My First Yoga Teaching

In December of 2019, I had the opportunity to apply my knowledge of yoga and use my training as a teacher to conduct a free 5-day workshop. The workshop benefitted me in various ways, giving me the occasion to structure my free time creatively and helping me develop certain strengths as a facilitator.

Purpose Mission Vision

Swamiji has initiated the second chapter of Yoga. He has said that the phase of propagation of Yoga is complete and it is now time to deepen our understanding of yogic science. In his lectures and messages he has stressed the importance of slowing down and understanding the nuances of yoga-vidya and prana-vidya.

This workshop was an attempt in that direction.

My objective in conducting the program was to present Yoga in the right perspective, to dispel certain misconceptions and attempt to correct the distorted and limited view that people may have of it.

Approach & Class Structure

In the program, I stressed on the understanding and experience of what prana is. It was my attempt to take the lessons beyond lectures and focus on experiments, observations and reflections to induce an understanding of the various levels of our being. The students were at the end of the course able to distinguish between the physical body and the psychological (non-physical). I attempted to make the idea of the non-physical relatable and comprehendible, and encouraged the participants to discern physical from non-physical, gross from subtle. To be able to realise that prana lies in between and permeates both the gross and subtle aspects of our being, further cemented their understanding of prana.

My approach was:

  1. firstly to initiate a discussion about prana, keeping it open throughout the week,
  2. secondly to help them identify prana after each yogasana practice, also incidentally encouraging them to practice self-observation,
  3. progressively intensifying their experience of prana with each day’s practices and
  4. finally, consolidating these observations in a written document and repeated discussions about prana.

It was important to anchor their learning and help them revisit the discussion, rather than allowing a concept to be relegated to a lecture in theory.

Concepts Covered

We discussed the following concepts and what is meant when we use these words.

  • prana
  • subtle and gross body
  • the meaning of Yoga – word meaning and in application
  • pawanmuktasana (anti rheumatic postures) series I
  • simple spinal stretches and bends
  • introduction to yogic psychology and Yoga Nidra

Class Structure

I identified the following aspects of a yoga session:

  1. converging attention to class
  2. prayer, setting intentions
  3. theory
  4.  asana
    1. demonstration
    2. practice with supervision
    3. observation, reflection, rest
    4. alternating practice
  5. questions, discussions
  6. short relaxation
  7. prayer and conclusion

Deviations

I remember having heard or read Swamiji talk about innovation and originality in teaching. I took that as a permission to introduce my personal pedagogical style into the sessions.

I deviated from the traditional classroom guidelines in the following ways:

  1. Breath:

    1. I professed free and relaxed breathing in all postures and did not insist on the purity of linking in- and out- breaths with the initial and final positions. Rather I stressed on releasing the breath and ensuring natural and free flow of breath.
    2. I extended the duration of holding in the final positions. This necessitated free and natural breathing as professed above.
    3. The coordination of in- and out- breaths was taught in later classes (days 4 and 5) but not stressed upon.
    4. The awareness and auto-correction of posture and relaxation in the end-position was my primary focus rather than the coordination of in- and out-breaths with the movements.
  1. Invocation

At the beginning of class I used bhramari or silence to anchor the attention to the class instead of Om-chanting and shanti-mantras. This was done respecting the diverse religious and cultural beliefs of the participants. Another reason was lack of confidence. I concede, however, that I ought to have stuck to tradition and will do so in my subsequent workshops.

  1. Compilation

I compiled a concise booklet by typing each day’s notes and practices. To this we added the participants’ hand-written reflections. We used A5 size stationary for their writings as well as for the printed notes, such that they could be bound together on the final day. This gave the students a handbook of knowledge already acquired and a permanent reference for continuing practice.

Insights

With every workshop one facilitates, one’s knowledge is reinforced, and experience is gained. At the same time, one is humbled by challenging questions and situations in class.

At a personal level, this workshop firstly helped me overcome my hesitation and lack of confidence. Having completed it successfully, it gave me a sense of accomplishment. At the same time, it was a reminder that my knowledge in Yoga is still limited and that knowledge is vast.  Conducting a workshop or teaching a class is a constant check on the ego and a steady reminder that we are seekers and learners just like the participants.

Gratitude

With humility I accept the gift of confidence and learning that this program provided. I am grateful to the guiding force of the universe.

हरि ओम् तत् सत् ।

My Yoga Teachers’ Training Course (2014-16)

11th October 2016

Today was the graduation ceremony of the two-year yoga teachers’ training course of which I was a participant. Although I did not graduate today, I was asked to speak and share my experiences and learnings.

As the Vedic incantations of the sacred homa permeated the ambience, I scanned my memories of the previous two years and recalled that I had had insightful experiences that were truly transformational.

