A knowledge and understanding of the history and philosophy of yoga is an essential part of the Yoga Alliance 200 Hour Teacher Training Course. For many trainee yoga teachers, this is the part of the course that they most look forward to, as they may have little knowledge the subject at the start the course.
Although there is generally an acceptance that students are initially attracted to yoga for physical reasons and to experience mental clarity (confirmed by Yoga Journal’s research , which highlights the perceived benefits and attributes of regular participants) there has also been a growth in interest in the history of yoga, with courses such as those offered by the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies becoming increasingly popular, attracting teachers and students who seek greater understanding of the traditions and roots of yoga.
Yoga has drifted away from its historic roots in India and inevitably lost some of the connections that were intrinsic to earlier practices. There is continued discussion on what is seen as authentic, how yoga should be practised and its authenticity in the west. Practitioners have not only adapted and developed their interests, based on the classical teachings, but also added or removed what is seen as no longer useful, enjoyable, or understood by today’s students.
Elizabeth De Michelis has formulated a framework divided into three categories, as a way of understanding how yoga is commonly practised in the West. Briefly, these are; Hatha yoga (including asana and pranayama); meditation; and yogic philosophy. Although she accepts that there will inevitably be fluidity between what is included and omitted in this framework, De Michelis’s description of yoga as ‘a range of techniques and approaches to spirituality’ brings some clarity into the discussion on what yoga is in the 21st century.
If we take these categories as a framework, aimed at helping us to understand what is generally accepted as yoga today, we can see that there is more emphasis on the physical and mental activities of the practice and less (if any) mention on the purpose of the ‘doing’. It may also be noted that although the word ‘spiritual’ is included, this is often understood as being something that can be achieved through physical performance. Mark Singleton ‘ has studied the growth of yoga around the world and challenges the origins of modern, asana focussed practice (postural yoga), suggesting that other influences – more recent Indian political movements and the growth of interest in body building and gymnastics in the West have creating a new, modern yoga.
‘Today, the yoga body has become the centrepiece of a transnational tableau of personalised well-being and quotidian redemption, relentlessly embellished on the pages of glossy publications like Yoga Journal. The locus of yoga is no longer at the center of an invisible ground of being, hidden from the gaze of all but the elite initiate or the mystic; instead, the lucent skin of the yoga model becomes the ubiquitous signifier of spiritual possibility, the secular projection screen of characteristically modern and democratic religious aspirations. In the yoga body – sold back to a million consumer-practitioners as an irresistible commodity of the holistic, perfectible self – surface and anatomical structure promise ineffable depth and the dream of incarnate transcendence.’
From the study of the history and philosophy of these earlier times, we move forward to the present day and ask ourselves if the roots and traditions of yoga, have any relevance for today’s yoga practitioner.
The influence of figures such as BKS Iyengar and Pattabi Jois has ensured that their rigorous training and knowledge have been passed down and continue to inspire yogis throughout the world. Training programmes in ‘styles’ of yoga can have a strong hold over many students who stay committed to a particular teacher. Breakout teachers, such as the now discredited Bikram Chowdrey and the growth of styles such as Vinyasa Flow, Ashtanga and Power Yoga are mainstream. The question of influences in these styles may be tenuous as the physical aspects are the foremost purpose of the class. Is this a Tantric connection – the transformation of the body? Or is this merely postural yoga that has lost all connection to the Tantric teachings.
Michael Birley writes that Hatha yoga is ‘firmly rooted in the tantric tradition, and the primary textual sources of hatha yoga can themselves be classed as tantric documents.’ But, this form of practice bares only a faint resemblance to that which is expounded in the tantric sources.
There have been numerous examples of yoga being adapted to fit in with the Christian religion, with reports of yoga teachers being banned from using Church halls in the UK and the growth of alternative yoga schools, such as Holy Yoga and Praise moves in the US. Little is left, apart from the physical postures and the breathing practices and it may be asked, why use the term yoga at all when the history, philosophy and other aspects have been removed or replaced?
Yoga is rarely handed down through families, or traditional teachings between student and guru. The growth of yoga studios and teacher trainings now provide the major entry point into yoga. Potential students may initially access yoga classes though the Internet and are encouraged to engage with a number of styles and teachers, rather than developing a relationship with one teacher.
Dr Suzanne Newcombe has looked at the legacy of BKS Iyengar and Yogini Sunita on modern yoga concluding that, ‘it is unlikely that Modern Yoga could have become a global phenomenon on the strength of interpersonal, charismatic interactions alone.’
The classical and Tantric teachings still influence many yoga practitioners, but there are also some who consider these to be of no relevance to their own experience How academics and others view this is open to continuing discussion. Some may say that the growth and interest in yoga today continues to bring the benefits of yoga to a greater number of people. Others will say that the lack of depth and knowledge of the history, culture, beliefs and practices from which yoga has grown, means that the practice is diminished and does not represent an authentic religious practice.
