Friday, February 15, 2013

The One Who Will Never Leave You

Last week when I was assisting and observing a yoga class, a palpable sense of peace and security enveloped the room.  It was such a gift to be able to witness the integrated and quiet practice of other yogis set to inspiring music with sunlight pouring through the windows.  One song really drew me in and focused my thoughts on the deeper meaning of the practice.  The song became popular in the 80's and it's one we all know, by Cyndi Lauper, Time after Time. The version played in class was the slower, acoustic cover by Eva Cassidy. The refrain is, "If you're lost, you can look, and you will find me, time after time.  If you fall, I will catch you, I will be waiting...time after time." 

I thought about how we come to yoga to find our true selves, to connect to our essence.  When we come to class, or when we come to our mats at home, or really in any moment of the day when we come back to ourselves and make a connection, then in that act we are showing up for ourselves.  We are leaving everything else to the side and reconnecting with that part of ourselves which never changes: our light, our essence, the true self.  This is a great comfort and source of strength, knowing first of all that we have an immovable, eternal part of our being, and secondly that we have a way to connect to that part anytime, and whenever we need it most.  "If you're lost, you can look, and you will find me. If you fall, I will catch you, I will be waiting."  I saw people looking deeply, and finding the true self, balancing in a posture and catching themselves if they fell out of it, coming back home to themselves, eyes closed, during savasana.  And they have done this before, and they will do it again, time after time.  

I thought about yoga, and the meaning of the word: union.  Generally we think of the union of mind, body and spirit, and the unity we seek with one another and sometimes with a higher power.  But on this particular day, right before Valentine's Day, when I heard this love song I thought about union within the Self.  I thought about the wholeness we experience when we connect the parts of the fragmented Self and experience the essence of our being.  For me, that is yoga.  

We read and speak often of mistaking the false self for the true self, the ignorance that is referred to in Sanskrit as Avidya.  Through our practice we are confronting this ignorance: we are moving from the false self to the true self, from the gross to the subtle, from darkness to light.  Sometimes this feels like a struggle, and it can also look that way from the outside.  Other times it feels sweet, it feels like peace, it feels like coming home.  However it may feel for you today when you practice, try to find that sense of connecting with your true self, with your essence, and take comfort in being there for yourself...time after time. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Criteria for a Yoga Teacher

Deepavali Anugraha Sandesha

The job of a yoga teacher is highly specialized, and far more demanding than it appears on the surface.  Teaching yoga falls under the category of the “helping professions”.  There are many types of teachers in our world, but very few teaching jobs involve an ongoing interaction with the mind, body and spirit of the students.  To teach yoga well, there are four indispensable criteria: connection, discipline, precision and humility.  

Yoga is a holistic science, therefore a good yoga teacher cannot present it in a compartmentalized way.  For this reason, the number one criteria for a good yoga teacher is that he/she be wholly present and connected; connected within and without, aware of the inner self and consciousness, the greater consciousness that surrounds and sustains us, the body in all its majesty and fragility and the mind as the filter and veil between these dimensions.  This connection allows the yoga teacher to tune into each student’s energy, state of mind, physical health and progression in the practice of asana.  It also facilitates the structuring of each class, from the dharma talk to the sequencing of the postures.  There is no flow without connection.  

Yoga is a discipline to be followed with consistency.  Passion and dedication motivate the teacher and the student to stay with the practice, but even with these, it is impossible to stay the course without discipline.  Therefore, discipline is the second most important criteria for a yoga teacher.  We must show up regularly on our own mats, on our own meditation cushions, applying the principles of yoga in our day-to-day lives, or we will be unable to bring the fruits of our practice to our students.  To practice and teach yoga, discipline is an absolute prerequisite.

Yoga is an art to be perfected over the course of a lifetime.  No yogi dies having completely perfected the practice, because there are so many layers to uncover, something new to discover each time we come to the mat.  This continual evolution does not imply a lack of structure, or imprecision.  There are definite forms requiring skill and concentration to embody.  For this reason, precision is a third essential requirement for every yoga teacher.  Precision in the postures is key in the training of mind and body.  Precision must be distinguished from perfection; a perfect asana practice is not a requirement but our attention to form certainly is.  

Finally, no matter how lofty our aims or intense our dedication may be--if we can’t keep our feet on the ground, if we can’t put our heads in the service of our hearts, if we can’t bow to something greater than ourselves, and to the greatness in our students--then we cannot be of service.  The fourth and final requirement for a good yoga teacher is humility.  Humility prevents the teacher from teaching to meet his or her own needs rather than the student’s needs.  Humility saves the teacher from the trap of the ego and the quest for perfection, in oneself and in the students.  Humility allows the teacher to keep learning, to retain a sincere passion for yoga, to experience the childlike joy the practice can bring. Every teacher must be humble above all else, for there is no service without humility.  

The ultimate role of a yoga teacher is to take the students on a journey, to guide and foster them in walking a path they are also traveling.  The journey begins by connecting with the body in a new way, connecting with the breath, integrating the mind, the body and the breath. The path leads to union, the true meaning of yoga. The path leads to the ultimate realization that we are not separate, but whole.  We are not separate from the Divine or from one another, and the many aspects of ourselves we normally see as separate can be integrated.  A yoga teacher opens the student up to the possibility of integration, within and without.  

Each yoga teacher possesses these enumerated qualities in differing degrees.  We all have our particular weaknesses and strengths.  Even after a thorough teacher training, many teachers must apply more effort to their practice and hone their skills before they can teach professionally.  The teaching becomes part of the practice, and we teach to learn.  Personally, on some level, I do possess each of the criteria I listed: connection, discipline, precision and humility.  In any given month or on any given day, I am more or less connected, disciplined, precise or humble.  Humility is the most natural of these qualities for me.  Discipline is the least natural.  The more disciplined I become, the more time I will be able to devote to my practice, which will in turn help me with the connection and precision.  The way I maintain my connection to myself, to God, and to others, is through my asana and meditation practice, through prayer, and through study of scriptures.  All of these take time and discipline, and with each, humility is also nourished.  The more disciplined and connected I am, the more precise I will become as well.  I know that if I work on becoming more disciplined, I can become a good yoga teacher.