Archive for the ‘Seva’ Category
Towards the end of Kenneth Liberman’s essay on The Reflexivity of the Authenticity of Hatha Yoga1, he provides guidelines that can be used to distinguish what can be “… authentic in yoga today”. I’m listing them below because I thought the items he lists would also be useful for finding teachers and classes.
I personally prefer smaller, more intimate classes, taught by teachers who are attentive to the needs and safety of their students. I find classes taught by “celebrity” teachers, in trendy studios, to be disappointing. With the right teacher, larger classes can work. But I find popular teachers to be more “performance-oriented”, and thus their classes tend to be distracting, if not outright competitive. I prefer teachers who are service-oriented, humble, and familiar with the psychological & spiritual benefits of asana practice. Thus, I love the following guidelines I culled from Kenneth Liberman’s essay.
Fortunately, I’ve found teachers that have guided my practice. These days my asana practice is primarily a home practice. But through regular private sessions and workshops with my teacher, my practice remains vibrant as ever.
First among them is the resolve of yoga to overcome egoism. This especially conflicts with contemporary Western culture and its individualism and its idolatry of celebrity; but anything that results in inflating ego cannot be considered a yoga practice. It is the considered opinion of two millennia of yoga practice that egocentrism leads to ruin, so techniques for reducing obsessiveness with which a student pursues his or her self-image and interests need to be preserved. The system of yoga of Patanjali and all yogis since have included yamas and niyamas or something similar, that refers to basic moral practices such as honesty, good will, selflessness, and the like, without which a daily practice cannot be considered “authentic” yoga. Accordingly, these need to be made part of the regular and daily instruction in yoga classes worldwide. The point of teaching asana is to lead students to a pacification of nervous energy so that spiritual rewards of simpler ways of being can be experienced for oneself. … Can there be an authentic yoga that is not oriented toward cultivating spiritual motives? Doing yoga is not like doing chin ups, and the thoughtful cultivation of one’s nerves and energies has a spiritual purpose. This does not mean it has to be worded or clothed in Hinduism, but it is to be felt along with “the exercise” and within part of the exercise. And in this regard, asana and pranayama must provide skillful guidance, for only confusion will result without it. Karma yoga involves social service, which itself can contribute in a powerful way to the reduction of egoism. In the modern fitness marketplace, where the disciples are motivated primarily by the desire for an attractive body, social service can be employed as a radical method to redirect consciousness. Finally, there is the large region of yoga that involves tapas or self-control that may involve “forceful repression” (i.e., hatha yoga). … Simplicity should be taught and practiced for it is the very heart of yoga. … somehow its practice must be introduced into the modern yoga studio instead of lines of yoga wardrobe. … A fundamental yoga practice that is given short shrift even in the classic texts and commentaries is pratyahara — the withdrawal of one’s natural circumspective inquiry from the pursuit of external sources for happiness and the simultaneous cultivation of internal resources for enduring satisfaction.
(1) Liberman questions “… the belief of many modern practitioners that there was once an original and pure yoga that now serves as the basis for the contemporary practice of yoga.”
For a second year in a row, I enjoyed walking around, running into friends, and soaking up the vibe. I thought the panel discussion on Yoga and the Whole Man was pretty good, and Rod Stryker did a good job making sure things flowed nicely. I particularly enjoyed listening the Richard Freeman, who combined wit & wisdom, with stories from his travels. Rod highlighted the following factoid: while most attendees (and yoga students) are female, most of the presenters at the conference (and senior teachers) are male. This might explain why the most popular strains of yoga in the US tend to be more aggressive and masculine in sensibility (e.g. ashtanga). OTOH, the growing interest in seva among yogis has largely been led by female teachers.
As a bonus I splurged and bought my favorite Yoga mat (which was on sale!), talked to a few vendors, and carefully walked around the many acro yogis, who I have to say may want to develop a better sense of (public) space. The snippets I saw of Yogaglo surprised me, the quality of the video is quite high. Knowing myself, I definitely prefer supporting local teachers if at all possible. But if you don’t have the time to go to nearby class, or can’t quite find one that fits your needs, online classes might be an option for you.