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“Yoga is not an ancient myth buried in oblivion.

It is the most valuable inheritance of the present.
It is the essential need of today.”
~ Swami Satyananda Saraswati
© 2010, International Yogalayam
http://www.theyogatutor.com
Introduction 5
Chapter 1
Clearing the Yoga Air 7
A Brief History of the Future of Yoga . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Breaking Up is Hard to Do . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Yoga and Stretching: What’s the Difference? . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Stretching International Borders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Stretching the Margins of Yoga . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Is Yoga the New Aerobics? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Does Yoga Have a Shelf Life? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Rocking the Yoga Boat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Why Are There So Many New Yoga Styles Today? . . . . . . 14
A Look Behind the
Yoga Teacher Training Curtain . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Chapter 2
What Is Yoga? 26
A Yoga Reality Check . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
What is Yoga, Really? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
The Yoga-Fit Phenomenon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Mystical Science . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
The Science of Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
Perfect Health . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Perfect Evolution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
The Yoga re-Union . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
Get Out of Your Own Way . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
Contents
© 2010, International Yogalayam
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Ashtanga Yoga–Eight Steps to Freedom . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
Hatha Yoga–using the body to transcend the body . . . . . 35
The Key to Hatha Yoga . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
Awareness: without it, yoga is just another stretch . . . . . 36
1. Awareness of Body . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
2. Awareness of Emotions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
3. Awareness of Mind . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
4. Awareness of ‘Awareness’ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
Mystical Magical Energy!. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
The Yoga of Re-Polarization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
Are You Getting it Right? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
Chapter 3
A Brighter Yoga Future 45
The Body is the Beginning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
The Body is Not the End . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
Breaking Some New Old Yoga Ground . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
Carving a Better Yoga Path . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
Why You Need to Practice Yoga at Home . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
Taking Yoga to the Next Level . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
Yogashram–the ultimate yoga experience . . . . . . . . . . . . 51
Studying the Yoga Home Study Concept . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52
Don’t Give Up on Yoga Classes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54
A Bright Yoga Future . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54
Appendices 57
© 2010, International Yogalayam
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5
Introduction
We’ve all heard the expression, “Never judge a book
by its cover.” A cover that appeals to our senses or a
title that provokes us is sometimes what makes us act
though. But how ofen does the content inside fail live
up to the cover’s façade? A lot, I find.
We could probably say that this metaphor is also an
appropriate one for people sometimes too. What we
see on the outside is not always an accurate reflection
of what is inside. I’m not talking only about someone’s
character versus their physical appearance. I’m saying
that the image we have of ourselves even, and what we
‘really are’ might be worlds apart. Te problem is that
we just don’t realize it yet. If I could start this book in
a rather cryptic way, then I would say that yoga is what
helps us to come to this realization.
You want to know the truth about yoga. Tat’s why
you picked up this book. Te title made you do it, so
we’ve crossed the first hurdle already. Te next ques-
tions that you want answered are:
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1 Is there really a truth about yoga; some deep
dark secret that has been kept hidden from you
all along?
2 If there is, will this book really reveal it to me?
Te answer to both those questions is a definite
‘MAYBE.’ Tere are many things about yoga that most
people who practice it today don’t know. I can tell you
that with 100% certainty. What I will reveal in this
book will hopefully shed a lot of light on yoga for some
people. I for one wish I would have had some of this
information before I started learning yoga. It certainly
would have saved me a lot of work–and money too.
But I suppose saving time and effort isn’t always the
point, is it? I mean, If I didn’t have to put forth so much
time, energy and effort over the years to learn every-
thing that I’ve learned about yoga, I wouldn’t be able
to share what I’m about to share with you now. I hope
my time hasn’t been wasted and that this short book
will be of some value to those who are curious about
yoga–those who are wondering how to get started, and
those who are craving more of an understanding of this
ancient science in order to delve deeper into it.
© 2010, International Yogalayam
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Chapter 1
Clearing the Yoga Air
A Brief History of the Future of Yoga
Te last century has seen yoga go from being a key part
of the fabric of an Eastern culture, to a global phenom-
enon, and that escalation hasn’t come without its share
of growing pains.
Te vast majority of people who utter the word yoga
today have never been to India; they have little to no
knowledge of the cultural heritage from which yoga
has sprung, and likely very little interest in becoming
too acquainted with it either. Tat makes some yoga
enthusiasts very concerned.
If the Indian (Vedic) culture from which the science
of yoga developed is, in fact, important to the practice
of yoga–which it is to some people–then there is fitting
cause for concern because the ideas about yoga and
its modern methods of practice have moved pretty far
from its origins already. A strong argument can defi-
nitely be made by these folks that what most people are
doing under the name of yoga now can’t accurately be
called yoga anymore.
Just as many, and probably even a whole lot more
others, though, aren’t concerned about this at all.
Tey’re not looking for an existential crisis. Tey’re not
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looking for any philosophical input on life in general
either. Teir motivations for trying yoga are more prac-
tical than all that. Tey simply want to improve their
health and feel better–and through ‘modern yoga,’ they
can usually get those things pretty easily.
Breaking Up is Hard to Do
I will provide some good, practical and useful stuff about
yoga here for you, I promise. But as I’ve just pointed
out above, the idea of what yoga means varies widely
from one person to the next, so I need to quickly run
over this ground so that you can see where your ideas
about yoga fit in relation to the ideas of others. What
I have to share in this book is not intended to convert
anyone’s way of thinking about yoga. I hope, however,
that it will provide some valuable insight for everyone,
no matter what their ‘take’ on yoga might be.
Without simplifying too much right from the start,
let’s just say that there are two fairly distinct yoga camps
nowadays: one that takes a decidedly Western scien-
tific view of yoga and another that embraces the Tra-
ditional spiritual foundations as its core. Neither is so
one-dimensional as to be summed up in one sentence
like that, of course, but the main division stems largely
along the lines of which perspective the teachings of
yoga are viewed from: the Eastern or the Western.
In truth, both are too myopic to do yoga justice. If you
adhere too rigidly to traditional texts and metaphori-
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cal references, then you miss the great opportunities
that modern language and scientific discoveries offers
to deepen our perspectives on these ancient teach-
ings. Conversely, if you only view the teaching of yoga
through Western scientific and philosophical perspec-
tives, then you will not fully understand it or achieve
even a fraction of what yoga is capable of helping you
to achieve.
Yoga and Stretching: What’s the
Difference?
When I first tried yoga–or at least what I though was
yoga–ever so many years ago, I could not even touch my
toes (that’s a fact!). In fact, I couldn’t even come close! I
spent years developing more flexibility, when it finally
dawned upon me one day that I could have saved my-
self a whole lot of trouble. All I had to do, right from the
start, was bend my knees and voila!
Tat wasn’t the point though–to merely bring my
fingers into contact with my toes, was it? Te point was
that there was a whole lot of tension in my physical body
that needed to be worked out. But now that the tension
is gone and I can easily bend forward to touch my toes,
have I accomplished the goal of yoga? Or is increasing
the flexibility of my limbs only part of the yoga picture?
Let me put it this way. A ballet dancers bends for-
ward to touch her toes. Her alignment is flawless–her
steadiness resolute. In yoga we bend forward to touch
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our toes in a physically identical posture called pada-
hastasana. If the yogi and the ballet dancer were side
by side, it would look exactly the same to me.
So, what’s the difference? What makes one yoga and
the other just a good stretch?
I’ve posed this sort of question to some yoga teach-
ers in the past, and the responses I ofen received were
vague–usually getting lost in some tenuous line of pseu-
do-scientific, peculiar yoga jargon that really doesn’t
hold much water. What that tells me is that once we get
past the ‘physical perfection’ of the pose, yoga tends to
get a bit hazy–even for a lot of yoga teachers today.
Stretching International Borders
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to travel to India ear-
ly on in my exploration of yoga and spent a lot of time
learning with teachers and along side of others who
were not indoctrinated in the Western goal-oriented,
physical-fitness obsessed culture that I was.
Tose early experiences removed a lot of the ‘haze’
for me and helped me to understand yoga beyond the
stretch. I learned that figuring out how to get my chin
down closer to my shin, as the prime motivation of the
practice, was a colossal waste of time–not because there
was no physical benefit in it (there definitely was), but
because alone it had very little to do with yoga. I learned
that the value of all of these yoga exercises, when done
with proper understanding, extends well beyond our
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physical health–and that teaching yoga meant eventu-
ally teaching this to my students as well.
