What you are about to read is not a joke. Still you might laugh and though I surely hope you do, what I am going to say is really serious.
A good friend of mine who is a darling and very committed to the practice of yoga recommended me to take a yoga class in a very hip Yoga studio while I was visiting town. I won’t say which town because for the purpose of this letter, the who or the where do not matter. That which matters is what happened the moment I laid my mat down and the Yoga teacher began to spread her love teaching all she knows.
To start, let me give you a little perspective so you can watch it like a movie. Picture this:
Beautiful studio, wooden floors, precious brick tall walls, yoga boutique, incense bliss, mantra music, great lightening, great design, squares for your shoes, bathrooms for your comfortable use, positive vibrations and all marketing directed to the concept of a modern society YOGA studio. 10 or 15 students already relaxing on savasana in the floor, dressed like all great yogis look on TV now a days, very calm energy, men and women alike.
The teacher comes in. She gives some loving words of welcome to all of us, and takes us gently to child pose and reminds us kindly to focus on our breath, to inhale, to exhale, to focus on the rhythm that will takes us through the whole hour. While she walks around the room preparing herself to start, she asks us to count how many seconds it takes for our inhale to breath and how many seconds in takes for our exhale to flow out of the nostrils. Respectfully I start finding my breath, which I will try to illustrate here in order for you to relate to what came next.
I N H A L E (i counted 10)
E X H A L E (an another 10)
Maybe a minute or two went by with us breathing before her movement initiated and it went like this:
“I got a feeling, uuuuuu, ‘Cause tonight it’s going to be a good night, I got a feelinggggg uuuuuuu”…louder than the teacher despite the fact that she was wearing a microphone. In a mumbling voice with a kool accent nonetheless started speaking something that sounded like this – within the 10 counts that took me to inhale:
“Good job everybody! Inhale, move towards your hands and knees, warm up your spine in cat pose, belly down, exhale hips up, do it lkjodfinsd, lift your knees form the floor, downdog, put your feet together, move your hips to the sides, go to chaturanga, go back to downdog, jump to the front of the mat, take your elbows, rela…, breaht hands up, strech to the right, strech to the left, bend over, lkjsflkjaf chaturange, down to the dlksdjfo, updog and downdog. laksjfskjfd leg up;klsjfo bend.kjokjfd cahtu;okjl;sdfkj
(Don’t think that lkjsdfoijsf is a typo error. It is exactly what I could understand the whole hour of aerobic “yoga” happened next).
I KNOW!!!! ….Asana means Sit. How were we going to sit in stillness in each pose to calm the flow of our thoughts, if there was not even time to breath an inhale in each one of them!!!! I was in desbelief.
As a personal practice on the path I rather not talk about myself, but today I will tell you a little bit about my practice, so you can have some perspective and take my opinion as what it is: only my opinion. I tell you all this only so you can make you own decision about the opinion I am giving you here, and not with the intention to qualify my practice as better or worse than anybody else’s; I do believe, as Bryan Kest teaches, that the teacher is within. That being said you can read the next pharagraph or skipped to following one to continue the story.
