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Will the West be the ruination of Yoga?

February 9, 2013

How is it that I keep reading about yoga injuries, or how yoga can be “bad” for you? I also keep hearing of Yoga teacher training courses that a) require no real proof of your history of practice, and/or b) are over within (for example) 100 hours. How can either direction be the start of proper yoga teacher training? It is simply not possible. Yes, much of this bad news is emanating from America, but it is spreading. Yoga is not a skill, like aerobics or spinning classes, that can be learned – and I’m tempted to say – by anyone. One evolves to become a Yoga Teacher. One becomes a Yoga teacher because the love and passion in ones heart for yoga wants to touch others – to move them, and even heal them on many levels. One certainly doesn’t take on becoming a teacher because it’s “cool”.

The Science of Yoga has been defined, by Gavin Flood, Academic Director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, as being capable of “leading to spiritual experience and profound understanding or insight into the nature of existence”. B.K.S.Iyengar states “it is the true union of our will with the will of God”. Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita explained it as “the deliverance from contact with pain and sorrow”. Is this what these new teachers are capable of after their short courses? Have they moved even a tiny bit in those directions?

The purpose of the science is to “enable one to reach ones enlightenment”, ones freedom, ones experience of bliss and heaven-on-earth via the Eight Limbs (stages) of Yoga. The science takes time. Via the Yamas and Niyamas (the first 2 stages) the purification begins. Via the posture work (asanas; the 3rd stage) the mind quietens, and the body later finds ability to sit in Lotus for meditation. The meditational and purifying pranayama (4th) and one-focused practices (pratyahara; 5th) hone the mind, and pave the way to losing the ego as the yogi /yogini moves through Dharana, Dhyana and finally into Samadhi. As you may have read in my piece on the Levels of Consciousness, Samadhi is that point at the top of the pyramid – it is ones Self-Actualisation, ones Awakening and Enlightenment.

In an ideal world every Yoga governing body would have a few enlightened beings on its teaching board, so as to inspire, and generate the energy and level of consciousness that our greatest teachers possessed. But there are simply too few on the planet who reach that pinnacle of Samadhi (via any path or discipline). Without them being there perhaps we should resign ourselves to not being able to offer the fullest instruction of all yoga teachers. After all, it’s akin to wanting enough “Stephen Hawkings” or “DaVincis” to spread around our universities.

And THAT is the “rub” – as they say! WHAT Enlightened being would want to head up the yoga bodies with all the red tape that now binds yoga in these days of the suing/lawsuit culture? Especially when ALL of that is the antithesis of what Yoga is.

I’d like to see the yoga governing bodies making a stand to have it written into their acceptance of a student that NO legal action may ever be taken against a properly qualified teacher. A) because the student should be “purified” past wanting to take such an action before commencing training, and b) because a properly qualified teacher would be exactly that, and c) that teacher would be honoured and instruction adhered to. It is otherwise as crazy a scenario as The Pope saying “I completely trust in God, but I will insure everything I have to the hilt” ! The heritage of yoga is all about trust, ethics, devotion, discipline and honour. We should not have to countenance less.

Yes, there HAVE to be standards. There HAS to be safety, and there HAS to be a means for teachers to pass through schools enabled to provide the basics of Yoga. But could there be two distinct tiers to qualification? With the difference between the tiers fully understood and advertised?

The first qualification could be for those teachers who only wish to teach yoga simply as an exercise form, specifically for those who only want an exercise-style class. The teacher training could be available to those who have been in the regular classes of a qualified teacher for at least two years. They would then commence “Silver Star” instruction. Two years of 200hrs each would be sufficient to master the safe instruction of postures (and I am needing to generalise here since there are now so many different styles of yoga) to a beginner-intermediate level. Essential also would be: physiology, anatomy, and a potted history of, philosophy of, and study of the meaning of the other limbs.

They would not (could not) be qualified to teach “Yoga” in the fuller spiritual sense of the word. So where would that “golden star” qualification come from? When I undertook my yoga teacher training I didn’t feel there was “gold star” quality throughout every area. My ethics were so high that upon leaving I could not bring myself to ask for the qualification. I had very high hopes of offering it within my “school” – to no avail. But maybe it will be via a grassroots endeavour, such as The Independent Yoga Network, that we find a means to locate the truest teachers. Surely we don’t have to travel to India to be acknowledged by the descendants of our greatest original gurus: Iyengar, Desikachar and Pattabhi Jois?

What saddens me most is that yoga ever be misunderstood or undervalued. It deserves to be sanctified. It deserves (as Yehudi Menuhin requested) “to be practised at the highest level”. It does not deserve to be watered down by any of us.

  1. Hi there, I discovered your blog by the use of Google at the same time as searching for a related topic, your web site came up, it seems great. I’ve bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

  2. Great post Roxanne. I think injuries come from not breathing correctly, not being in the moment (same thing really) and trying to push more than your level and trying to compete – even with oneself.
    My first teacher had no qualifications but was as pure as they come – if not purer – as her intention/motivation seemed to be to pass on the teachings of yoga and not to get REPS to make a living etc. Qualifications are important or at least required if you are to teach in a school or corporate setting and to quash worries from new yogi’s. The modern way is to be qualified for everything. But in truth the only qualification necessary is being able to practice, not just the asanas but all eight limbs. I myself wouldn’t go and practice under the tutorage of a party animal or an angry or ignorant person as that is simply, by definition, not a yogi – maybe a zumba teacher or even pilates but not yoga! 🙂
    However if enough people practice the asanas, enough will come to want to go deeper. It’s not as if it has to be done in this one lifetime. We do have eternity and whilst occupying millions of male and female bodies.
    I don’t think any of us have the power to water it down. 🙂

    • Well put. It has a life and power all of its own – that is definite! And if we all practised wouldn’t the world just be so perfect! Here is to all of those lifetimes.

  3. I love this post. I started really practicing yoga when I lived and worked in China. Sadly to say the teachers there promote weight loss as a benefit of yoga. It wasn’t only recently that I am seeing beyond the physical aspects of yoga. I even had an Ashtanga yoga teacher who didn’t really ‘teach’ us, but rather did the sequence alongside us without consideration that he may have needed to slow down or show the students a few modifications. He was all about how showing us how awesome he was sadly.

    As for being qualified, it seems like it’s more that the western world needs that reassurance that they are getting ‘quality’ instruction. It seems that in India, one becomes a teacher when they have ‘enough’ experience. So why then is it ok for them? I don’t really have the answer to that.

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