Stretching the Margins of Yoga
Te attention paid today to the physical stretches and
exercises in yoga is nothing short of obsessive. Really
though, should we be surprised at that? Yoga has now
entered the mainstream of a culture already obsessed
with crafing the perfect body. Tis exotic new form of
exercise with its easily marketable ‘spiritual mystique’
was a no-brainer and a long-overdue replacement for
aerobics and flash in the pan fitness crazes like Jazzer-
cise or Taibo.
For several years now, yoga has topped the list of
‘hottest new fitness trends.’ Aerobics as a pop-fitness
activity may have faded into the background more than
a decade ago, but the aerobics spaces haven’t complete-
ly disappeared. Many have just been converted into
yoga studios. Te Lego stacks of plastic aerobics steps
at the back of the room have been replaced by rolled
yoga mats and Styrofoam blocks. Te elevated stages
have been removed, the bright coloured walls painted
a more neutral, calming tone, and the florescent lights
replaced with less obtrusive energy-saving halogens.
Te volumes on the mega-watt sound systems rarely
get pushed passed level two now, and the once vibrant
and energized spaces have been transformed into oa-
ses of peace and tranquility.
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Your teacher is different now too. She no longer
wears hot-pink tights, an Adidas headband, and comfy
leg-warmers. She uses natural skincare products and
her perfectly sculpted size six physique is adorned
with skin-tight yoga wear that leaves nothing at all to
the imagination.
‘She’ is every bit as likely to be a ‘he’ now too. While
calling into question the masculinity of the rare male
aerobics instructor almost seemed an obligation, today
many men teach yoga too, and those who do are likely
to turn the heads of women who might never have oth-
erwise given them a second glance on the bus.
Sure, aerobics was trendy; but yoga is definitely sexy.
Is Yoga the New Aerobics?
Aerobics was a short-lived obsession. It came and went
scarcely within the span of a decade. Yoga, on the other
hand, seems to be in its heyday right now, riding a wave
of popularity that has already greatly surpassed that of
its fitness predecessor.
Yoga has certainly permeated into nearly every crev-
ice of modern culture, from fashion to beauty products,
from healthcare to spiritual transcendence–so much
so that it’s hard to remember that this global phenom-
enon is barely a couple decades young too. Not yoga, of
course, which is thousands of years old, but the mod-
ern ‘yoga class,’ a relatively new innovation, which can
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now be found in almost every fitness centre and health
club in town, and in nearly every neighbourhood too.
Does Yoga Have a Shelf Life?
Tis explosion happened so fast that one can’t help but
wonder, how did so many people suddenly ‘get into
yoga?’ From obscurity to mania practically overnight,
is something one might better associate with cabbage
patch dolls, pet rocks, and bell-bottom jeans. Tus begs
the question, “Is yoga for real, or is this megatrend
headed for an eventual crash landing?”
If yoga is primarily put forth as just another exotic
form of staying in shape, which sadly is ofen the case
today, it is doomed to the annals of ‘what once was’,
that much is certain. Te bigger question then is: “Do
modern yoga teachers have the knowledge, skill, and
wherewithal to keep interest in this ancient science
alive, or is yoga just another fitness trend, the ‘new aer-
obics’, destined for the same, unfortunate fate?”
Rocking the Yoga Boat
Tis is the part where I fear I’m going to annoy a lot of
people. When I say the things I’m about to say, it usu-
ally does. It annoys some yoga teachers, and it annoys
some yoga students who are very attached to their yoga
teachers. It is not my attention to offend anyone, but
no matter how I attempt to rephrase this, it invariably
yields the same results.
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I also get just as many words of praise and thanks,
though, from those who whole-heartedly agree with
what I am about to say. But for some others, it presents
an uncomfortable look in the mirror–one that, no mat-
ter how sofly put or sugar coated, illuminates a real-
ity that they would much rather prefer lef in the dark.
Never the less, it is a subject that I must also speak
frankly of here. I owe it to you–especially since I prom-
ised to tell you the truth about yoga.
It starts with the question…
Why Are There So Many New Yoga Styles
Today?
I have to bet that this is close to the number one ques-
tion about yoga on most people’s minds today. Te
straight-forward answer is pretty simple–a lack of un-
derstanding of yoga.
“ Wait a minute!”, you say. “My ‘inverted-hip-hop-
yoga-for-naked-golfers’ teacher is a real yoga master!”
Ok, sarcasm aside, there are definitely some ex-
tremely knowledgeable, highly experienced, excep-
tional yoga teachers out there. Tere’s also some poorly
trained teachers with very little experience out there–
and there’s a whole lot of teachers out there who fit
somewhere in between.
Te great teachers have a good understanding of
yoga because they have taken the time to properly study
it and experience everything about it first hand. Tat’s
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no small task, and it has little to do with whether or not
someone is ‘certified’ ‘registered’ or boasts academic
credentials of any other sort. It has to do with their suc-
cess in walking the yogic path to greater health and un-
derstanding. You won’t achieve that just from a com-
pleting a course of study. You’ll get it from completing
a difficult personal journey.
Te teachers who only have very basic training, for
the most part, know that they have a lot to learn and are
probably not likely to pretend to be something that they
are not. In the course of my life as a yoga teacher I have
met many of these folks, and most I would say are in-
spiringly humble in their approach–eager to share the
little bit that they know with friends and colleagues,
and very eager to continue to learn more about yoga.
It’s the whole bunch of folks out there teaching yoga,
the ones that fall somewhere in between, who are the
engines behind this modern ‘new yoga’ mania.
Yoga is a science for personal transformation. I’ll
paint this landscape more colourfully a bit later in this
book, because understanding what yoga is all about is
crucial to being able to get the most out of the practice
of it. Suffice to say for now that yoga is a system that
has been tested and honed and perfected over centu-
ries by the great scientists of ancient India known as
the Rishis, or yoga masters.
Trough their tireless experiments on themselves,
they discovered just what this Universe of ours is all
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about, and perhaps more importantly, who we are as
human beings and what our place within it really is.
Tey discovered what it is that we need to do in order
to find real lasting health, peace and happiness. Tat
process is the system that we know today as yoga; the
most comprehensive and complete system for pro-
found personal change.
Yet how many people–how many yoga teachers
even–have really taken the time and put forth the nec-
essary effort in order to really understand what yoga is
all about? By the looks of things, not too many.
Granted, changing ourselves is not always easy. In
fact, it’s an enormous challenge even at the best of
times. Let’s face it, we like our modern lifestyles, we
savour what we eat, we’re extremely attached to our
friends and families, and our social and leisure ac-
tivities form the foundation of our very identity. Deep
down inside, we don’t really want to have to change any
these things–even though, under closer scrutiny, a lot
of them are the principle causes of all our troubles.
Rather than using yoga, as it was intended–as a pow-
erful way to change ourselves for the better–we pre-
fer to change yoga. Hordes of marginally trained yoga
teachers that have catapulted onto the yoga scene in no
time at all have done exactly that. Te one thing that
they have in common is a lack of a real deep under-
standing of yoga. Tat lack has lead to the continual
re-vamping, re-working, tweaking and reinventing of a
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science that was and still is already perfect–something
that they would know if they had taken the proper time
to really understand it first, before coming up with
their own unique way to ‘improve it.’
A Look Behind the
Yoga Teacher Training Curtain
I received an email from a woman recently who echoed
something I ofen hear. She said “I thought that a ‘yoga
teacher training’ course could be a means to begin to
deepen a personal practice.” She didn’t want to teach
yoga… just learn it, and she wondered if that would be
the best way.
Most yoga teachers that run a yoga teacher training
program will tell you that their course is for everyone,
not just those who want to be a yoga teacher. Yet they
don’t really market their yoga teacher training pro-
grams that way, and they certainly don’t price them to
fit the budget of Average Joe who just wants to learn
more about yoga either.
I’m not fundamentally opposed to month-long yoga
training courses. I think they can be a huge step up
from the drop-in yoga class culture that dominates the
yoga scene today. But I have difficulty accepting most of
these programs as qualified training grounds for new
yoga teachers. I think, deep down inside, many of those
who run these programs also know that they are not
doing justice to the subject of yoga in their 200 or even
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500-hour courses. Personally I would prefer, as I’m sure
many of these ‘teacher-trainers’ would as too, to see
these programs referred to as ‘ Yoga Learning Courses,’
and not ‘ Yoga Teacher Training Courses.’