There is little doubt that yoga will continue to be practised in the west and the discussion on ‘Who Owns Yoga?’ and where and how it originated, will keep us all fascinated and in deep discussion for many years to come.
Flood. G. The Tantric Body. The Secret Tradition of Hindu Religion. (2006) L B Tauris
Oxford Centre of Hindu Studies. Understanding Hinduism, Yoga, Caste and Gender.(2015)
Singleton.M (2010) Yoga Body. The Origins of Modern Posture Practice. Oxford University Press
Singleton M. Byrne J. Yoga in the Modern World (2008) Routledge.
Singleton M. Goldberg B. Gurus of Modern Yoga (2014) Oxford University Press
There are places and moments that you know you will return to in the future - maybe just in your mind. Findhorn is one of these places.
A remote community by an endless sandy beach, protected by smooth pebbles and a beard of trees, this is a place where people collect and find a way of ‘being’. But this is not a ‘being’ that is about ‘me’, more a discovery of the need to be more than just oneself. Here, the spirit is harnessed and nourished under the ever changing skies of this spiritual community, that attracts people from all around the world to share in the day to day work and explore their creative potential and spirituality.
Arriving at the community, there is a feeling that this is a place to settle as people go about their business. Community is more than just working together to provide and care for themselves and their guests, but embraces the human spirit which expresses itself in numerous ways – meditation, song, dance, gardening and creative ways to fulfil and develop the mind, body and spirit. Service to others is the core, but no chore, as there is little division between all activities, be they service to others or oneself.
Our visiting group met there to learn how to teach mediation under the guidance of Dr William Bloom. Gathering from the UK, Ireland, Spain and Canada, like fledgling birds attracted to the same nest, we found ourselves sharing a journey into stillness and self-discovery.
What did I learn?
This is a question that we frequently ask others and ourselves. But, I am not sure if there is a correct answer, or even an answer. If we continue to ask if we are doing something right or wrong, it suggests a goal and need for achievement – to arrive somewhere. Meditating is an experience as unique as each ripple in a pond or wave in the sea. It comes and goes, arrives and disperses, lands and evaporates, or just whispers its presence – as individual and timeless as those who are open to receive.
Our time in Findhorn was about time – time to sit still, to listen and hear and savour moments with awareness. Time to contemplate and learn about mysteries that may not be open to us, but are the reality of others. Time to learn from the wisdom and experience of William, who protected and led us with respect, compassion and wit. Time to laugh, cry and be silly too, creating memories with people we may not meet again, but know that they wish us well and will be with us as we travel forwards…
Thank you Findhorn
Yoga will help you improve your strength and flexibility and help you feel relaxed and calm. Aerobic exercise often leaves you feeling invigorated and alert and may keep you awake if taken too near to bedtime. A combination exercise that will improve your cardiovascular fitness, keep you strong and flexible and help you relax is the ideal combination to improve sleep quality.
Yoga classes are widely available and many people claim they are able to fall asleep easier and have a better night's sleep when they practise yoga. Yoga is not just a form of exercise but a holistic practice that creates harmony between the mind body and spirit. It can be practiced at any age and many people develop a lifetime commitment to yoga.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
Most classes concentrate on learning the yoga poses that will keep the body healthy and some breathing and relaxation techniques that will help you stay calm.
A little knowledge of the philosophy behind yoga will help you get the most out of your practice.
The Indian sage Patanjali conceived the eight limbs of yoga around 200 BC. His system of yoga describes the eight stages that will lead to the ultimate union of mind, body and soul:
Yamas are the moral codes that dictate how to respond and relate to other people and the environment. It teaches students how to respect themselves and others and to be non competitive and learn how to 'let go'.
Niyamas are the rules associated with cleansing and how to achieve spiritual purification.
Asanas are the poses that will help keep the body healthy. The aim of the asanas is gain flexibility, strength and stamina that will enable the student to sit comfortably for long periods during meditation.
Pranayama is the breathing practice that teaches control of the breath. By controlling the breath you are able to influence and 'still' the mind and learn how to relax.
Pratyahara teaches concentration. The mind will wander aimlessly from thought to thought without control. By being aware of what is happening with the mind, you are able to concentrate on the reality of the moment. By drawing inwards you become aware of the calm and serenity that exists within the mind and body and become less influenced by possessions and external aspirations.
Dharana is the art of focusing. When you are able to maintain concentration for long periods the mind enters into stillness, undisturbed by stray thoughts and external disturbances.
Dhyana is meditation when thought and sensation are completely suspended and the mind and body enter into stillness.
Samadhi is the culmination of the eight limbs - the ultimate union - an indescribable 'union' between mind, body and spirit.
Most yoga classes teach the yoga asanas (poses) and relaxation techniques that will help you learn how to relax. Some classes are more physically demanding and others will concentrate on gentler forms of movement and how to use the breath. Yoga is often used to help with back pain and other joint problems, as well as those suffering from stress and other health problems.
Meditation, Pranayama (breathing practice) and yoga philosophy are often taught separately. Courses, workshops and retreats covering all aspects are widely available.
