We tend to think of yoga as a physical practice. However, asana (the physical postures) can be practiced as a physical act, a mental act and a spiritual act. It depends on how you approach your practice. I truly believe that yoga when practiced from the inside out, encourages us to move through our life living from our heart & our intuition. We can help our practice become more embodied by using a bhavana. This cultivates contemplation, helps us to focus on an idea or concept which changes our practice into one where we are more connected to ourselves.
Some of you have asked for more yoga philosophy & principles of where my ideas for practice come from. I am lucky to have a teacher who is very knowledgeable & has for the last 15 years inspired me to continue my study, practice & explained how yoga helps in all areas of life. There is a modern idea of yoga as only a physical practice; often limited to photographs of hypermobile people doing Instagram gymnastics! Yoga is not that. Yoga is a practice that encompasses how to live, how to interact with ourselves & with others. How to develop an inner calm & strength so we are more able to react to life in a positive way. Yoga teaches us to be flexible to change…& the only constant in life is change. So, in my opinion studying yoga is a much more important goal than aiming to make a physical shape. The physical practice is a part of yoga study, but not, by itself, the practice of yoga.
I am always happy to recommend books to read that explain the yogic ideas in a readable way…some of the older texts can be hard work so modern interpretations can be a preferable way to read them. One of the main yoga texts is Patanjali’s’ Yoga Sutra…kind of like the bible of yoga. The Yoga Sutra offer guidelines for a more meaningful & purposeful life. A sutra is like a thread….an idea…a concept…designed to be expanded upon & interpreted during study with a teacher. There are many many interpretations & translations of the Yoga Sutra. I love Stephen Cope’s book the Wisdom of Yoga (available here) as a fiction story interweaving the daily dilemmas of a group of friends & yoga students with insights from modern psychology, neuroscience, religion & philosophy. This can be an easy way to understand some of the weirder concepts!! On a more structured level, but still very readable & understandable, my teacher has written a beautifully inspiring book ‘Embodying the Yoga Sutra’ …discussing how the Sanskrit terminology can be interpreted & its relevance in modern life. Looking at how with support we can find our direction & within that the space & strength to be us. It is available here
My teacher David Charlton & his lovely wife Gail are also currently offering a Friday morning hour of philosophy chat. At only £6/ week (paid as a course…recordings available if you can’t make it) this is a very accessible way to study with one of the UK’s most respected teachers. You don’t need previous knowledge or understanding as they will explain each concept in an understandable way relating to life today, especially during these weird times. So, it’s not just for yoga teachers but for all of us wanting to understand this life a bit better! This course starts on 12th June 2020, Friday 11-12 . There is also an opportunity to do an introduction to the Yoga Sutra here on a couple of Friday evenings or for those of you wishing to go deeper a more in depth course here
Be warned though the practice & study of yoga is addictive. Often yoga students want to explore further & may see yoga teacher trainings advertised & think that is the way to go to understand more. It makes me sad when I see yoga courses being advertised as a quick way to know more about yoga &/or become a yoga teacher. Some are shamefully a couple of weekends…that does not a yoga teacher make!! The study to be a teacher should be years not days. If you are to trust your mind & body to someone please ensure they have put some effort into proper in depth training.
For myself I feel a yoga teacher should know more than the names of postures. They should also understand the anatomy of the human body. I think it is important for a yoga teacher to have a good understanding of pranayama (the breathing practices) as these are like medicine … fantastic when prescribed correctly but can be dangerous when mis understood or given to the wrong person. Yoga teachers should also have a grounding in the history of yoga, the philosophy and texts like the Bhagavad Gita, The Upanishads & the Yoga Sutra.
I feel that even though in a yoga class we do not have the time, and for many not the interest, in this history & philosophy it says so much about the teacher if they think it not important. I feel that the study of yoga starts from the inside out, just like our physical practice. It is not about the end point but about enjoying the journey. If you want to do a yoga teacher training I am very happy to recommend those I know are taught by teachers who themselves understand what they are teaching. Those who will inspire you on many levels. I would always recommend you check your teacher’s qualifications & be assured I only use cover teachers with a minimum of 500hr training. That is a starting point from which most good teachers will continue to study, explore & deepen their understanding. I chose not to teach yoga teacher training myself, but I would love to support my students in their study, exploring concepts, discussing ideas & explaining any issues you may come across.