But that’s not going to happen.
Te acronym TTC (Teacher Training Course) is one of
the most recognizable terms in the modern yoga lingo,
and it carries with it a lot of marketing and commercial
weight. Tose who run these programs know as well as
I do that if they remove the ‘yoga teacher certificate’
from the equation, then they’ll be hard-pressed to get
even a handful of students signing up.
People who have a genuine interest in exploring
yoga for their own personal development pale in com-
parison to the number of people who want to get that
200-hour Yoga Teacher Certificate with their name on
it–which leaves people like the woman who sent me
that email having a hard time figuring out what to do.
Here’s an article that I published in the April 2009
issue of Te Yoga News, which puts some more inter-
esting perspectives on the modern yoga teaching in-
dustry.
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Yoga Cred. Have You Got Some?
(The Yoga News, April 2009)
There are now over a dozen well-recognized na-
tional and international yoga magazines, along with
literally thousands of yoga-related newsletters pub-
lished online every month. A Google search for ‘yoga
blogs’ returns 2.39 million websites, and ‘yoga ar-
ticles,’ 4.98 million. Amazon.com lists hundreds of
books with the word ‘yoga’ in the title.
Do you have something to say about yoga? Get
in line.
Despite its ancient roots and the fact that yoga
remained virtually unknown in the West until just a
few decades ago, all of a sudden it seems that ev-
eryone has two cents to throw in on the subject. But
who are all these folks teaching, talking and writing
about yoga all of a sudden, and is what they are
saying worth listening to?
There are some important questions that we
need to ask, such as who is really qualified to speak
with authority about yoga and has the experience
to write with genuine understanding about it? Who
knows enough about yoga to be called an expert?
And who, even, is really qualified to teach it?
Those are more difficult questions to answer
than you might think. With yoga moving swiftly into
mainstream culture and thousands of budding new
yogis rushing in to make a name (and often a dollar)
for themselves, credibility is becoming a big issue in
the yoga world.
For the majority in the global yoga community,
the dilemma of how to properly assess the creden-
tials of today’s yogis has yet to be solved. The cen-
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tral question remains how to sanction practitioners
of an ancient science that does not fit too easily
into our conventional Western structure of academ-
ic education.
Though yoga has been around for millennia,
many traditional lineages have evolved to protect
and pass down its teachings, each developing their
own approach to the teaching and practice of yoga.
This makes standardization of yoga education a
near impossibility, creating quite a quandary when
it comes to establishing a yoga certification model.
But this concern might pale in comparison to the
problem of a growing mess of modern yogis prac-
tising all manner of who knows what with the word
‘yoga’ attached to it–the connection of their phi-
losophies and practices to the roots of yoga often
extremely vague.
These are issues that the newly formed Indian
Yoga Association (IYA) is currently grappling with.
At the same time they are trying to work out just
how to ensure adequate knowledge and experience
for yoga teachers, without too narrowly mandating
what and how they are to be taught.
Years ago there was anticipation of this predic-
ament in many places outside of India too, which
saw several self-proclaimed ‘yoga associations’
spring forth. The apparent yoga visionaries who
spearheaded these initiatives quickly laid down
guidelines for yoga certification and the recognition
of yoga qualifications, in an attempt to give street
cred to the growing number of wannabe yogis and
teachers in their countries.
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But there was one big flaw in their well-inten-
tioned efforts. Their guidelines, which were sup-
posed to elevate the standing of those who fol-
lowed them, were for the most part arbitrary. They
were not based upon any sound suggestion of just
what it takes to be well schooled in the science of
yoga because many who formulated them were
themselves, not well studied or experienced in the
yoga tradition. They were, perhaps, too quick to ap-
ply a Westernized model of education and certifi-
cation to a science that demanded more than that
type of academic framework to fully master.
This has resulted, in most places today, in re-
quirements to be a registered yoga teacher that are
well below what is really necessary to uphold the
integrity of yoga. These modern standards have re-
ally done more damage than good to the image of
yoga worldwide. They have given the overwhelming
impression that yoga is not very deep at all–that it
is merely another field of study that primarily re-
volves around physical exercises and techniques,
and requires little more than a few hundred hours
to gain competency in.
The results certainly reflect this oversight. Now
we see tens of thousands of yoga teachers who
know very little about yoga spreading their ideas
about it to millions more yoga enthusiasts around
the globe, every day.
Drop into any bookstore and you’ll see the most
apparent extreme of this unfortunate state that yoga
finds itself in now. Shelves are literally overflowing
with books on yoga, making it perhaps one of the
most saturated of any non-fiction genre of writing
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today. Of course there are a few thoughtful books
about yoga on the market, but not many.
The vast majority of modern yoga books, in my
opinion, had no good reason at all to be written.
Rarely have I come across any volume that serves to
improve the public’s understanding of yoga. Most,
in fact, achieve just the opposite, putting yoga into
a piteously superficial light.
For the rare one who has a profound under-
standing of yoga, the immense amount of time and
effort that it takes to be adequately educated in it is
well appreciated. They know that one cannot hope
to scratch through even the surface of yoga in the
few short months of training that the average yoga
teacher receives today. Learning yoga is no small
matter. It is a major pursuit that demands great sac-
rifices, uncommon dedication, and extremely hard
work, along with years of study and practice.
Given the accepted standards for assigning
credibility in yoga today, however, what is the incen-
tive for the aspiring yoga teacher to make such ef-
forts? On the surface it seems like there really aren’t
many. One who goes to such heroic lengths in the
search for genuine understanding likely won’t get
much credit for it in the ‘real world’–a place that
cannot seem to see past paper certificates and of-
ficial documents.
In fact, when businesses are faced with the
choice between hiring a yoga teacher who is reg-
istered with the regional yoga association and has
only the requisite couple hundred hours of training,
or hiring someone who has dedicated their self to
years of disciplined study and practice of yoga, the
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23
one with the certification will almost certainly be
given a higher value.
The irony in this current state of yogic affairs–
and there is a lot of it–is that the one who has
dedicated him/herself to the genuine exploration
of yoga is probably the one who is regarded with
the most suspicion. Many Indian masters who have
dedicated their lives to this great science would not
even qualify to be licensed yoga teachers in Ameri-
ca now. In a rather blind pursuit of yoga credibility,
it seems, we have forgotten about what it actually
means to learn yoga.
Where is Yoga Heading? As usual, those who
speak the loudest and those who gain the most rec-
ognition are usually those who know the least. Even
the Bhagavad-Gita cautions us that in Kali Yuga, our
present age, great orators are often mistaken for
the wise.
Yoga is not immune to this phenomenon and
a tragedy continues to unfold as the mouthpieces
of yoga today, those who have made great names
for themselves, those who are playing the credibility
game to a ‘T’ continue to sell yoga short–by a long
shot.
Evermore voices are being raised, however, over
the concern that yoga has been trivialized and re-
duced from its lofty perch as the most comprehen-
sive science for personal growth and evolution to a
superficial system of practices that continues to be
reshaped and restyled into new and often ridiculous
things by enterprising, but sadly uneducated yoga
enthusiasts.
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New-age yoga may play well for a short time
in the marketplace, but it can’t last forever. If yoga
continues to lack any real substance in the way it
is being taught or presented, then eventually the
masses will tire of it and move on to something
new and more enticing. That is something that we
humans have always done.
Yet yoga can and should have a bright future.
The potential that it possesses to guide society for-
ward in increasingly stressful and uncertain times is
immense. All the good intentions of so many yoga
advocates can find firmer roots if we all start look-
ing deeper into this wondrous science with greater
awareness and respect for what it is really all about.
No other credible profession would sanction
teachers who do not have advanced knowledge and
experience in their field. Why should yoga? If we
want society to hold yoga in high esteem and view
it as the respectable science that it deserves to be
seen as, then we must promote teachers, our edu-
cators and ambassadors, who reflect that image.
The influence of those would-be yoga regula-
tors upon the yoga industry is enormous, and their
recognition of the current short-comings of their
established regulatory models is paramount to this
transformation happening. As yoga teachers, we
cannot let ourselves be guided by market-driven
forces into building the foundation of our profes-
sion upon shifting sand–into following a model of
regulation and accreditation that doesn’t yield a
professional body with adequate knowledge and
experience to do yoga justice.
