What kind of Yoga do you teach?

The most common question I am asked is, “What kind of yoga do you teach?” It is difficult to give a short answer to this question. I teach Sastriyayoga – traditional yoga, could be one answer.

Traditional yoga is not something dead and out of date, but a living, contemporary practice carried on by sincere and dedicated individuals. Tradition means something that is passed from generation to generation; contemporary means that it is alive and happening now. So sastriyayoga is traditional and contemporary. It is informed by something vast and profound, the Vedic heritage of the Rsi’s. The classic texts are the utterance’s of Rsis and are authentic records of their experiences and insights, Arsa-dharma, the teaching of the sages. I find a sense of security and confidence in following a practice that has been refined for generations. I continue to be filled with awe as my study and practice progresses. I am constantly learning new things so I never feel bored. It is a journey of discovery. Faith arises based on personal experience. Enthusiasm and confidence follow.

Krishnamacharya compares yoga with education and agriculture in that an application of effort over a long period gives results. Yoga Sutra 1:13 tells us that,” it is only when correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed.” (T.K.V. Desikachar translation). Correct practice for a long time. How do we find out what correct practice is? From the study of the yoga-sastras and from a competent, dedicated teacher. “From study one should proceed to practice, and from practice to study.” Visnu Purana V1.6.2

Following a tradition does not mean that you automatically become a mindless dogmatist. A key concept of Krishnamacharya’s approach was Viniyoga, the appropriate application of yoga to the individual. It also does not mean that yoga cannot adapt to changing times. Desikachar said of his father, “Krishnamacharya had the independence, the courage, and the openness to make tremendous changes in himself and in sacred tradition in response to the needs of his times. Yet he also held fast to the essence of eternal truths that humanity must preserve, perhaps for its very survival. The enduring example is that, true to his calling, he lived the life of a Yogi – often in the face of near-overwhelming obstacles.”

I have also encountered a few difficulties trying to stick with this teaching. Once upon a time I was teaching a Yoga class at a health club. After the class one evening the manager came to me and said, “Do you think you could speed it up a bit and do it to music?” I told him I couldn’t do that as this was the correct pace for yogasana practice and that I wanted my students to listen to their breath, not external music. I suggested that if he was not happy with my method I could step aside and he could recruit someone else. I did leave and gave up teaching in those kind of establishments after that. The aims of the health club seemed to be to follow fashion in order to be commercially successful and that was not something I was happy to do. A quote from Krishnamacarya came to mind on this occasion.

“It is difficult for me to give up the ancient vaidika sampradaya (vedic tradition) and offer some momentary happiness which is not consistent with the sampradaya (tradition).”  Sri Krishnamacharya

and some advice from Mark Whitwell:  “Do not dilute the quality of your yoga to win and keep students.”

I think that if we are not well grounded in practice and study there is a danger that on making changes we will lose the baby with the bathwater. Making changes to yoga based on fragmented knowledge or the whims of fashion or commercial imperative will not be helpful. Yoga survives today because of the integrity and wisdom of past and present teachers. We need to give careful consideration to making changes so that the essence of yoga is preserved.

If you want to be a good translator you will need to understand both the cultures and the languages that you work with if you wish the communication to be correct and properly understood. Yoga is being transmitted across cultural boundaries and can be mistranslated or distorted, accidentally or deliberately, if care is not taken. It makes sense for students and teachers to ground their knowledge in the source teachings.

I find that a few people really love the Yoga that I teach but I do notice that modern styles that appear more exiting and ‘snazzy’ are more popular. Even so, I will continue to study and practise and share through teaching with those interested. I am happy to be a traditional Yoga student and teacher and am really glad that I did not give into pressure in my early teaching career to “speed it up and do it to music.”


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