Yoga is a conscious effort to train the mind to be fully present by controlling the body, breathe and mind in one harmonious moment.
The most easily accessible form of yoga available to Western practitioners is the physical practice of postures or asanas as stated in the traditional Sanskrit.
The physical postures of yoga are knit together with careful attention to the breathe and the practitioner’s point of focus. There is much more to yoga than bending, folding and twisting your body. Indeed yoga also stretches your mind by asking you to challenge your beliefs about yourself, your body, your consciousness, your identity and your community. In doing so yoga creates real and lasting change in the lives of its many practitioners. The physical postures produce the added side effects of cleansing the body, ridding practitioners of unwanted fat and healing old injuries. But make no mistake yoga is not an exercise. It is a body awareness technique aimed at liberating your consciousness from old, habitual was of thinking, being and acting. The lithe, flexible yoga body is merely a seductive by-product of the work of awakening your consciousness.
Yoga is as deep as you want to be. There are at least twenty different types of yoga that all have the authentic power to offer real transformation along with an army of teachers deployed worldwide. Perhaps the most important decision a yoga practitioner makes is the choice of a teacher. If you decide to try yoga a good method is to embark on a trial period where you sample many different styles of yoga until you get a feel for each. Use your intelligence and look for empirical proof that each particular method of yoga will produce the stated results . The best way to test the validity of yoga is to look at students who have been practicing yoga for many years. Then if you like what you see in the senior practitioners proceed along the path before you with full confidence that you too will one day achieve similar results.
My teaching shares my experiences over the past ten years practicing one of the most powerful, popular and proven methods of yoga called Ashtanga yoga. This dynamic flowing series of postures was introduced to the West nearly 35 years ago by its living master teacher, or Guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Often called Guruji by his legions of students, Jois is now 93 years old and has dedicated his life to the teaching of Ashtanga Yoga. With more than 65 years of experience teaching in the small south India city of Mysore, Jois’s unwavering diligence in maintaining the Ashtanga yoga method as he learned it from his teacher T. Krishnamacharya has allowed thousands if not millions of people to benefit from regular Ashtanga yoga practice. Without his steady perseverance through more than half the Twentieth Century yoga as we know it today simply would not be.
Ashtanga yoga traces its lineage to an ancient sage named Vamana Rishi and it is through a long line of students who became teachers themselves that we now have access to the heritage of yoga. Ashtanga literally means eight limbs and is defined by the sacred yogic text, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as Yama (moral codes), Niyama (self-purification and study), Asana (posture), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (sense control), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (total peace). Ideally teachers are well-versed in all eight limbs before they begin teaching so that they may truly guide the student through the entire journey of yoga.
When students of Ashtanga yoga today practice they become part of this sacred tradition. From Australia to India to Europe to the U.S.A., Ashtanga yoga remains pure and classically rooted because all authorized and certified teachers must go to Mysore to study at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute and learn the method directly. While many schools offer teacher trainings, Ashtanga yoga teachers must be students for many years and then receive the blessing of their Indian master teachers when they are ready to teach. In some ways Ashtanga yoga demands that you delve deeply within yourself and experience firsthand the transformative power of yoga before you begin teaching. In this way every student who takes an Ashtanga yoga class enters the age old tradition in which yoga is steeped.
Yet all this tradition remains grounded in the direct experience of each teacher and student. Jois has been known to say that yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory. The highest form of knowledge for the yoga practitioner is the knowledge which has been experienced directly and is there incontrovertible. The forum for this direct experience in Ashtanga yoga is first a physical practice of yoga postures that induce a powerful, cleansing cardiovascular sweat when done regularly. With the careful coordination of posture, breathe and concentration the internal fire of purification, or Agni in the traditional Sanskrit, ignites and the journey of transformation begins. If you try Ashtanga yoga you will quickly experience first hand the deluge of sweat and the heat of purification.
Ashtanga yoga asks tightness to bend and softness to be strong. It challenges the limits of the mind and the body beyond popular medical notions of safety, possibility and comfort. In doing so practitioners literally expand their consciousness. While containing six series of postures, most practitioners spend their entire lives working on the first or Primary Series of Ashtanga yoga because its level of strength and flexibility is already quite challenging. Yet the Primary Series is a complete practice that burns through accumulated toxins within the body and heightens the level of health. Without regular cleansing the body collects toxins from the environment, food and even emotional states that if left unattended can sometimes lead to disease and discomfort later in life. The physical practice of yoga can be likened to brushing your teeth. Without a daily routine plaque and tartar accumulate and cause a pricey visit to the dentist. Yet with yoga youth, health and comfort can easily return to the body through proven methods of practice. It is no magic pill for it is through your own effort that you purify your body. Yoga is as strong as you make it and takes you as deep as you are willing to go.
At the end of the mountain of desire lies the real truth of existence. It is that secret knowingness that yogis have pursued with their passionate devotion to practice for centuries. It is the same secret that you too may move towards in your yoga practice. For it is not the lithe muscles, the thin waist nor the youthful countenance that is yoga’s real power. Instead the intoxicating nectar of yoga is your ability to use this ancient technique to connect to the deepest and most powerful part of yourself and find lasting peace.