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The bar for acceptable yoga education and ex-
perience needs to be raised and a new model for
recognition of yoga qualifications established; one
that honours the tradition of yoga and recognizes
the vastness of this field of study; and one that
reflects what it really takes to gain proper under-
standing of and competence in yoga.
A yoga teacher, at the very least, must have
knowledge of yoga that extends well beyond the
physical practices and techniques. They must have
the ability to speak of every aspect of life from a
yogic perspective, and the ability to stretch their
mind beyond the conditionings of family, society
and culture. They must be models of integrity and
honourable living, and demonstrate in each and ev-
ery moment of each and every day what it means
to live a yogic life.
If this does not happen, then the flame of mod-
ern yoga will soon be extinguished. Our duty as
practitioners is to insist on the establishment and
maintenance of a proper level of yoga credibility,
one with standards that are worthy of this most
profound science of life, and one that will withstand
the test of time and the whims and fancies of an
ever-changing marketplace.
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Chapter 2
What Is Yoga?
A Yoga Reality Check
Perhaps it’s time to step back and take a good look in
the mirror. Yeah, I know, you look fantastic in your Lu-
lulemon yoga pants, but how’s life? I mean, are you feel-
ing more content with your circumstances in life? Are
you less stressed? More optimistic? Able to stay cool as
a cucumber in frustrating situations? What about your
relationships? Are they sailing smoothly now? Do you
smile when everyone is frowning? Are you finding more
time to spend with your kids? Do you open the door for
strangers?
If you’re having a hard time saying yes to most of
those things, then maybe it’s time to ask yourself if you
are really getting what you should be out of yoga–or if
you’re just there to look at yourself in the mirror.
How all these things relate to yoga might seem mys-
terious to you. Afer all, how does the cat pose have any-
thing to do with holding the door open for strangers?
I’ll tell you exactly how. But first, to make sure we’re
all on the same page, I’d better tell you what yoga is.
I know it seems like something we all should already
know, but I’m surprised at how many people don’t–at
least the whole picture anyhow.
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What is Yoga, Really?
I was recently told of a yoga teacher who had been teach-
ing yoga in China. When he asked his students what
they knew about the origins of yoga, he was shocked to
find that many of them thought yoga was an American
‘keep-fit’ exercise! I chuckled as I told this to a group
of North American yoga students, but some of them sat
with perplexed looks on their faces. Ten one person
said, “I thought it was an Indian system of exercise?”
Well, at least she was right about the country.
To many, yoga is a form of exercise, that’s true. It has
also been accused by others of being a religion. Die-
hards of yoga though, profess it to be the supreme phi-
losophy, a definitive psychology, and the roadmap to
the meaning of life itself. Without doubt, there are lots
of people out there who see it as little more than just
another fad too. Tere is no shortage of opinions about
yoga today, that’s for sure.
One thing is also certain–there is a lot of division
around a science that is supposed to represent ‘union,’
which is actually the literal translation of the Sanskrit
word ‘yoga.’ A whole lot of debate rages on between
those who promote yoga for its utilitarian, health-en-
hancing appeal, and those who demand a removal of
the term yoga altogether from pop fitness culture, ad-
vocating a return to the more holistic roots of this an-
cient science.
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Should one win out over the other, or is there a ‘union’
of these ideals that could better serve us all? Te truth
is that neither view is good enough today and that both
of them have a lot to contribute to a more valuable ap-
proach to yoga.
The Yoga-Fit Phenomenon
It’s hard to deny the fact that yoga is being portrayed
today, more than anything else, as a form of exercise.
Tat it is a rather ‘exotic’ from of exercise is perhaps
what lends so much to its appeal. Exotic or not though,
the view of yoga by the general public really doesn’t go
too much beyond the idea of yoga being a kind of exer-
cise class. Most people–even many of those who ‘prac-
tice yoga’ regularly–would probably be at a loss to say
much more about it than that.
Even the experienced practitioner can be forgiven
for having only a vague and uncertain hold upon this
thing called yoga though. Let’s face it, it seems like
everybody and their dog is doing something with the
word ‘yoga’ attached to it these days (and even some
people ‘with’ their dogs!). Yes, some of those things are
pretty weird. Asked a typical yoga practitioner today
what yoga is and their answer will almost certainly be-
gin and end with descriptions of some form or another
of physical techniques and practices. Tat’s a real trag-
edy because these exercises, as wonderful as they are,
still only represent a very small part of what yoga is all
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about. If we limit our view of yoga to these practices,
then we miss so much. It’s like hiking to the top of a
mountain, but stopping at a nice spot only a fraction of
the way up. I want to help you avoid falling prey to this
limited view of yoga.
“Tose who have studied yoga will attest that this
‘Science of sciences’ is too comprehensive in its na-
ture and too profound in its scope of teachings to be
fitted into the framework of any particular philoso-
phy, religion or belief, ancient or modern.”
~ I.K. Taimni, Te Science of Yoga
Mystical Science
Just about everyone that is ‘into yoga’ will agree that
there is more to it than just stretching. What that ‘more’
is, however, is a question whose answer doesn’t always
flow confidently off their tongue. In fact, what exactly is
going on at a deeper level in yoga isn’t very clear to most
folks at all. As a result we hear lots of vague references
to things like ‘energy’ and plenty of generic statements
about ‘balancing mind and body’ and things like that.
Yoga teachers ofen inject an air of ‘mystical charm’ into
their classes too, without getting too specific–‘spiritual
musings,’ I like to call them. I suppose in a way that
adds to the exotic appeal of yoga without really com-
mitting too much on the ideological front. But does it
really help us to get more out of the practice?
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Tere’s a problem. On one hand, we might know
that there is something ‘deeper’ about all these yoga
practices we’re doing; but on the other hand, we might
not really know what that ‘deeper’ thing is. So what do
most people do then? Tey adopt the attitude that if
they just practice the exercises with the ‘correct’ pos-
ture and alignment, the deeper stuff will just happen to
them. Well, I’m sorry to tell you, but it won’t.
Differentiating yoga exercises from just plain exer-
cises requires an understanding of yoga on both a phil-
osophical level, as well as a physical one. Let’s start by
taking a nice broad look at what yoga is really all about
(Yes, I’m finally going to answer that question!)
The Science of Life
In simple words, yoga is a system for physical, men-
tal, emotional and spiritual health. Its practice involves
many different exercises that each has purposes be-
yond just our physical health–something I’ll get more
into shortly. Tere are also many diet and lifestyle con-
sideration too, which also serve multiple purposes be-
yond just our physical wellbeing.
In the broadest sense, yoga is a ‘science’ that pro-
vides a logical, step-by-step way for us to better under-
stand of our selves and the universe around us. Really,
yoga is a ‘ Way of Life,’ one that is lived with greater
awareness and understanding.
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Perfect Health
If you have engaged in some yogic exercises before,
then you don’t need me to tell you how good they are
for you. Tey’re very effective for reducing stress, re-
charging your energy and helping you to feel your good
old self again. Tere’s a reason why a lot of people who
do yoga look great too, because the yogic exercises pro-
vide great physical conditioning as well. Tey say that
yoga helps you to live a longer and healthier life, and
there have certainly been enough examples to give that
claim a lot of weight. But the whole point of life isn’t
just to prolong it. It is to improve our experience of it.
Tat’s why all these physical benefits of yoga are really
only a stepping stone to the ultimate potential of yoga,
which is…
Perfect Evolution
Te real goal of yoga is to help us to ‘consciously evolve’
into wiser beings. Tat may seem a tad presumptuous
of yoga, but our ancient Rishis (yoga masters) set the
bar pretty high for themselves and were determined to
settle for nothing less than realizing the full potential
of our human species. Te result of their work is the
science of yoga–the science of deliberately attempting
to accelerate our ‘natural evolution.’
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The Yoga re-Union
Te term yoga itself comes from the ancient Sanskrit
root ‘Yuj’ which means to ‘join’, to ‘yoke together’, to
‘unify’ or ‘unite as one.’ Te Eastern world view is based
upon the understanding that we are all merely a unique
reflection of the same unified source. In fact, at es-
sence, everything real and unreal, manifest and none-
manifest in this vast universe is ultimately inseparable.
