Category Archives: Yoga Sutras of Patañjali

7 tips for new yoga teachers

Greatness in any skill comes after a lot of practice, and that practice has to start somewhere. A few weeks ago, I had a text exchange with a yoga teacher who was at that starting point.

She was about to teach her first fully-booked class and, although she was a stellar student in her teacher training, she felt terrified enough to half-jokingly ask me, 10 minutes before class time, if I could teach in her place. I did not. Instead, I stopped thinking about anything else for a moment so I could quickly tell her what I thought would help her the most in that moment. A simple “Oh, you’ll do fine” wouldn’t have worked.

It turns out that the class went well and was followed with very positive feedback from the students. Here is a more detailed version of what I told her.

1. Remember why you teach.

How do you finish the sentence, “I teach yoga because…”?

Each teacher’s motivation to teach is unique, but they likely all have one element in common: a desire to share the benefits of the practice with others. After graduating a teacher training, beginning teachers tend to have so much information swimming around in their heads that they lose sight of the original reason they started to teach. Taking a moment to remember that you love yoga and that you chose to endeavor to share it works wonders for calming nerves and focusing instruction.

2. Remember what yoga is.

What is it that makes what you are teaching a yoga practice? It’s important for teachers of all experience levels to know the answer to this, though not enough of them seem to even ask themselves the question. Right now, at the starting point of your teaching career, develop the habit of reminding yourself of your answer to this whenever you need to clarify what you are teaching others to do on their yoga mats.

3. Teach what you know.

In every training, I am asked whether it’s okay to teach things you can’t do yourself. The answer is yes and no. If it’s something you can’t do because you have a broken leg, then, yes, it’s okay, assuming you were able to do it before whatever broke your leg happened. Otherwise, no.

When I’m asked this, I reply with a question, “Why would you want to teach something you don’t know?” There is such pressure on all of us, yoga teachers or not, to get to the next thing. That mentality is helpful in an area where innovation is desired. But, in yoga practice, the work is meant to point our minds to the perfect present, not to the nonexistent future. Use your practice and teaching as time to let go of needing to move on.

Teaching yoga asana to people with different body structures and skill levels requires not only knowing how the pose works in your own body, but also knowing how it works in all the other kinds of bodies in the class. If you teach a pose that you aspire to, or that you’ve just done a few times, it won’t happen.

And, while there are many things you aren’t ready to teach, the flip side is that there are many things that you know very well, and that your students don’t yet know. Teach them those things.

4. Be prepared.

Great teachers constantly adapt their teaching strategy to the students who are present. Managing such adaptation becomes second nature after years of experience, but that doesn’t help the new teacher a lot. So, I teach them to prepare each of their classes in an intelligent way, with a specific process of sequencing, then to be ready to throw out the prep as they see what actually presents itself in class.

Why draft something that you’re not going to use? Because the more you work out plans in the low-stress times when you’re not teaching, the better you are at calmly making the right choices when you’re guiding the practices of others.

5. Remember that you are teaching people.

While some teachers take on a theatrical tone when teaching, as if playing the role of a yoga teacher, the great ones communicate in a way that seems effortless and unadorned.

Every budding teacher I’ve trained thus far has been able to talk to me, one on one, clearly and effectively. Applying that same skill to a group is not so hard when you remind yourself that you are talking to people. Alternatively, teachers see their students as poses, or as tests of their knowledge or teaching ability. While it’s true that we do teach poses and that we sometimes do that better than at other times, we are always teaching those things to human beings.

Consider something that you know very well, like how to brush your teeth. It would probably be very easy for you to teach that to somebody, and you would probably speak to them in the same way as if you weren’t teaching them. There is no reason to speak any differently.

Look your students in their eyes and talk them through their yoga practice. Assuming you know what you are teaching, this strategy opens up communication in familiar territory, which helps you teach effectively in your own voice.

6. Watch your students.

Every asana has at least a few dozen points about position and effort. Common weaknesses with beginning teachers are that they say too many of these points, not enough of them, or that they say the ones that aren’t needed.

One way to give the perfect amount of instruction is to watch your students. See what they need to hear, and wait to be sure they got the last instruction before you go on to the next one. This prevents wasted time and energy, and it makes each instruction more potent. It is also a manifestation of a fundamental instruction for yoga practice, the first of Patanjali’s yoga sutras: “Yoga is now.”

7. It’s not about you.

Before I was a yoga teacher, I did a little performance work that grew popular enough for me to be scared stiff before some shows. Once, as I was gripped with fear, a friend reminded me that the audience had come to have a good time and that they were there because they thought I’d help make that happen. And then I wasn’t scared.

