Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Teaching Yoga: The Foundational Elements

Over the next couple of months my blogging will be focused on the topic of “Teaching Yoga” and is especially geared towards Yoga Teachers. However, any person interested in self-growth and/or a regular student of yoga should not hesitate to read further. Looking through the lens of a teacher (of any subject) can be illuminating and enlightening. Enjoy!

All of the topics to follow are excerpts and/or summaries from my forthcoming book: Teaching Yoga—A Definitive Guide.

The Foundational Elements of Yoga

What I have observed in teaching over the years is that there are so many angles to teaching yoga. There are so many styles, belief systems, philosophies, lineages, and “best” ways to align the shoulders, and breathe deep, and, and, well, you get the idea.

I see teachers who strongly adhere to the “one way” perspective and those that float from idea to idea absorbing as much information as possible. Neither is good nor bad. It is useful to go fully into one style or system of yoga to embody that path. It is the attachment to that “being the only way” that can create an obstruction to moving forward. Likewise, dabbling in many different styles and/or yogic ideas can also be beneficial affording you many choices and possibilities for teaching and practicing. However, sometimes the constant “seeker” is simply distracting him/herself from just being and learning from the teacher within.

I am always curious about what lies at the base of any organized and/or structured system or philosophy. I wonder, what are the key ingredients needed to educe the final product. I am most interested in the ‘product’ of healing. My definition of healing is, “the way we return to our essential state of wholeness”. This innate interest within myself is why I was drawn to Yoga and to all of the other body-mind modalities that I have studied.

Yoga to me is the end product obtained by doing all of the practices that we refer to as Yoga. Yoga is not asana, pranayama, meditation, chanting, etc. Yoga is the embodiment of our Essential Self. It is a state of being.

So, I have asked within my own practice and in teaching; what are the key elements that elicit Yoga? Yes, there are so many books filled with endless techniques to get me there. There are many teachers that “know” the way. And yet, what is beneath those practices, those teachings?

The Body seems to be one of these key ingredients, for it is here in the present moment. It may carry energy from long ago, but the physical manifestation of body is right here, right now and the vehicle in which we experience our Essential Self.

Ingredient #1: Body

The body cannot exist without the breath (at least not for very long) so it to must be a primary ingredient for this experience of Yoga to be had. Like the body, it is only here in the moment. Also, like the body, the breath may reveal the past and/or the projection onto the future, but it only expresses in the Now.

Ingredient #2: Breath

What else I have wondered can be in this moment as it is my belief that Enlightenment or Yoga can only be experienced in the present.

Mind. Another word that could be used here is Consciousness. There are many layers of the mind that can add or subtract us away from the moment. It definitely is primary to existence. Whether we are awake or asleep, consciousness is with us and impacts are state of being.

Ingredient #3: Consciousness or Mind

These first three ingredients: Body, Breath, and Mind do not = Yoga. Just like eggs, flour and sugar do not = cake. This is where you must actively choose to engage with yourself—to become aware.

Through yogic practices you start to develop body awareness, breath awareness and awareness of your mind. When you cultivate enough of each and mix them all together into alignment you achieve presence.

Being present precedes being enlightened, but it does not = Yoga.

A prolonged period of presence however does promote self-knowing. When you are in the present moment it is easier to be objective and to have clarity about the truth. When you are present your body, breath, and mind are aligned. As you become familiar with this state of being, you will realize more easily when you are not in the moment. You can begin to observe what it is that takes you away from the moment. All of this is information that can be useful on your path to enlightenment.

Being present gives you more choices about how you expend your energy, what you give your attention/energy to, and a place of orientation to navigate the world objectively.

You might choose to utilize your presence to go deeper into the experience of Yoga. Meditation can take you there. When this takes place your body, breath, and mind become expanded. Limitations are removed and there is a great sense of being at One with All That Is. The little body merges with the Big Body. The little breath unites with the Big Breath. And, the little mind becomes the Big Mind.

Then what?

My next post will dive deeper into these foundational elements of Yoga and how we address them in Teaching.

Stay tuned and please leave comments, thoughts, ideas that you have to share!

Thanks for reading.

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