So that ‘ Union of Yoga’ is a natural consequence, and
the practice of yoga then, merely a way to help us to
more tangibly realize our true, unified nature.
But as Westerners, it can take some time to really un-
derstand what this ‘union’ of yoga is all about. I mean,
sure, intellectually we can get the idea pretty easily, but
deep down inside, our Western view of who we are and
our relationship to everything around us is quite dif-
ferent. Our entire existence is built upon the sense of a
separate, ‘individual’ self.
Te ‘union’ referred to in yoga is more of a reunion–
a reunion of the lower, ‘worldly self ’ with the Universal,
‘higher consciousness’–which the ancient Indian sages
call moksha (or samadhi, kaivalya, and jivana mukta
too). Tis is the true goal of yoga.
But these lofy goals are a long journey away for
most of us. Getting there, especially if you come from a
culture that has quite a different way of seeing things,
takes some willingness to explore life from a pretty dif-
ferent perspective. Tat is what yoga can help us to do.
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Get Out of Your Own Way
It might surprise you to realize that all of you opinions–
your political views, your religions beliefs, and your
moral and philosophical attitudes–do not originate
from you. You have merely been conditioned to believe
them by your parents, your teachers, and the culture
of the place that you come from. Eastern philosophical
thought holds that it is these habits and conditionings
that are the true roots of disharmony, unhappiness, ill
health and frustrations in our life. As Epictetus said in
60 A.D,
“Men are not disturbed by things , but by the views
they take of them”.
Similarly, my Yoga Guru, Swami Gitananda Giri, used
to tell his students,
“You don’t have a problem. You are the problem!”
Trough the proper study and practice of yoga, we be-
gin to see this quite clearly. Notice I said ‘study’ as well
as ‘practice.’ Tat should point us to one very crucial
secret about yoga–that it is not just a physical practice.
It is a mental one. If you are performing a yoga pose
with the intent of perfecting the physical position only,
then you are not doing yoga–you are just stretching.
But more on that shortly.
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Ashtanga Yoga–Eight Steps to Freedom
Perhaps about 2500 years ago, nobody knows exactly
when, a great yogic sage named Patanjali penned 196
short aphorisms outlining the yoga process. Tat an-
cient text, called Te Yoga Sutras, classifies eight dis-
tinct stages of yoga. Tey are:
1 Yama (morals)
2 Niyama (ethics)
3 Asana (postures)
4 Pranayama (breathing)
5 Pratyahara (sensory withdrawal)
6 Dharana (concentration)
7 Dhyana (meditation)
8 Samadhi (absorption)
Number three and number four, you’ve probably heard
of. Te poses and the breathing exercises form, for the
most part, the bulk of the yoga experience for most
people today. Together with yama and niyama, these
first four stages comprise the traditional branch of
yoga known as Hatha, or the lower stages of yoga. Te
last four stages combined are referred to as Raja Yoga,
or the higher stages of yoga. Hatha and Raja are two
ends of the same yoga pole, so to speak.
“Hatha is a ladder for ascending to Raja, and Raja
is the goal of Hatha.”
- Hatha Yoga Pradipika
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Hatha Yoga–using the body to transcend
the body
Someone once pointed out to me that a baby doesn’t
crawl because it can’t walk. It crawls so that it eventu-
ally can! In a way, that’s what the first four limbs of yoga
do–they prepare us to be able to successfully walk the
higher stages, the next four limbs, which is where yoga
really gets going. Yes, the modern yoga class may be
closer to yoga preschool than most of us want to admit,
but it’s still a necessary step in the yoga process none
the less.
Your yoga teacher might not put it quite that way.
Most tend to keep pretty quiet about the higher stag-
es of yoga, and probably for good reason. Firstly, very
few students are ready to go there. Secondly, the fact
is that a lot of yoga teachers haven’t really gone too far
in that direction yet themselves. In all fairness, those
four higher stages of yoga aren’t child’s play. It takes a
tremendous amount of dedications and a lot of guid-
ance to navigate them successfully. Te reality is that to
become a ‘certified yoga teacher’ today doesn’t require
anywhere near mastery of them.
If we want to use yoga for more than just shedding
a few pounds or killing a bit of stress, then we need
to set our sites on this higher realm. Te step-by-step
process of sage Patanjali’s Ashtanga yoga system is de-
signed to take us there.
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The Key to Hatha Yoga
One of the biggest yoga delusions people have is think-
ing that, because they can contort their body into all
sorts of extreme positions, they are ‘advanced’ in yoga.
How far you can stretch has NOTHING to do with your
level of yogic ability. Some so-called ‘yogis’ around to-
day, in fact, are big time jerks! Tey have developed the
ability to do amazing things with their bodies, but they
haven’t taken even the most basic steps up the ladder
of evolution yet.
Tere… I said it! Let’s move on. I’m not here to dwell
on or speculate about who is and who is not a yogi.
Different yoga teachers will have different ideas
about what we’re trying to accomplish with our yoga
poses and exercises. Some of these ideas are very true.
Some, however, are a little too ‘new age’ for my liking
and their connection to the principles of yoga do seem
rather tenuous.
One of the primary purposes of the practices of Ha-
tha Yoga is cultivating greater awareness.
Awareness: without it, yoga is just
another stretch
As I pointed out a bit earlier, the science of yoga is a
means for conscious evolution–for speeding up the
natural process of the jiva, the individual soul, cycling
through its innumerable incarnations on its journey
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back to the Divine state of oneness with the Supreme
Universal (or God, or whatever you need to call it).
You can’t perform any task successfully if you’re not
aware of what you’re doing, so the key to being able to
mount a conscious effort toward evolution is aware-
ness. One of the main purposes of the yoga exercises
is the cultivation of more and more subtle levels of
awareness. Yoga teaches us four stages, or four levels
of awareness.
1. Awareness of Body
To be healthy we have to be aware of what leads to
health and what destroys it. Tat’s sounds obvious, I
know, but it’s shocking how little some people actually
seem to know about how the body works and how to
take care of it–or if they do know, then they sure seem
to do a good job not acting very intelligently on that
knowledge!
You may have heard a couple years ago about a man
who, afer having eaten endless meals over his lifetime
at McDonald’s fast food restaurant, sued the company
claiming that he didn’t know that eating Big Macs and
French Fries would make him fat. We’ve also seen class
action law-suits against cigarette companies because
people couldn’t surmise that inhaling smoke from 2
packs of cigarettes a day for 10 years was not going to be
good for them. So many people today continue to gorge
themselves on junk foods, drink alcohol, and ingest all
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manner of stimulants, chemical drugs and medications
on a regular basis, seemingly without a clue or care in
the least for the effects on their health.
Knowledge of right diet, right habits, right exercise,
right rest, right environment, and all of the right ac-
tions for the support of physical health–what’s harmful
as well as what’s good for us–is part of this first stage of
awareness.
Awareness of the body also involves awareness of
what the body is doing. I saw a man walk right through
a section of fresh cement on the sidewalk the other day
and just keep on walking, without a clue what he had
done! What is your posture like? Do you slump in front
of the computer for hours? Or do you slouch in a chair
while you read the newspaper? Or stand off-kilter with
your hips to one side and your shoulders hunched?
Most of us are surprised to discover all the sore
points on our body when someone starts to massage
them–tension and stiffness otherwise unnoticed dur-
ing daily activities.
Without this conscious awareness of our moment
to moment movements and the effects of our actions
and habit on the physical state of our body, how can
we hope to gain awareness of what we are doing on
deeper, more subtle levels of our being? Yoga brings us
many tools for creating a much greater awareness on
that grossest level, which helps us to be able to culti-
vate the next level of Awareness.
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2. Awareness of Emotions
Proper diet and physical exercise alone cannot bring
health to someone whose mind and emotions are out of
control. I’ve seen people struggle to overcome ill health
while ‘doing all the right things’–meaning that they reli-
giously do the exercises that their therapist gave them,
eat the proper foods and receive all the recommended
healthcare treatments, yet they don’t seem to get much
better. Tis suggests that there must be other, maybe
even more important factors for health. Tere is, and it
lies in our ability to control our emotions.