Yoga is ideally learnt in a class with a qualified teacher. However, there are a large number of books and DVDs available that provide information on the different styles that are available.
After more than 200 hours of study, including practise, observation and discussion, it is time for these new teachers to share their knowledge and love of yoga in their own classes. This course is 'no easy option', but the hard work is now done and although our learning continues, it is great to know that there are more informed, committed and compassionate teachers in the world!
Our Foundation Course students received their certificates on Sunday, celebrating the end of the 60 hour course. This was the final session of our journey together - studying and learning more about yoga. Several will be moving on to teacher training and all will be continuing with their own yoga journey with deeper knowledge and a greater commitment to their practice. This has been a fantastic group to work with and I thank them all for their energy and enthusiasm (and also for the delicious food we shared on Sunday!).
The healing power of yoga wendy jacob
Be Spiritual | Philosophy - Wisdom
As our thoughts flow towards France and those involved in the events that killed 17 people on January 7th, 2015, we stand alongside the estimated three million men, women and children who took to the streets in the name of freedom, tolerance and love.
Our thoughts also turn inwards as we question our own beliefs and values and strive to make some sense of the world. We may also experience feelings of helplessness, as our beliefs in acceptance, compassion and hope seem ineffective weapons against a world in conflict.
The actions of the Yogi are neither white (good) nor black (bad); but the actions of others are three kinds: good, bad and mixed. (Patanjali. Bk.4.7.)
The practice of yoga is often misunderstood and seen as lack of involvement in the activities of the modern world. ‘Acceptance’ is often misunderstood as approval and a lack of desire to change. But yoga and meditation helps us cultivate a mind that is able to accept the unacceptable and reconcile these external events with the need for clarity and composure in our own minds. This flexibility allows the flame of the human spirit to survive, and through the living of our own lives avoid the rigidity and narrowness that creates the disasters and violence that inflicts our world.
The cultivation and an understanding of Patanjali’s ethical disciplines, yamas, can help us rebuild our faith when faced with tragedy. Evil is not new and we need to equip ourselves with ways of facing this within ourselves and in others. By pretending it does not exist we are open to the shock that accompanies its striking presence. In ahimsa it is believed that if we do wrong we should ask for justice and if the wrong is done by another, they should be forgiven. This does not mean that a yogi does not oppose evil or wrongdoing. The evil and the act are what are wrong – the person should receive the forgiveness and the act should be fought and punished.
In abhaya there is freedom from fear, and in abhaya freedom from anger. Fear creates anger as we strive to hold on to all that we see as real. Fear of loss – livelihood, youth, possessions – leads to anger as we strive to ward off the ultimate fear, death. Without fear there is no anger and as we try to live within this guidance we are trying to create a life that allows the spirit to be free and without fear.
An acceptance of Patanjali’s words and the cultivation of own minds wisdom and flexibility through mindfulness will help the healing process as we try and find some meaning in the wake of this latest tragedy.
Through meditation we are able to accept and grow through these challenges, even reaching parts of the mind which may never have been revealed. They are there. They are real.
Grief holds the possibility of growth. How we view our world may have been shaken and our boundaries violated. We may need to review how we see the world and our place in it. We may find it difficult to trust those that we feel hold responsibility for our safety. These attitudes may be bought into our practice and undermine what may have been a haven unrelated to the real world. Our work now is to bring the outside in and make it part of our growth. Acceptance does not mean forgetting but letting go. Just as we need to yield and let go in our physical practice we also need to accept anything that arises in our mind. True mindfulness does not allow us to reject any thoughts and feelings but rather to accept that they are there and part of us.
We can also take solace in the outpouring of solidarity that has bought political leaders, nations and people of all faiths together to show their support, compassion and belief in freedom of speech and action. This brings hope and demonstrates that evil will not extinguish the love we have for our brothers and sisters of all faiths. By cultivating a deeper understanding of why these conflicts develop – the beliefs.
Vigils and pledges of support for the victims of this tragedy demonstrate that love is more powerful than hate, the pen is mightier than the sword and that hope and determination will create a future where peace, tolerance and acceptance are shared by all – on and off the mat.
Je suis Charlie – a mantra for freedom and hope.
Published in Yogi Times
If you have a moment, pop down to City Screen, York. Steve Williams is exhibiting his inspirational art in the cafe area. Colour, strength and flowing motion, captured on canvas.
Yoga can be beautiful to watch and may inspire and encourage some to participate. For others, images can suggest yoga is only for the thin and athletic. I like to see yoga as it is - for anyone and everyone.
We have been at York Yoga Studio with photographer Olivia Brabbs taking images of Tara who's baby is due late April. She has captured this special time with some lovely uplifting images. Come back soon to see more on the website. Contact Olivia at email@example.com
We said good bye to Jenny today. The sky was a vibrant blue, the air sharp and the pavements glazed.
A glorious day for a wonderful lady who has enriched, enhanced and touched many lives.