Remind yourself of the same thing as a yoga teacher. People are coming to yoga class to get to a better place somehow, and they’ve chosen your class because they think you might help do that. They want you to succeed. They aren’t coming to class to critique you. In fact, they’re probably seeking your approval much more than they’re deciding whether you get theirs. Make your instruction more about them than it is about you. You chose to teach so that they could practice. Speak the words that allow that to happen without fear of criticism.

Huffington Post Article 7 Tips for Nervous New Yoga Teachers by James Brown


solar year vs lunar year

Hindu_calendar_1871-72

Hindu Calendar 1871-72

Ancient people had two reliable ways of measuring time—the length of a day and the length of a lunar cycle.  Figuring out the length of the solar year was more complicated and required close observation of natural events, such as the cycling of the seasons and the movement of the stars in the heavens.  A lunar month is approximately 29.5 days, and twelve lunar months equals 354 days—approximating, but not equaling the length of a solar year, which is 365 days.  The seers of ancient Egypt are credited with first accurately figuring out how long it takes the Earth to orbit around the Sun.  They did this by observing the movements of the Dog Star, Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky (currently visible in the eastern sky a couple of hours after sunset—down and to the left from Orion’s Belt).  In first century BC Rome it was discovered that the existing Lunar Calendar was three months off in relation to the seasons.  This was due to the eleven-day discrepancy between the Lunar and Solar Calendars that had been playing out over time.  On the advice of Sosigenes, a learned astronomer from Alexandria, Caesar added 90 days to the year 46 BC and started a new calendar on January 1st 45 BC.  Sosigenes tells Caesar that the length of a year is actually 365 days 6 hours, and advises him to add a “leap year” every fourth year.  We have been using this same calendar ever since.  The ancient Romans developed a custom of setting aside the period of 11 days at the end of the year, which constitutes the difference between a Lunar Year and a Solar Year, and designating it as a period of holiday, when time stood still and people feasted, celebrated, and partied, and absolutely no work got done.  This time period corresponds roughly to the Winter Solstice through New Year’s Day.  It makes sense to devote our time at the end of the year to celebration rather than to work.  At the Winter Solstice we have the least amount of Solar Energy to warm us and invigorate us, and many people suffer from SAD—seasonal affective disorder.  During Christmas we spend time with our family and many emotions are evoked.  The year has been long and we have worked very hard living our lives, because being a human being is not an easy thing.  Certainly there were some things we could have done better during the course of the year, but we are imperfect beings, after all.  The important thing is that we learned something during the year that will make us wiser and more compassionate and loving as we continue forward into 2015.  The living of a year is something like a yoga practice, with all the different asanas serving as metaphors for all the different situations we encountered.  Some of those asanas were better than others, but it was all sadhana, and sadhana is always worthwhile.  In reference to keeping our sadhana in the proper perspective, Patanjali says:  Abhyasa vairaghyabhyam tannirodah—“By practicing diligently, with devotion and no interruption over a long period of time, and with nonattachment to any particular outcome, we will have peace of mind.”

December 30th Post from Tim Miller’s Blog Tuesdays with Timji


drishti

While a drishti can be described as a fixed focus, the eyes should be soft as if looking through the object of the gaze. It is a transcendent and unforced awareness that looks beyond the surface.

When we get caught up in the outer appearance of things, our prana (vitality) flows out of us as we scan the stimulating sights. Allowing the eyes to wander creates distractions that lead us further away from yoga. To counteract these habits, control and focus of the attention are fundamental principles in yoga practice. When we control and direct the focus, first of the eyes and then of the attention, we are using the yogic technique called drishti.

The increasing popularity and influence of the Ashtanga Vinyasa method of yoga, taught for more than 60 years by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, have introduced drishti to thousands of practitioners. On a simple level, drishti technique uses a specific gazing direction for the eyes to control attention. In every asana in Ashtanga, students are taught to direct their gaze to one of nine specific points.

In Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose), for instance, we gaze at the nose tip: Nasagrai Drishti. In meditation and in Matsyasana (Fish Pose), we gaze toward the Ajna Chakra, the third eye: Naitrayohmadya (also called Broomadhya) Drishti. In Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), we use Nabi Chakra Drishti, gazing at the navel. We use Hastagrai Drishti, gazing at the hand, inTrikonasana (Triangle Pose). In most seated forward bends, we gaze at the big toes: Pahayoragrai Drishti. When we twist to the left or right in seated spinal twists, we gaze as far as we can in the direction of the twist, using Parsva Drishti. In Urdhva Hastasana, the first movement of the Sun Salutation, we gaze up at the thumbs, using Angusta Ma Dyai Drishti. In Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I), we use Urdhva Drishti, gazing up to infinity. In every asana, the prescribed drishti assists concentration, aids movement, and helps orient the pranic (energetic) body.

The full meaning of drishti isn’t limited to its value in asana. In Sanskrit, drishti can also mean a vision, a point of view, or intelligence and wisdom. The use of drishti in asana serves both as a training technique and as a metaphor for focusing consciousness toward a vision of oneness. Drishti organizes our perceptual apparatus to recognize and overcome the limits of “normal” vision.