We all know that extreme emotions like anger, anxi-
ety and high stress wreak havoc on our body, caus-
ing muscle tension, headaches, ulcers and when pro-
longed, ultimately a lot worse things than those. Even
modern medicine is starting to embrace the reality
that physical symptoms cannot be treated by physical
means alone; that the mind-body-emotional complex
is inseparable when it comes to health. Tis is what the
term ‘psychosomatic’ means: emotions (psycho) affect-
ing the body (soma). In yoga, we call this adhi-vyadhi.
Tis second stage of awareness involves developing
a greater understanding of how our emotions affect us
on all level. It also involves cultivating an awareness of
our emotions as soon as they arise, so that we can act
on them in a more evolved way. Yoga helps us to create
greater consciousness on this front, and also to develop
a more consistently positive emotional frame of mind,
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which in turn will bring greater health and harmony to
our lives.
“Inner life revelations and spiritual insights are
found only when the emotions are controlled and
the mind is still and undisturbed.”
~ Swami Gitananda
3. Awareness of Mind
Our emotions affect our body, and our body affects our
emotions. Te mind can control both of them. Learning
how the mind works is the first step towards cultivating
its immense power. Tis is the third state of awareness
in yoga.
Te mind possesses two fundamental parts: the con-
scious (manas) and the sub (un)conscious (chitta). Te
subconscious aspect of the mind lacks awareness. It
merely ‘reacts’ at the behest of the emotions. Te con-
scious mind, though, has the ability to recognize what
is really going on at the subconscious level. It can dis-
cover why certain stimuli cause us to act or think or
react in certain ways–a process of inner inquiry known
as svadhyaya in yoga. Tis level of awareness is crucial
for personal transformation–for conscious evolution,
as we’ve already called it.
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4. Awareness of ‘Awareness’
Tis highest state of awareness is called samadhi in
yoga. It is, in a sense, awareness of awareness itself–
the direct experience of the truth of one’s own essence.
Most of us have a long way to go before achieving this
level of awareness!
Smt. Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani, my teacher also
added one further stage to this four-fold yoga aware-
ness. She aptly pointed out that the vast majority of
people aren’t even remotely aware of just how unaware
they really are–which is really what keeps them from
being motivated to do anything about it. So awareness
of how unaware we really are is probably the most im-
portant thing to start with, isn’t it?
Tis is where the practices of yoga serve one of their
greatest the functions. Seemingly simple breathing ex-
ercises can be a powerful training ground for aware-
ness. Asanas, kriyas and many other Hatha Yoga prac-
tices, when properly performed, also serve that same
ambition.
Mystical Magical Energy!
Much of modern technology is built upon the principle
of polarity–the idea that the two poles at opposite ends
of a body each have an opposite or contrasting nature,
either positive or negative. Te action of a magnet or in-
visibly in the principles of electromagnetic light-waves,
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electricity, or the change in potential of a cell due to the
accumulation of liberated gases all demonstrate how
the negative force is able to flow towards and ‘unite’
with its positive counterpart, leading to a ‘union’ of the
two. Tis Universal Energy Principle has been known
in Eastern traditions since ancient times. Te Taoists
referred to it as yin-yang. It is the shiva-shakti, or male-
female principle of the earlier teachings of yoga.
Te practices of Hatha Yoga, as another one of their
primary functions, harmonize these positive (ha) and
negative (tha) forces, the ‘union’ of which is the genera-
tive force behind health, as well as the ultimate state of
‘union’ or ‘yoga.’
The Yoga of Re-Polarization
Polarity, or balance, is the key to health and happiness.
Tis is true on all levels–the physical as well as the
mental and emotional. We become ‘depolarized’ so to
speak, as a result of things like negative thoughts, dis-
turbed emotions, improper breathing and stress.
Illness (physical, mental, emotional) always results
from a polar imbalance. Health, on the other hand,
comes from balance. In order to return the body to the
state of health and harmony, polarity must be re-estab-
lished, and the practices of Hatha Yoga, when properly
performed, aid greatly in achieving that.
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Are You Getting it Right?
Being successful in yoga requires more than just good
intentions. Tere is no shortage of enthusiastic yoga
practitioners and teachers out there today. What is
lacking, however, is a real deep understanding of the
principles and practices of yoga. Even some of the very
basics, like proper awareness and energy balancing
are being royally botched in some modern yoga styles
and practices, sometimes achieving even the exact op-
posite effects.
A combination of a couple things has contributed to
this. First, the rapid spread of yoga around the world in
the last century, which has created an entire new indus-
try around yoga. Rapid desires for innovation and ac-
celerated training for teachers has caused a great deal
of the yoga fundamentals to get lost, watered down,
or missed altogether–to be replaced by a system that
sometimes more closely resembles the Western physi-
cal therapy model than the Eastern yogic one.
Secondly, the modern approach to yoga instruc-
tion–the yoga class–has made properly learning yoga
very difficult. Yoga teachers are tasked with conveying
a vast and holistic science that requires a systematic
approach and a great deal of dedication to properly
learn. Yet their students come and go as they please–
some once a week; some twice a week; some twice a
month–and the knowledge and experience of yoga var-
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ies widely between each of them too. What is a poor
yoga teacher to do, really?
One thing that has been apparent to me for quite
some time now, and continues to become more and
more obvious, is that most people who do yoga today
really know very little about the yoga exercises they are
doing–which means they are missing almost all the po-
tential benefits. Tere is a better way.
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Chapter 3
A Brighter Yoga Future
The Body is the Beginning
I know that I’ve probably already ‘over-stressed’ the
point that yoga is a lot more than just a good stretch.
All yoga teachers know this too.
So why, 98% of the time, does yoga seem to be taught
like an exercise class where students are simply lead
through a series of physical postures (and sometimes
breathing practices)? Te short answer is that we have
to start on the level of consciousness which is easiest for
most people to relate to. Since most people nowadays
are so thoroughly enthralled with the physical world,
including their physical bodies, that is the best place
for yoga teachers to begin to help students to cultivate
greater awareness and improve health.
“Your physical body must be in balance with
nature, your mind must be in harmony with the
group-mind of the society that you live in, and your
soul must be in a satisfying relationship with the
Universal Soul if you are to be truly healthy.
It is easiest to harmonise the body-mind-spirit
complex by starting with the body, which is
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relatively stable. Balance of the mind and spirit,
which are ethereal and therefore inherently difficult
to stabilise, comes more easily once the body has
been made firm and healthy.”
~ Dr. R. Svoboda, Prakruti
The Body is Not the End
If there is one overriding misleading idea circulating
in the modern yoga world, it’s the idea about what ‘ad-
vanced yoga practice’ is. Tis, I fault the modern yoga
teacher for. I’m sorry if I offend anyone here, but we’ve
carved yoga classes up into levels now, based solely
upon the physical difficulty of the exercises taught (i.e.,
beginner, advanced, etc.). I understand what teachers
are afer. For one, they’re trying to take some of the in-
timidation out of yoga for newcomers. But being ad-
vanced in yoga has nothing (yes NOTHING) to do with
how skilled you’ve become at the performance of some
physical exercises.
What makes someone advanced in yoga? Is it how
flexible their body is? Is it how graceful they move
through a sequence of asanas and how perfectly aligned
and firmly stable they can hold difficult body positions?
Well, if that’s true then there are hundreds of world-
class gymnasts, ballet dancers, and circus perform-
ers who must be borderline yoga masters too, even if
they’ve never heard the word yogasana before.
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No, perfection in the physical aspects of yoga alone
doesn’t mean much at all. I continually meet folks who
can do amazing things with their bodies, yet can’t seem
to control the simplest of cravings and desires. I watch
people demonstrating their physical expertise and
then in the next frame see them mucking up their per-
sonal relationships like hormone raging adolescents.
I’ve seen contestants in a ‘yoga competition’ argue with
each other and nearly come to blows!
I’m sorry to say it, but I rarely meet anyone who is
not a yoga beginner, and that goes for most teachers
and high-flying yoga personalities on the yoga scene
today too. To remedy this unfortunate state of yogic af-
fairs and to start seeing some more enlightened figures
evolving from the modern yoga scene, yoga instruction
itself needs to evolve first. To start with, it needs to in-
volve more than just instruction in the physical yoga
practices.
Breaking Some New Old Yoga Ground
In ancient times, learning yoga was not easy. First of all,
finding someone to teach you usually meant travelling
long distances, ofen to remote forest or mountain ar-
eas. Once the master was found, convincing him to take
you on as a student was the next big hurdle.
