I am a student and always will be. Though I have had the good fortune to teach others it is only because I am a student. To continue to be a student and thus continue to grow and evolve is even more essential. I use this word student not in its loose common use which is prevalent today but in what it truly stands for. Let us explore what is this student’s path?
There are many doors to enter yoga that excite and encourage. This is very positive. It gives exposure and gets the process started. Many feel certain changes happen just from a few yoga classes a week. Without one even realizing or planning there comes a point where the next step to growth and depth is unavoidable. I meet many who come with this question of how to proceed or move ahead. It is at this point that one will become a “student” and the impact of yoga will begin. This impact could never be thought of or imagined before as it can only be experienced. Its effect is subtle yet powerfully transformational, where the personality of the student refines and grows. The signs are noticed in your behaviour, thoughts and actions.
Where is this point of impact? And when does one really and authentically don the student’s shoes? From something within one bows down to the teacher and teachings, both physically and mentally, and is ready to embark on the learning, unconditionally, impact and studentship commence. A combination of dedication and humility. These are inner qualities that open the door and allow what the teacher is giving to enter and have and impact. It is this that makes it an inner or spiritual process. At such a point one becomes a student as opposed to a recreational practitioner. This is even how the great sage Patanjali opens up the complete science and study of yoga in the Yoga Sutras. “Atha Yoganushasanam” (Yoga Sutra I.1) very powerfully states that now, having finished with one’s musings and frivolties, one is ready to embark on the complete practice and study of yoga.
A very enjoyable book for a budding student to read is Paul Brunton’s A Search in Secret India. It is a beautiful account of his own search back in the 1930s and the different spiritual (or not) characters he met. He clearly states that a certain discrimination was needed to weed through the self-styled masters who are more a product of slick ego, self-delusion and group hysteria than real spirituality. Neither gullible nor cynical he put in the time to look around at the different teachings with an open yet critical mind and heart. There were some real ones. They were clear and shone to him. One stood out as his teacher. The realization came that his cleverness, intelligent questioning, cynicism and more was to subside and the strong desire, at the very least, came forth to bow down the head and place himself ready for learning and subsequently experience. For it is only through practice that the impact of yoga can be had. And to be guided requires an experienced and authentic teacher.
How to discern a teacher? Tricky perhaps in this modern day of material enlightenment. But consider it a blessing to use your intelligence and learn how to read the messages of the heart. So, yes there will be a feeling. But don’t mistake for an emotion in disguise without any grounding or steadiness whatsoever, too often a combination of the mirage of images, fancy words and PR. One then should ask what is this person’s background? How long have they studied, with who and what? What is the tradition behind it? How do they behave and live? Through this a sign of experience, knowledge, humility, reverence to their own teacher and uplifting behaviour will (or not) come across. A sign that they mention a main teacher as opposed to a string of the latest and greatest names is also an indication. For they have been a student themself under an able teacher and all attention and energy was focused on their teachings in practice, not spent running from one to the next. What better example to set our yearning and distracted minds. The journey inward is so subtle that at the key stages this teacher is needed. But it must be met with the readiness of the student.
“Shraddha”. A beautiful Sanskrit word and a key quality for a student embarking on the path. Consider it a full and complete embrace by the student to the teachings with every cell of their being. As the student embraces the teachings with heart, mind and spirit, putting themselves in a place to learn from the teacher and that tradition, the impact begins to flow. This has been one of the biggest lessons for me as a student and on the path. Unless dedication, devotion, humility rose I found I could make no progress. I realized I knew nothing and all my clever manoeuvers and mixings of teachings were having little if any impact. In many senses I bowed down to the teacher and the teachings and let the process flow. A full embrace is the best way I could describe it, with my full being. Ego stepping aside. This embrace with determination is what comes from the student. Then anchor it to authentic and good teachers and teachings.
It is this that I would hope for you as you grow and allow to let yoga’s impact strike you. Search, then bow down and embrace one hundred percent. Be strong and stick with it. No fear. For when you embrace after full conviction in truth you will always be taken care of. Even when it seems otherwise. That is it in a nutshell.
In this modern era of yoga we are gifted with the true and authentic traditions of Krishnamacharya and Kuvalayananda. Indeed the search here would just be for one who has learnt, practiced, understood and experienced what these teachers have offered. To be able to hear that from these four key figures this weekend is a real gift and see how they pass it on to their dedicated students. Let this exposure here stir something in you so that you better understand what is authentically offered and can embrace the path with one who has given the time to learn it.
Love, peace and good wishes.
From a fellow student.
Paul is a senior teacher of Pranayama, Asana and the meditative art and science of Yoga. He has been a dedicated student for over a decade of both Sri O.P.Tiwari, one of the few remaining classical yogis and masters of Pranayama, and the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in ashtanga vinyasa. Both of these great teachers have personallycertified Paul in these practices, a unique position as the only one to receive this double honor. One of his main gifts is to be able to relate the teachings in a very down-to-earth way for the modern seeker. He does not take life or yoga too seriously and as a result the discussions and philosophical sessions are lively and humorous, helping to explain the meaning behind the practices and philosophy. For more please see his full bio. Paul is the founder and director of Samahita Yoga Thailand, a premier retreat center in Asia, and Centered Yoga, a leading yoga training school since 1999.