Yoga came into focus for me in the year 2000; my guru (Guru=who gives you light in darkness) was Bryan Kest, founder of PowerYoga. Bryan Kest teaching vision of What is Yoga is that “A fitness routine based on aesthetics feeds your ego, not your spirit.” Bryan Kest has been practicing yoga for more than 30 years. He initially studied in Hawaii with David Williams, the first person to bring Ashtanga yoga to America. He then studied in India with K. Pattabhi Jois, the main proponent of Ashtanga yoga. Kest has been teaching yoga for 26 years and thousands of people have gone through his class. I am Bryan’s student since 2000 and for the first three years of my yoga practice I went to practice asanas with him every day possible, in fact I never realized how often I went until a student that went almost every morning asked him with love (in a joyful way to prove his point of devotion): “Bryan, come on, truth to be told, who has come to your yoga more often than me? To what Bryan answered looking at me: Here She is.” So with confidence I can tell you that at least for the first threes years my practice of asanas was very continuous. I started teaching in 2003, when I moved back home to Los Cabos to take care of my mother who was in a wheel chair at that time looking for alternatives to cirgury and there I discovered with compassion the need of a YOGA local practice. I am not going to list all the renown studios I have thought at because it is irrelevant but I will tell you that my teaching practice went well and I can say with confidence that the Baja Community holds me in appreciation as a Yogini being thankful of what I brought from my teachers to them. During my time in Mexico I made the effort to come back to see my teacher as often as possible to keep my own practice evolving. Three years ago I moved back to the States but instead of California, I landed in Colorado, where I have had the opportunity to practice with great Yoga teachers like Richard Freeman who happens to have his studio in Boulder, the YogaWorkshop. Richard Freeman has been a student of yoga since 1968. He has spent nearly nine years in Asia studying various traditions, which he incorporates into the Ashtanga yoga practice as taught by his principal teacher, K. Pattabhi Jois of Mysore, India. Richard’s background includes studying Sufism in Iran, Zen and Vipassana Buddhist practice, Bhakti and traditional Hatha yoga in India. Starting in 1974 he also began an in-depth study of Iyengar yoga, which eventually led him to Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. Richard is an avid student of both Western and Eastern philosophy, as well as Sanskrit. Myself, besides my yoga practice, since 2002 I’ve studied 4 Vipassana courses and 1 Mahasatipatthana sutta Vipassana Seminar as part of my education in the path of liberation from suffering (www.dhamma.org).
So let’s get back to my letter. I found myself without breath, annoyed by the mumbling of words in the microphone, words that I could not understand at all, and though all pop hits were played in the stereo, no music felt comfortable. So I decided to come back to my breath, practice my equanimity, be loving-kindness with the teacher and out of respect to her volition to share her knowledge with us, I practice her flow listening to my teacher within in order to not hurt myself neither physical or psycologically or for that matter my practice of meditation, until the hour ended.
Besides the value that this experience gave me about my own practice worth, I though important to share this happening with you, the YOGA people of the world, in the world, for the world, so that regardless of who you are, a Yoga teacher or a Yoga student, or a Yoga teacher and student, you take a moment to come back to the clarity of the basics of YOGA practice:
WHAT IS YOGA?
YOGA is a spiritual quest. In order to not get into philosophy discussions I will include here only a modern concept of Yoga that has been accepted by the newest and eldest practitioner masses and it is practiced by millions around the world: the explanation of “…BKS Iyengarm, who is one amongst several contemporary authors, having completed Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali in the light of his own hard practice and experience, but using modern day language and concepts:
“The varied philosophies and methodologies of Yoga itself were clearly and methodically brought together and presented by the sage Patanjali in his set of 196 aphorisms called “The Yoga Sutras,” written some 2200 years ago. The Sutras bring together all the various strands of theory and practice from all sources of yoga and present them in one concise, integrated and comprehensive text. How all the aspects interrelate and form part of the whole body of yoga is clearly elucidated. There are 8 disciplines to yoga as presented by Patanjali (thus Astanga yoga – 8 limbed yoga), which must be practiced and refined in order to perceive the true self- the ultimate goal of Yoga:
1. Yama – Universal ethics: Non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, sexual restraint and non-acquisitiveness.
2. Niyama – Principles of self-conduct: purity, contentment, intense dedication or austerity, study of self and scriptures and self-surrender.
3. Asana – practice of the postures.
4. Pranayama – Breath control.
5. Pratyahara – withdrawal and control of the senses.
6. Dharana – concentration.
7. Dhyana – meditation.
8. Samadhi – a state of higher consciousness where the sense of self (ego) dissolves in the object of meditation and the individual self exists in its own pure nature.
The key elements of all the paths of yoga are presented in a balanced perspective and legend has it that Patanjali was himself a realised being and so writing from experience.