Today, yoga has simply taken its position in the mar-
ketplace. Anyone who wants it just has to show up and
pay the fee. But the ancient yoga masters were not so
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promiscuous with their teachings. Tey knew the im-
mense power that yoga possessed, and they also knew
that it took an uncommon commitment to properly
understand it. Above all else, they knew that, as Albert
Einstein famously remarked, “a little knowledge can
be a dangerous thing.” Tis truism is no more appar-
ent anywhere than it perhaps is in yoga today, where a
lot of people with a little knowledge are twisting and
adapting and fusing yoga into a whole host of things
that now have very little to do with its origins. Tese
modern practices may have some utilitarian value–like
stress reduction, a bit of weight loss and fitness, etc.–
but their power to achieve the immensities that the an-
cient science of yoga can is all but lost.
Returning to a system of study that asks us to give
up years of our lives in yogic immersion in some far off
yogic monastery (called a yoga ashram), we all know, is
not very practical for most of us.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t do a better job as
modern yoga teachers than the familiar drop-in yoga
class structure that dominates the yoga landscape to-
day. In fact, we definitely can.
Carving a Better Yoga Path
For all the claims that yoga, among other things, awak-
ens our deepest creative self, I am really surprised at
how uncreative most yoga teachers are when it comes to
teaching yoga. Tey either, 1. Open a yoga studio, make
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a schedule of classes and hire teachers for a handful of
the most popular modern yoga styles, or 2. Make a vid-
eo of their self leading a yoga exercise class and try to
sell it. Tat’s the two overwhelmingly frequent ways it is
done today, and neither of them could be farther away
from the traditional way of teaching yoga. In truth, you
would probably be hard-pressed to find less effective
ways of teaching yoga too!
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to suggest that
there is no value in those things. Tere is. Tey are just
not a good way to teach yoga. You just have to ask any-
body that attends yoga classes as their sole means of
learning yoga what they know about yoga, and most of
the time you’ll find out very little from them. In fact, the
majority of folks, even those who have gone regularly to
classes for more than a year, still aren’t able to practice
yoga at home, on their own, which is really how yoga is
meant to be practiced.
As yoga teachers, we can do a better job by break-
ing out of this ‘yoga class mentality’ and giving our stu-
dents more than just a good physical and mental work-
out at the end of their stressful day.
Why You Need to Practice Yoga at Home
Yoga is a personal pursuit. We can learn some of it along
side of others, of course, but ultimately practicing yoga
should be a solitary, internal process–one that we do in
the privacy of our own sacred space.
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Tis idea frightens a lot of modern yoga teachers–
the idea of helping their students to develop the ability
to practice yoga on their own. But a doctor does not
avoid curing patients so that his appointment book re-
mains full, and a yoga teacher need not avoid teach-
ing students to practice yoga on their own to keep their
classes full. Tat’s not why we teach yoga. In fact, my ex-
perience is that the opposite is actually true. Te more
I am able to really help students learn yoga, the more
enduring our teacher-student relationship is likely to
be–and the less likely I am to have students constantly
coming and going, unable to really touch their lives too
deeply with this profound science of yoga.
Taking Yoga to the Next Level
On one hand yoga classes help a whole lot of people in
one way or another. On the other hand, they are gener-
ally falling well short of touching people very deeply.
Almost every yoga teacher I know agrees with that, and
many of them are striving to find a better approach.
Tese days we see more and more yoga workshops be-
ing offered, where students are required to commit to a
series of classes, which allows the teacher to offer more
comprehensive, step by step yoga instruction. Tis is a
great start. I have ofen found that the only reason most
students seem uninterested in going deeper into yoga
is that they don’t really have any idea what ‘deeper into
yoga’ actually means. Tey probably think that it just
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means doing harder stretches–which isn’t the case. So
workshops or short courses are a great way for teach-
ers to help give their students a broader experience of
yoga–and when they do, a lot of those students become
more interested in further learning.
Another popular trend is the yoga retreat. Similar
to the workshops and short courses, yoga retreats give
yoga teachers an opportunity to give students a greater
exposure to yoga–and it is ofen done in some rather
‘exotic’ location too. Tat not only adds to the appeal,
but it also adds to the experience. When we are able to
step away from our busy lifestyles–get out of the house
and away from our jobs and other daily obligations–
then it definitely enhances our learning experience.
Te main drawback of yoga retreats though, are cost
and time–two things that the average person usually
can’t afford very much of.
Yogashram–the ultimate yoga experience
In my opinion, it’s hard to really appreciate the full cul-
tural and spiritual extent of yoga unless you’ve been
to India. Some yoga teachers balk when I say that, but
they are always the one’s who have never been there.
Most of those that have will agree.
But going to India is not like booking a two-week
cruise. It’s not only a holiday, but an adventure that
you’ve definitely got to be ready for. Everyone I’ve ever
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known who has made the trip to India agrees that the
experience is one heck of a ride!
Tere is definitely no shortage of places to learn yoga
in India, but buyers beware. Te majority of these so-
called yoga schools are geared toward Western ‘yoga
tourists’ and those who run them not necessarily well-
schooled in yoga themselves. Tey rely mostly upon
their exotic appeal of being ‘Indian’ which, for many
Westerners who do not know any better, is enough.
Tere are still, however, a few traditional yoga ash-
rams in India–places where you can go and spend sev-
eral months (or more) and immerse yourself into the
teachings of yoga under the guidance of a real yoga
master. A few, I say–but not many.
Needless to say, deciding to take this plunge requires
a big commitment–one that only a few folks will ever ul-
timately be willing to make. When/if you are ready and
willing to really delve into the depth of yoga, though,
the yogashram experience is one not to be missed.
Studying the Yoga Home Study Concept
I’d been studying and practicing yoga for some time
before I came across Swami Gitananda’s yoga cor-
respondence course, Yoga Step by Step. Up until that
point I had been a firm believer that yoga could only be
learned face to face, in a yoga class.
But Swamiji’s course intrigued me for some reason,
so I decided to give it a shot–and as it turned out, that
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course changed my life! I had read a whole lot of books
on yoga before that, and through them I gained a bit
of insight into different aspects of yoga. But I wouldn’t
say that I was really learning yoga through them. But in
that one quick little decision I made to take his course,
I finally learned just how much I was missing!
Swamiji’s yoga correspondence course was the point
where I felt I went from doing yoga exercises, to ‘really
practicing yoga,’ and my own yogic journey has been a
truly marvellous one ever since!
I credit Swami Gitananda Giri 100% for that. Anybody
can create a correspondence or home study course, but
Swamiji literally showed me ‘how it was done!’ Now, as
a yoga teacher, I feel like I have a much wider perspec-
tive on how yoga can be effectively taught. I still teach
yoga classes from time to time, but I also know how
limiting they can be for providing real comprehensive
yoga education.
I also know, from my own personal experience, how
strange the idea of learning yoga via correspondence or
home study can seem when your yoga world may nev-
er have been stretched too far outside of the yoga stu-
dio. So you’d think I’d get tired of answering the same
question over and over again. “Can I really learn yoga
through a home study course?” But I don’t get tired be-
cause I’ve had a lot of success with my students already
and, as a result, I know that it can work very well. It’s
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just like any other approach to teaching yoga–to be ef-
fective, it has to be done properly.
Don’t Give Up on Yoga Classes
One of the biggest (and unwarranted) fears that a lot
of yoga teachers have is that if they teach students to
practice yoga at home, their classes will start to empty.
Well, that’s absolutely, positively NOT true. In fact, as
I mentioned earlier, the opposite is true. When yoga
students start to gain a deeper understanding of and
appreciation for yoga, then they are even more enthu-
siastic about making it a regular part of their lives–and
as yoga teachers, we will always have lots more to teach
them.
I get frequent emails from students of my yoga home
study and correspondence courses thanking me for
making their local yoga classes more fulfilling–saying
that they now have a much better understanding of
what they are doing with yoga, both in and out of the
yoga studio, and that they are getting so much more out
of their yoga classes now too!
A Bright Yoga Future
It’s easy to feel pessimistic about the future of yoga, what
with all the really ridiculous things that some people
seem to be attaching the word yoga too today. But fads
will always come and go. Te science of yoga has perse-
vered for millennia though, and there’s a good reason
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for that–its teachings and practices are timeless! One
of the benefits, perhaps, of all the hype and mass mar-
ket enthusiasm that has swept yoga into a whole new
level of global consciousness, is that people now know
about it. Most who engage in some yoga-related activ-
ity or another may not necessarily be too interested
in delving too deeply into yoga, but for those who are,
more and more opportunities are emerging.