Our eyes can only see objects in front of us that reflect the visible spectrum of light, but yogis seek to view an inner reality not normally visible. We become aware of how our brains only let us see what we want to see—a projection of our own limited ideas. Often our opinions, prejudices, and habits prevent us from seeing unity. Drishti is a technique for looking for the Divine everywhere—and thus for seeing correctly the world around us. Used in this way, drishti becomes a technique for removing the ignorance that obscures this true vision, a technique that allows us to see God in everything.

Drishti—The True View

Throughout the history of yoga, clear, true perception has been both the practice and goal of yoga. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells his disciple, Arjuna, “You are not able to behold me with your own eyes; I give thee the divine eye, behold my Lordly yoga” (11.8). In the classic exposition of yoga, the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali points out that in viewing the world, we tend not to see reality clearly, but instead get deluded by the error of false perception. In Chapter II, verse 6, he says that we confuse the act of seeing with the true perceiver: purusha, the Self. He continues, in verse 17, to say that this confusion about the true relationship between the act of seeing, the object seen, and the identity of the Seer is the root cause of suffering. His cure for this suffering is to look correctly into the world around us.

How are we to do this? By maintaining a prolonged, continuous, single-pointed focus on the goal of yoga: samadhi, or complete absorption into purusha. The practice of drishti gives us a technique with which to develop single-pointed concentration of attention. The hatha yogi uses a kind of “x-ray vision” comprised of viveka (discrimination between “real view” and “unreal, apparent view”) and vairagya (detachment from a mistaken identification with either the instrument of seeing or that which is seen). This basic misidentification is called avidya (ignorance), and its counterpart, vidya, is our true identity.

Like all yogic practices, drishti uses the blessed gifts of a human body and mind as a starting place for connecting to our full potential—the wellspring that is the source of both body and mind. When we clear our vision of the covering of habits, opinions, ideas, and their projections about what is real and what is false, we gaze beyond outer differences toward the absolute Truth.

 

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article See More Clearly By Practicing Drishti by David Life, the cofounder of Jivamukti Yoga


yoga philosophy

mythpatanjali

The tradition of Patañjali in the oral and textual tradition of the Yoga Sūtras is accepted by traditional Vedic schools as the authoritative source on Yoga, and it retains this status in Hindu circles into the present day. In contrast to its modern Western transplanted forms, Yoga essentially consists of meditative practices culminating in attaining a state of consciousness free from all modes of active or discursive thought, and of eventually attaining a state where consciousness is unaware of any object external to itself, that is, is only aware of its own nature as consciousness unmixed with any other object. This state is not only desirable in its own right, but its attainment guarantees the practitioner freedom from every kind of material pain or suffering, and, indeed, is the primary classical means of attaining liberation from the cycle of birth and death in the Indic soteriological traditions, that is, in the theological study of salvation in India. The Yoga Sūtras were thus seen by all schools, not only as the orthodox manual for guidance in the techniques and practices of meditation, but also for the classical Indian position on the nature and function of mind and consciousness, for the mechanisms of action in the world and consequent rebirth, and for the metaphysical underpinnings and description of the attainment of mystical powers.

Excerpt fron Article The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali from Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy


how yoga can prepare us for death

brad climbing

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali tells us that when the fluctuations of consciousness cease we have the experience of our true nature, which he calls the drastuh. The closest English equivalent we have for drastuh is the Witness, or Seer. In other texts it is called the Atman or Soul. Ultimately, all of the techniques of yoga are designed to facilitate this experience of soul, or Essence. When we are fortunate enough to have this experience, we begin to realize that deep within us is an awareness that is unconditioned and eternal. This realization is a crucial step in preparing for death because it allows us to make the distinction between the Seer and the Seen. The mind, the body, and the emotions are all part of the seen, which has only a temporary existence and is highly conditioned by our experience. If we attach ourselves to these things, wittingly or unwittingly we are inviting suffering because they will all come to an end.

The key to practicing a highly physical discipline like hatha yoga without becoming more attached to our physical form is to recognize that the intention of this practice is the refinement of awareness. Asana and  pPranayama are forms of tapas (which is translated literally “to burn”)–physical practices that are done for the purpose of purification. Patanjali tells us that tapas eliminates impurities and cleanses and strengthens the Indriyas (the organs of perception), which include the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin, and mind. When the Indriyas are clean and strong, our discriminative faculty is greatly enhanced. We can move easily and clearly distinguish between the Seer and the Seen.

We begin to recognize that we are not the form we animate, but the force of animation itself. We have a body, but we are consciousness. The body is born; it grows, ages, and dies. The seer watches this process dispassionately. Pattabhi Jois says, “The body is just a rented house.” Through the practice of hatha yoga, we keep the body clean and healthy so it lasts a long time, and at the same time we refine our awareness so we can realize that what dies is the outer covering. Essence endures.