In the four chapters of his sutras he explains the levels of higher consciousness (Samadhi), which the aspirant must experience before reaching Kaivalya (emancipation) and the end of this world’s spiritual pursuit. The second chapter deals with the methodology, which must be followed to reach Samadhi and the hindrances, which may be encountered. The unusual powers that may develop are also described with the warning that their lure must be avoided, while the final chapter covers the achievement of Kaivalya in detail.
These Sutras were and are still considered a most profound and enlightening study of the human psyche. Patanjali shows how through the practice of Yoga, we can transform ourselves, gain mastery over the mind and emotions, overcome obstacles to our spiritual evolution and attain the goal of yoga: liberation from the bondage of worldly desires. Written in Sanskrit, many commentaries and translations have been written over the centuries by various scholars and practitioners; each interpreting as per their era and understanding.”
How about those melons??? Worth adding that in this modern world a lot of people think Yoga is only the practice of Asanas (the poses). The danger of this clearly shows in the class I described you here. People make the mistake to focus only in the body, and get lost in the ego of how strong, how flexible, how shaped, how beautiful the body gets or how tied up you body can get in one pose and teachers lacking the foundation of the basics about yoga focus only on the body as well. As a student you can notice this phenomenom by observing your teacher closely if the teacher starts to only focus on the poses that he or she can do, creating his or her own flow of the asanas – which is something I say not to condemn it, since evolution requires adaptation to the times and all teachers are students as well developing our own understanding within the path towards enlightment, but… according to Ashtanga practice there is a reason for the repetition of the classic flow of posses (the reason being related to your own progress in the path to your own liberation from suffering, simple put, every time you practice the same flow of asanas no matter how well you can hold the same pose, you always find yourself holding it and in that facing yourself a new discovery about yourself arises.)
If you are looking for a different type of Yoga, a different school of thought: “there are said to be 4 main paths (Margas), according to the Bhagavad Gita, by which to reach the ultimate goal of Yoga – “Kaivalya.” There is the path of Knowledge (Jnana Marga) in which one learns to discriminate between what is real and what is illusory, the path of selfless work (Karma marga), the path of devotion (Bhakti Marga) and the path of control of the mind (Yoga Marga) where all the activities of the mind and consciousness are studied and brought under control. From these have come the various paths of yoga which can be followed.
- Raja yoga involves mastery of the mind and senses in Samadhi; essentially the advanced aspects of Patanjali’s astanga yoga.
- Hatha yoga is the yoga of the will which involves cultivating ones energy to arouse Kundalini primarily by means of asana and pranayama.
- Mantra yoga involves reciting sacred syllables to reach perfection.
- Laya yoga involves absorption in god to experience ultimate bliss.
- Bhakti yoga requires absolute devotion to god to achieve the ultimate goal.
- Karma yoga achieves this through selfless work without thought of personal reward.
- Jnana yoga is the yoga of knowledge cultivating the discrimination between spiritual reality and the illusion of the material world.
It must be realised that there are no clear cut boundaries between these various paths and all draw on the practices and philosophy of the others; effectively all paths have the same goal and “tread the same terrain.” They are different views of the same topic.” But still not AEROBIC Yoga has records in Yoga tradition.
Beware of yogis, like the one from today, yogis who create their own aerobic version of the flow of asanas, yogis who do not focus on their own breath as they are guiding your practice, and yogis who only focus on the poses that make their body look good before their students eyes; beware of yogis who add their own rituals to the practice without first understading the root foundation. Unless they are enlightened yogis in the basics of the yoga sutras and therefore being enlighted may have a new contribution to the practice through time – like Buddha did with the school of meditation- I would confidently say that these kind of certificated yogis are not practicing YOGA; Practicing something else, yes, and that something else might be great and might be the practice that suits you better at the moment – good, keep practicing – but I would not call it YOGA. You could hurt yourself, and others by this delusion.
May all beings succeed in the path of liberation from suffering.
P.S. By no means, this experience should reflect on the studio, or other teachers that might be teaching there. Thank you for sharing your practice with me.