By Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500
Where does a student start his or her practice? What is the foundation of all Yogic practices? Why do so many classes and teachers avoid approaching the foundation of Yogic philosophy?
Where does a student start his or her practice? Much like the desire to learn Yogic methodology, the practice of any form, or style, comes from within the self. You should seek a Yoga teacher to act as a guide. Not all forms of Yoga are physical, but if physical mastery is what you seek, there are Hatha, Raja, and Kundalini, to consider. These are just three of the nine main styles and there are many sub-styles to consider, as well. You must also take the availability of styles within your local area into consideration.
Researching may take some time before visiting a Yoga teacher. When you make an appointment for a discussion, find out what your teacher’s methods are. Does this teacher have patience, understanding, and compassion? A Yoga teacher is a guide, who teaches you to eventually become your own teacher. This does not mean to visit a teacher every so often, but it does mean to practice what is learned in each lesson by bringing it home.
Unfortunately, many Yoga instructors do not place enough emphasis on imparting their students with the true value of home practice. If a student practices, casually, once a week, takes the summer and Christmas season off, that is thirty-three lessons per year, without any home practice. After three years, how much has this student learned?
What is the foundation of Yogic practices? The foundation of Yoga is to be totally present within the lesson, and if possible, to be without distractions. If there are any distractions going on in the mind, you should learn not to judge yourself harshly because you were not mentally present in your class.
To be “in the moment,” or to be mentally present for your practice, is the key to advancing your practice. In fact, physical postures (asanas) are part of the practice, but they are not the primary emphasis of most forms.
Why do so many classes and teachers avoid approaching the foundation of Yogic philosophy? People are stimulated by superficial “things.” In the case of Yogic exercise, the results of asana practice can be felt immediately. Many Yoga instructors give up on teaching meditation and the deeper aspects of Yogic methodology. The result is the perception that Yoga is an exercise class only. The myth stems from the classification of asanas as beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
It is true that asana should be classified according to difficulty level, but asana has little to do with classifying a student. Consider this: Is a gymnast who is completely stressed out, and who knows nothing about meditation, an advanced practitioner because he or she can demonstrate “advanced” asanas with very little training.
If this is so, then we do not need Yoga teachers at all. Our studios can hire teenage gymnasts to perform physical feats, and “wow” the students, with their prowess. This would be very cost effective for studios, and most young gymnasts would love to perform physical feats to impress crowds of adults for a salary.
This may seem riduculous, but it does bring your view full circle. People have been duped into seeing Yogic practices as a gymnastic event. Asanas are one component of Yogic methodology, but they are one of the eight limbs. All of the eight limbs, described by Patanjali, should operate together for a complete practice.
If we practice asanas without higher forms awareness, and that is it, we are not advancing our knowledge of Patanjali’s teachings. We are then focusing on muscles and breath, which is fine if our purpose for practice is for weight resistance. In truth, Yogic methodology requires all of the eight limbs described within the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The many healing aspects of Yoga are barely realized, when we consider it a physical exercise.
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