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article How Yoga Can Prepare Us For Death, by Tim Miller


pratyahara?

Pratyahara

Pratyahara is derived from two Sanskrit words: prati and ahara, with ahara meaning food, or anything taken into ourselves, and prati, a preposition meaning away or against.

Pratyahara or the ‘withdrawal of the senses’ is the fifth element among the Eight stages of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga, as mentioned in his classical work, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali composed in the 2nd century BCE. It is also the first stage of the six-branch yoga (ṣaḍaṅgayoga) of the Buddhist Kālacakra tantra, where it refers to the withdrawal of the five senses from external objects to be replaced by the mentally created senses of an enlightened deity. This phase is roughly analogous to the physical isolation phase of Guhyasamāja tantra.

For Patanjali, it is a bridge between the bahiranga (external) aspects of yoga namely, yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, and the antaranga (internal) yoga. Having actualized the pratyahara stage, a practitioner is able to effectively engage into the practice of Samyama. At the stage of pratyahara, the consciousness of the individual is internalized in order that the sensations from the senses of taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell don’t reach their respective centers in the brain and takes the sadhaka (practitioner) to next stages of Yoga, namely Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (mystical absorption), being the aim of all Yogic practices.

From Wikipedia Article Pratyahara

Isolation Tank

An isolation tank is a lightless, soundproof tank inside which subjects float in salt water at skin temperature. They were first used by John C. Lilly in 1954 to test the effects of sensory deprivation. Such tanks are now also used for meditation and relaxation and in alternative medicine. The isolation tank was originally called the sensory deprivation tank. Other names for the isolation tank include flotation tank, float tank, John C. Lilly tank,REST tank, and sensory attenuation tank.

The flotation tank was developed in 1954 by John C. Lilly, a medical practitioner and neuro-psychiatrist. During his training in psychoanalysis at the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Lilly commenced experiments with sensory deprivation. In neurophysiology, there had been an open question as to what keeps the brain going and the origin of its energy sources. One hypothesis was that the energy sources are biological and internal and do not depend upon the outside environment. It was argued that if all stimuli are cut off to the brain then the brain would go to sleep. Lilly decided to test this hypothesis and, with this in mind, created an environment which totally isolated an individual from external stimulation. From here, he studied the origin of consciousness and its relation to the brain.

Peter Suedfeld and Roderick Borrie of the University of British Columbia began experimenting on the therapeutic benefits of flotation tank usage in the late 1970s. They named their technique “Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy” (REST).

From Wikipedia Article Isolation Tank

Further Reading

John C. Lilly and E.J. Gold’s Tanks for the Memories: Flotation Tank Talks
The chapter “Altered States” from Richard Feynman’s Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!


yoga sutras 1.30-1.32: obstacles and solutions

Obstacles are to be expected: There are a number of predictable obstacles that arise on the inner journey, along with several consequences that grow out of them. While these can be a challenge, there is a certain comfort in knowing that they are a natural, predictable part of the process.

These predictable obstacles are 1) illness, 2) dullness, 3) doubt, 4) negligence, 5) laziness, 6) cravings, 7) misperceptions, 8) failure and 9) instability.

From these obstacles, there are four other consequences that also arise, and these are: 1) mental or physical pain, 2) sadness or dejection, 3) restlessness, shakiness, or anxiety, and 4) irregularities in the exhalation and inhalation of breath.

These four arise because of the other nine. In one sense, it seems that all thirteen of these could be grouped together in one sutra. However, it’s useful in practice to see that these four come as a result of the other nine. If you look at these four closely, you’ll see that these are relatively easy to notice in yourself, compared to the other nine. When you see one of these four, it is a clue to you that something is going on at a subtler level. Then it is easier to see, and to adjust.

These four are good indicators of the subtler obstacles: If you think of these in terms of other people, notice how easy it is to observe when someone is experiencing pain, dejection, restlessness of body, or irregularities of breath. You may not know the underlying reason, but you can sure spot the symptom on the surface. Similarly, we may not know that something is going on inside with ourselves, at the subtler level. Yet, if we observe our own gestures, body language, general level of pain and mood, we can more easily see that something is going on at the subtler level.

Seeing can lead to making changes: Once those surface four lead you to awareness of the subtler obstacles, then it is much easier to take corrective action, to get back on track. At first, this can sound like a lot of intellectual analysis, but it is actually quite simple and extremely useful. You may discover that a simple refocusing back to your practices, your personally chosen philosophy of life, or useful attitudes will weaken those obstacles. Most importantly, it can be a reminder that you have temporarily lost your focus, and to return to one-pointedness.

Excerpts from Article on Yoga Sutras 1.30-1.32 at swamij.com