Finding my path

I was recently asked to give advice to someone on the type of yoga teacher training to do.  I wrote this while I was studying for my Yoga Alliance course in 2008,  before I embarked on my Iyengar Teachers training.  I hope you will find it interesting and useful.  I have since qualified as an Iyengar teacher and I am incredibly proud to be qualified and to teach in this method.  I am grateful to my teachers and their teachers for guiding me in my practice.  I have found an incredible sense of love and compassion in the Iyengar community which has brought me to a sense of stillness and peace to my being.

I came to this teacher’s course, wanting to do an international yoga certificate so that I could teach overseas. What I have experienced is so much more. All the basic concepts of what I feel and believe about yoga are being put to the test.  With my Iyengar background, my knowledge of yoga has centered on awareness of the body down to the skin, muscles and bones and cells. If I move the skin in this way, the muscles and then the bones will move in that way. The Ashtanga based course has given me insight into the meditativeness of yoga. But where does the spiritual side and philosophy fit into all of this I asked myself?

A metaphor that unfolded at the yoga teachers training weekend, was an incident that happened to me early one morning. I was walking along the gravel road to the retreat center for the morning yoga class. It was still dark, but my eyes had become accustomed to the dim light. A car full of well meaning yogis’ approached me and stopped to ask me if I would like a lift in the other direction. I said no thank you that I was not going that way. The light of the car had blinded me and disorientated me. I soon discovered that I was no longer on the road. I became aware of walking into bushes as well as the road had becoming very uneven. I was able to find my way back to the road and then to the retreat center, but I was left with a sense of what I had been grappling with. Is Ashtanga yoga my path or is Iyengar yoga my path and why was I feeling so confused by the polarities between these very different practices of yoga.

Has Ashtanga “blinded me” and led me away from my Iyengar path? How did the philosophy that I was now being exposed to, fit in with the yoga that I was experiencing? Many questions left me feeling quite confused.  In essence I was able to use the above metaphor to find the truth in my life. I  have been going along the path of Iyengar yoga for the past 6 years. I have found the yoga as well as the yoga teachers very challenging. My teacher in Johannesburg often challenged my ego fiercely when I tried to do something that was beyond me at that point of time. Now I come to the Yoga Alliance teacher’s course. What I what I find are new yogi’s going in a particular direction. They are friendly and helpful, but the light of their car blinds me when I try to find my way to where I need to be. It takes me off my path for a while. But it is ok, I am able to find my way back to the road and eventually back to where I need to be.

Having read “First there is a Mountain” by Elizabeth Kadetsky I became aware of that the question of which path is the right path is possibly never answered. Her romance with yoga started early in her life and lead her to meet with BKS Iyengar and was able to ask Guruji many questions.  She was also exposed to a month of Ashtanga yoga with Karen Haberman towards the end of her stay in India. Karen had left Mysore after many years with Pathabi Jois because “she did not trust him any longer”. Both Kadetsky and Haberman had come to understand that their Guru’s where not infallible. Even if Haberman no longer followed the messenger, she still revered the practice. Kadetsky found that the Ashtanga yoga took her further into the Asanas than she had been able to reach after many years of Iyengar yoga. But is this the goal? To be able to experience the perfect asana? Surely the goal is far more that this?

Iyengar says in his biography Light on Yoga that spiritual realisation is the aim that exists in each one of us to seek and experience our divine core. He says that the yogic journey guides us from our periphery, the body, by moving through the 5 sheaths or kosha’s to the center of our being, the soul. Iyengar suggests by focusing to the deepest level of the body whilst doing an asana, awareness not only envelops but also penetrates.

But perhaps the most important practice is not the one that you do in a class but he practice that is done on your own. Iyengar says in light on yoga says that when you practice at home on your own, it is your own intelligence that is the master and the progress that you make is yours and will be maintained. “It is not derived from the power, the charisma, the strength or the fieriness of the teacher. It comes from you and its effects are profound. This is not yoga by the body, for the body but yoga by the body for the mind.

This is the saddhana or path of yoga. This is the path that I choose. Even though I am exposed to the different forms of yoga, it is the sense of calm that I find when I go back to my mat to discover for myself the focusing of the mind which may allow me to experience a deep meditative state. This is what yoga does for me. It brings me and my very rajasic mind into the present awareness. It helps me to find peace.  Sometimes, when I sit very quietly at the end of a yoga practice, I have a sense of love that pervades my whole being. It is in this state that I feel that I love all.

The course has brought to me some knowledge of the concepts of the Vedanta and Bagavad Gita, which has allowed me to put my feelings into words. Having never read or been exposed to the Veda’s, Upanishads or Bagavad Gita, I am amazed by the depth of what I still need to learn. I am a raw student. That is the way I will stay. That is the way I will continue to learn. This course reminds me of what is still to be investigated.

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