Thursday, October 14, 2010

True face of Yoga in America

During a two week stay at Arsha Vidya Gurukulum (residential center for the study of Vedanta) I was surprised to hear the usage Yoga Shastra. It meant the science of yoga. In Raja Yoga, yoga is designed to calm the mind and make it receptive. It is an analgesic, not an end. 

The skill set for teachers of yoga in America today must keep pace with distractions that are always around, including mobile devices. The mind doesn't function differently today; it seeks out the novel and changeable as is its nature.

Yoga shastra is about finding the permanent among the impermanent in any age, in any place.

The major problem in calming students minds seems to be teachers who are themselves overly attached to Asana as a vehicle for teaching Yoga. Asana is meant to illuminate the changeable and cultivate the sense of the permanent through vichar, focused attention, and more importantly through developing Viveka, discerning awareness. The first, vichar, is a process where an individual differentiates the real from the unreal (impermanent). Viveka, called the crown-jewel of awareness, is a state of mind wherein one can operate without distraction.

It is in this state of mind that awareness of the beyond, Brahman, can be present. Brahma Vidya is what can be accessed when Yoga Shastra has done it's work.
"To be born as a (hu)man, to have longing for release (from bondage) and the association with great souls - these three are difficult to obtain."
The challenge we face is to overcome, through Yoga effort, the sanskaras. It is the process of illumination of our habitual patterns that is the goal of Yoga. To see clearly, past our likes and dislikes, in order to be prepared for the depth of our true nature.

As teachers of asana, we have our own sanskaras to contend with. And these show up in our teaching. Not only in our physical but in our conveying of values and concepts.

It takes great effort and time of practice to strip ourselves bare of habitual patterns. Until that time, we should be clear to define them. Otherwise we stand the chance that our students will replicate them.

Of course, this is beyond a 200 or 500 hour, or even two year, certification program. That's why today we have a system developing of propagating sanskaras. Where people are teaching their own habituated likes and dislikes (raga and dvesa) without proper insight.

This seems to be the true face of Yoga in America.
(for another rendition of this view by Ramesh Bjonnes click here)