Saturday 14 May 2016

The making of a Yoga Acharya: process and milestones

There is a myth that a yoga teacher has to be a symbol of perfection, we have to “look” like a yoga teacher, be always happy and smiling, peaceful and grounded and very “wise” (certainly not in the worldly way of course). I had no idea of all this when I got into learning and teaching yoga. It was a sheer accident and still remains an interesting mystery of how it all happened. I was a good student in school and college, and did well with the yoga studies too… the intellectual kind who could effortlessly pick up threads from the sutras and make beautiful yoga stick figures on paper (still far from doing them on the mat). It was not until years later that I actually understood what being a teacher actually means!

To know what makes you a good yoga teacher, we don’t have to look beyond the first word of the first sutra of the first chapter of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: Atha.

Are you ready to take up this study?

It is not the readiness in terms of the time and resources you have in hand, that is only a small part of it. It is not the intellectual curiosity you maybe holding, “let me see what is in it for me…” It is not even the desire to learn yoga and “walk the path”, which is of course important.

It is the readiness and willingness to now move inward, exploring the uncharted territories of the mind-body complex; taking responsibility for all our actions and experiences. Letting go of blaming and complaining about how the world is treating you. Letting go of also self-reproach and guilt, rather being willing to transform these negative energies into productive action, ready to be in the “here and now” and taking responsibility to create a better future.

So, the question is, are you really ready?

And if you are, the very first commitment we need to make is time for yourself: for your personal practice. I never understood the value of it when I started studying yoga, except for the excitement of learning new postures and techniques. Since I was not the very flexible kind, it often frustrated me to see, in comparison, how well others can do it.

In this tradition, each trainee works with a mentor who will assess and design a very unique and special practice for the person taking into account his/her physical constitution, flexibility, strength, mental-emotional patterns, time availability and when they can practice during the day.

After each session with the mentor, I remember the joy and excitement of carrying home a fresh, new practice that will now take me a step ahead, progressively getting better and deeper into the experience of yoga. The integration of body-breath- mind slowly begin to play to secret magic into your being. The energy levels got better, aches and pains diminish, self-awareness improves, reactivity reduces and you can actually experience more peace and joy.

Today, when I look back, I wish I had been more serious about my personal practice then. The study of the Yoga Sutra is perhaps the most fascinating part of the study quenching and creating more intellectual curiosity. After dabbling for years in Sanskrit definitions and concepts that made me “appear” very intelligent, I finally got down into the actual essence of the teachings which was and still is mind-boggling. I can’t have enough of it.

Layer after layer opens up deeper meanings and possibilities… so much lies beneath, waiting to be discovered! Learning classical postures and techniques helped to understand meanings from which the function of a posture is derived and how to intelligently adapt or modify a posture or pranayama technique to address a very specific and unique need of the student and achieve a desired function. The skill of a surgeon and creativity of an artist comes into play here.

Yoga borrows heavily from Ayurveda the understanding of the human constitution, how to create individualized diet and life style changes that will help harmonize the energies within. It becomes exciting to study the basis of Sankhya philosophy that underpins yoga and Ayurveda and discover that the mind and body share a unified field of existence, cannot be addressed in isolation, and how every aspect of the universe is connected and striving to progress in a state of dynamic equilibrium. The question of personal and universal dharma and the quest for an integral balance arises.

Meditation as a process of refining and concentrating the mind, methods and techniques and beyond these methods and techniques, touching and experiencing glimpses of insight – from that part of the mind which is beyond thought is exciting!

Course planning helps to integrate the tools and techniques into a meaningful structure for practice that can be progressively adapted to changing needs and goals. It is in deed very exciting to see the progress in the student at all levels.

Understanding the Yama, Niyama and learning to apply the understanding in daily life often brought up great excitement and resistance and as a community working with these attitudes and boundaries has been quite intensive and also fun!

Exploring the connection with God, presented as the highest teacher, Ishvara, by Patanjali and toying with the “idea” of surrender has been frustrating and frightening. When we let go of the “ideas”, perhaps the real surrender can happen?

The entire repertoire of tools and techniques yoga offers and playing around with them and remembering to reconnect with the breath, our life line and learning to listen to its wisdom and knowing that this is more important than “doing” something right… a reality check.

The training is a life long process though the course comes to an end in 12 months. The desire to learn and grow keeps our practice and teaching alive.

The milestones are:

Am I now more connected with my body, can I understand and respect my body more?

Is my conscious breath long, deep and subtle? Can I allow my breath to guide me into the present moment, and help me understand my current reality?

Do I have the necessary skills to teach, observe, adapt practices to the changing needs of the student?

Am I willing to learn from the students, accept and work on my apparent limitations?

Can my mind be open to learning and unlearning? Can I hold my thoughts, my “borrowed” knowledge and beliefs lightly?

Has my threshold for reactivity gone up? Am I now aware of my judgments?

Can I go beyond my self and touch another person’s pain? Can I feel true love and compassion?

Am a ready to continue to learn and evolve my skills and my practice knowing that this is just the beginning?

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