Finding a real yoga master and taking the plunge
into total immersion in a genuine yoga ashram is and
has always been the ideal way to learn yoga. Courses,
workshops and retreats, though still well short of this
ideal, are nonetheless a step in the right yoga direction.
Yoga home study, when structured properly, can also
do a lot for furthering the understanding and practice
of yoga today. Te challenge for today’s yoga teachers
is to resist giving it to the demands of the market place
with classes that center too much on a quick-fix, utili-
tarian yoga, and continue to seek better ways to direct
people towards a more far-sighted approach to yoga.
If we do that, then the future of yoga looks a whole
lot brighter indeed.
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“Yoga is the cessation of
the whirlpools of the mind.”
~ Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured
and to endure what cannot be cured.”
~ B.K.S. Iyengar
“Yoga is the science and art of accelerating our
progress towards liberation.”
~ Yoga Kosa (Kaivalyadhama Institute)
“Be even tempered in both success and failure. Tis
mental evenness is what is meant by Yoga.
Indeed, equanimity is Yoga!”
~ Bhagavad-Gita (Ch. 2, V. 48)
“(He) who looks upon opposites as equals, who has
risen above duality, and thus freed himself from
both vice and virtue, is a Yogi. Verily, work done to
perfection is Yoga. Yoga is skill in action.”
~ Bhagavad-Gita (Ch. 2, V. 50)
“Yoga makes us truly Humane Beings.”
~ Swami Gitananda Giri Gurumaharaj
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Appendices
Further writings on yoga by Yogacharya Michael:
Reinvent Yourself Through Yoga
What does it take to reinvent yourself? Perhaps a
better question to start with is, “Why would you even
want to?” Sure, maybe you wouldn’t mind shedding
a few pounds. Perhaps a bit less stress would be
nice too … and no doubt you’d be happy to have
a little more free time in your life. But these things
surely don’t require a complete personal overhaul,
do they?
Nobody is perfect. The main point of our lives
here on this earth is not even to attain perfection. It
is to learn through our experiences and to use that
wisdom to grow, to evolve, and to make changes for
the better.
Now that is something that we can all definitely
do, can’t we? So why do we often have such a hard
time doing it?
Because we get stuck in a rut - stuck in a rou-
tine way of thinking and acting.
For instance, you’ve probably driven the exact
same route to work everyday for the past five years
and never given it a second thought.
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What happens, though, when there is road con-
struction one day and you’re forced off of your usu-
al course? Frustration? Anxiety? Do you get down-
right upset?
Maybe it made you late for work, but that’s not
the point here. The point is that there are probably
several different ways for you to arrive at your des-
tination on time, but you’ve gotten stuck on one
specific route, and you just don’t like to veer from it.
In effect, that’s exactly how we live most of our
lives. We’ve gotten used to typical ways of doing
things and usual ways of viewing things, and that
keeps us from seeing all the infinite possibilities we
have all around us in each and every moment.
How to ‘Break the Habit’? Reinvent yourself,
that’s how!
But wait, getting back to the fact that you may
only be looking to shed a few pounds or get rid of
some stress, isn’t all this reinventing yourself talk a
bit of overkill?
No, in fact it’s not, as the following story might
help to illustrate:

When I was younger I came across a quote that
stirred something within me. The saying was:
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get
what you’ve always gotten.”
I wrote it out in big letters on a piece of pa-
per and taped it to the back of my bedroom door.
Everyday, when I got up and headed out into the
world, it was the first thing I saw. At the end of each
day, it reminded me once again. Over time I began
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to feel the truth of this simple little statement–the
truth that I really am the architect of everything I
have and of everything that happens to me.
I began to travel the world. Over a seven- year
period I passed through over 50 countries, all the
while playing with this whole reinvent myself idea.
At some point during my travels, it dawned on
me that I didn’t have to be ‘ME’ anymore. I didn’t
have to keep my same old attitudes toward things
that happened around me. Things did not always
have to be exactly the way I wanted them to be. I
decided it was time to leave the old baggage at the
next airport.
Being a thousand miles from home, in a place
where I was virtually anonymous, reinventing my-
self seemed strangely easy. One day I could be the
most patient person on the planet - and see what
happens. The next I could be the friendliest person
in town - and see what happens. The day after that,
I could simply go with the flow, no matter what -
and just see what happens!
And what happened astounded me! Opportuni-
ties to see and do things that I would never even
have imagined before sprung up constantly. I saw
that, although things did not always turn out like I
thought I wanted them to, they often turned out in
a way that brought something new, unforeseen, and
exciting into my life.
I realized that when I stopped doing what I al-
ways did, I got different results! The yogis knew this
principle well. They called it karma, the simple law
of cause and effect. It was my first real profound
yogic lesson in life!
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Reinvent Yourself, Through Yoga.
The complete 8-limbed system of classical ashtanga
yoga is one of the most profound tools to help us
reinvent ourselves. It teaches us, step by step, how
to make that changes we need to make in order to
live the live we’ve always been meant to live.
The Yoga Ashram
The ultimate place to reinvent yourself is the yoga
ashram. Exploring yourself under the watchful eye
of a guru is a transformative event that cannot be
experienced any other way
Taking some yoga classes to lose a few pounds
or to calm your nerves is a great idea. But remem-
ber that the reasons why you have these issues to
deal with in the first place won’t magically vanish
just through the practice of a few yoga asanas or
yoga breathing techniques.
In yoga, we have a potent tool to reinvent our-
selves. It’s called svadhyaya, or self-study, and it’s
through this essential practice that we conquer our
problems once and for all. As my dear teacher Meen-
askshi Devi Bhavanani once reminded me, “Without
svadhyaya, there is NO YOGA!”
This process of inner inquiry reveals to us that
everything in our lives, from the state of our rela-
tionships, to our physical health, and everything in
between, exists because of what we think and how
we act and react. It makes us understand that if we
want to change our lives, then WE, ourselves, MUST
CHANGE!
So the next time you’re forced to follow a detour
on the way to work, try thinking “This is my lucky
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day! I’m being forcing to break out of my routine
and to see another way!
Sure, you might be late for work, but with a
healthy yogic attitude, you’ll be a better person for
it!
(published in The Yoga News, Sept. 2009)
How to Live and Extraordinary Life
There’s an old Quaker saying, “Sometimes me thinks
that the whole world is mad except Thou and I, and
sometimes I’m not so sure about Thee!”
Isn’t it ironic that the one thing most all of us
have in common is the feeling that we are different
from the crowd? Of course, when we look around
us sometimes and see so much stress and unease
in our friends’ lives, who wouldn’t want to be ‘dif-
ferent’?
But believing that we’re different and actually
living in a way that is not in lock-step with the mass-
es isn’t the same thing, as this little fable related by
Robert Servine in the August 2006 issue of Yoga
Life magazine so wonderful illustrates:
“Once upon a time Khidr, the teacher of Moses,
called upon mankind with a warning. At a certain
date, he said, all of the water in the world which
has not been specially hoarded would disappear. It
would then be renewed with different water, which
would drive men mad.
Only one man listened to this advice. He col-
lected water and stored it in a secret place. On the
appointed date, the streams stopped running and
the wells went dry. The man who had listened went
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to his retreat and happily drank of the water that
he had stored.
When he saw from his security that the waterfalls
had again begun to flow, he descended back down
to join the other sons of Man. However, he found
that they were thinking and talking in an entirely
different way from before; yet they had no memory
of what had happened, or of having been warned.
When he tried to talk to them, he realized that they
thought he was mad, and they showed hostility, not
compassion toward him.
At first he drank none of the new water, but
went back to the safety of his hideaway and secret
supply. Finally, however, he made the decision to
drink the new water because he could not bear the
loneliness of living, behaving and thinking in a way
that was different from everyone else.
He drank the new water and became like every-
one else. His fellows then began to look upon him
as a madman who had miraculously been restored
to sanity.”
Being different isn’t always easy, but it has re-
wards which cannot be found in the common ap-
proach to living. If we want uncommon results in
our life, then we must live an uncommon life!
(International Yogalayam Blog Post, Jan. 2010)
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