the local yoga community seemed to think yoga hadn’t been written about much throughout history, and that there wasn’t much information to glean other than going to asana-only classes.
I am here to tell you there is an enormous amount of information out there, and much of it is absolutely free. Around about the middle of the 19th century India started translating and disseminating a great deal of its philosophy, art, religion, and so forth into English to try to show the world India as an advanced culture with much to offer. This was, in part, in hopes of being freed from the imperial designs of Britain, were the world to see that India deserved more than a place of servitude and submission.
Many of these translations are on the internet for free now, often with multiple translations to choose from. Many people don’t know how to proceed to become more literate in yoga, it’s history and philosophy, so here, I will point the way: Swami Nikhilananda’s translations of the principal Upanishads are a great start. I suggest you read at least Kathopanishad, and the Mandukya Upanishad along with the Guadapada Karika. Not only is it free, but these are very clear solid translations. I also suggest the Shiva Sutras of Vasugupta and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali....there are many many different translations out there. Chandra Vasu’s translations of the Shiva Samhita and the Gheranda Samhita. You can also find the Goraksha Samhita and Hatha Yoga Pradipika free online.
I am here to tell you there is an enormous amount of information out there, and much of it is absolutely free.
It is important to realize to understand one book, you often have to read many. If more than one translation is available, read them all. This is the way it is when you are reading something in translation, especially the more different the time, culture, and place of the text. To make it even easier for the local yoga community, I have done a lot of the heavy lifting for you, and am now teaching many of these books in my yogic textual studies series.