The measure of success for any course is to gauge whether the goals and objectives set at the beginning have been achieved. Although I did not undertake my internship and although I did not get certified, I believe I have successfully graduated from this course on this momentous day, because all the goals that I had set out to achieve and most of the goals that our teachers had envisaged for us, I see having been achieved.

Personal Transformation

At the start of this journey, we were constantly reminded that the course was not about certification and asana and pranayama alone, but a journey of personal change that we were called upon to experience in the larger design of the universe of which we are a part. This seemed far-fetched at that time, and yet today, on graduation day, I see the foresightedness of the guru-tattwa that spoke through our teachers giving new direction to our lives.

New Horizons

I believe the course has brought about deep transformations and at different levels and in different spheres of our lives. Yes, we have learned many asanas and advanced pranayama techniques. Yes, we learned much about meditation and esoteric practices, a variegated and eclectic menu of relaxation and meditation techniques to suit our varying needs, moods and tastes. Yet, the course gave us much more than mere techniques. It opened windows to a new horizon of knowledge, concepts, ideas and philosophies that have enriched our intellect and given a new meaning to existence.

Cessation of the Conditionings of the Mind –  योगःश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोधः 

The single most important and concept that permeated the course and which emerged recurrently in the teachings was that all the paths of yoga, be they asana, pranayama, shatkarma or the seemingly diverse wings, such as Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga or Bhakti Yoga, are aimed directly or indirectly towards the primary objective of chitta shuddhi, the cleansing of past conditionings that date back several millennia. That we bring forth our past conditionings and create realities and situations in a constant process of evolution that is aimed towards this eternal cleansing.

The Witness Within

The second most important learning was the understanding of who we are. I do not claim to have found the answer to this existential question, but I have certainly progressed on the path towards insightful realizations. Certainly, by a process of elimination, I understood that we are not this body, nor the mind. The Self HAS the body, and a mind. The understanding of the separation between the observer, the sakshidrshta and its experiences, both internal and external, was life-altering.

Awareness

This leads on to the next very potent concept of Awareness. In the Bihar School tradition, great emphasis is laid on developing awareness in all practices, be they physical or esoteric. It is when the observer can be free from the afflictions of the mind and body and achieve a level of stillness, that awareness can allow past conditionings to arise and be exhausted, facilitating and perhaps accelerating the evolutionary process of chitta shuddhi.

Yogic Psychology

The introduction to Raja Yoga may appear irrelevant to a “yoga” training. But nothing could be more relevant than understanding the underlying principles of Yoga that are enshrined in the spiritual science that is Raja Yoga. It is thanks to the teachers’ training course that I learned fundamental concepts of spirituality, the nature of consciousness and the order of the universe in a scientific manner. The course debunked the myth that Raja Yoga is a religious text fraught with the arcane and supernatural practices. We learned that the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali were a thesis written by a great sage, a spiritual scientist, who taught techniques to master the mind and its deeper realms, bordering with the spiritual dimensions. With just a rudimentary introduction to the sutras, I was greatly influenced at once by the simplicity and profundity of eastern psychology.

Action & Personal Excellence

Karma Yoga, both as a practice and a theory at the ashram has taught me a few very valuable lessons that have contributed to the way I manage my time, family, business and studies and multi-task with much more ease and fluidity than in the past. I learned firstly the importance of efficiency and excellence in one’s work, more than the importance of selfless service. Further, I realised that goals change and goalposts move forward with time, and that rather than obsessing over goals and living in an imaginary future, it’s wiser to be present to the process and not get too attached with the outcome, using goals merely as a direction in which to move forward.

Acceptance

That brings me to an equally important idea of acceptance – acceptance of the self as one is, knowing that our flaws and our shortcomings are not us;  they are temporary afflictions that can be overcome; acceptance of the outcome of our work, our karma; acceptance that we are not entirely in control, to be able to drop self-blame without repudiating responsibility – understood in the right sense; acceptance that in this evolutionary process, time stretches and that there is ample scope for self-improvement and redemption.

Simplicity

At Atmadarshan Yogashram, I learned an important lesson in simplicity. We are not a swanky upmarket yoga school; our asana-postures are taught simply yet scientifically. We were taught less at a time, with emphasis on repetition and more repetition, and even more practice. And I learned that less is in fact more. Our teachers set high standards, and yet they taught us only as much as we could digest; they raised the bar without diluting the significance of what was taught.

A course such as the YTTC at Atmadarshan is a rare combination of various disciplines. It gave us the opportunity to see Yoga in a broader light and in the right context. The teachers at the ADY Bangalore have put together this course that has not only informed and educated us but also enriched our lives with insights and practical techniques to make ourselves better students and fellow practitioners of yoga.

with gratitude to my teachers

Vikram Malhotra