BY KRISHNA PRAKASH
Today there are innumerable styles of Yoga and an equally impressive array of studios and great teachers. The obvious questions are, where to study, how to know whether the teaching is authentic, and what value to give to certifications etc. To understand the answers to these questions, it is important to understand the importance and role of living traditions in Yoga.
Swami Satyananada Saraswati of Bihar School of Yoga. Photo: Coni Hörler
Wherever you choose to study Yoga in India or elsewhere, it is important to know, if Yoga is being taught as a system or just a set of postures and breathing techniques. Even in India, the majority believes that Yoga and Yogasana are synonymous. The truth is that Yogasana is one limb of the Yoga system if we refer to the system of Patanjali Yoga (which we will do in this article). So, it is important to learn Yoga from a place where one can learn about all the eight limbs of Yoga.
Why it is important to study Yoga as a system?
Studying Yoga as a system helps us to structure our life and lifestyle better. The first 2 limbs of Yoga teach us the role of non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderated living, non-greediness, cleanliness, contentment, austerity / hard work, self-study and the role of surrender to cosmic intelligence i.e. Isvara Pranidhana. If we understand the importance of these 10 qualities enumerated as Yama and Niyama by the great sage Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras, we would be able to not only have a healthy lifestyle but an excellent mind space that helps us to experience higher limbs of Yoga such as meditation with less mental and emotional disturbances. The understanding and practice of the first two limbs help us to learn Yogasana and Pranayama which are the next two limbs of Yoga. As one gets steadier in the practice, one would find a beautiful balance of mind and body. Due to this balance and steadiness, the mind develops the ability to spontaneously withdraw, concentrate and meditate, which are the subsequent limbs of Yoga. Finally, the practitioner is led to the state of Samadhi in the due course of time.
Role of living traditions
Yoga is not a stagnant pool of knowledge but a vibrant living system that always addresses the needs of NOW. To illustrate the role of living traditions it is imperative to learn the monumental contribution of Swami Satyananda Saraswati of Bihar School of Yoga. He belongs to the dasanami sampradaya established by Advaita Vedantin Adi Sankara. Dasa (ten), nama (name) and sampradaya (tradition). Based on certain parameters Adi Sankara classified the monastic system into ten streams with each stream having a specific objective, role and purpose in carrying forward the ever-relevant ancient knowledge system, the Veda and its allied branches of studies. The main objective of these streams is to make the ancient knowledge accessible to the common public in a way they can digest, assimilate and use in their day to day lives.
It is with this background and training, Swami Satyananda Saraswati could intuit issues at the physical, mental and emotional states that our generation would undergo, and design the set of 34 postures that comprise the Pawanamuktasana series. This series helps one to prevent and also work with possible rheumatic issues, digestive problems and energy blocks in our psychophysical energy system.
He redesigned the practice of Yoga Nidra and formulated it in such a way that it helps the practitioner to relax, rejuvenate, release stress, reclaim health that has been lost due to a fast-paced and sedentary lifestyle, as well as realise legitimate desires in this very life. Pawanamuktasana and Yoga Nidra are just two of the innumerable practices that he has shared with us. Such invaluable adaptations are needed for the time we live in and it is possible only if Yoga is learnt from living traditions.
Swami Sivananda Saraswati. Photo: Coni Hörler
Swami Sivananda Saraswati of Divine Life Society is the pioneer of today’s teacher training programs. Since 1948, his Yoga-Vedanta forest academy offers Yoga-Vedanta study as a 2-months course. Almost all the books on Yoga written by any respected author that is available in the public domain would invariably have been referred to Swami Sivananda’s writings. It was he who restarted the ancient practice of initiating deserving women into the monastic discipline when it was unheard of in the 1950s. This is the power and courage of true living spiritual traditions. Swami Satyananda is one of His illustrious disciples. Similarly, until the advent of Swami Sivananda’s disciples in the Yoga education scene, only Asana and Pranayama was taught as Yoga. Thus, a sincere student must seek such living traditions or learn from authentic sources that are connected to these traditions.
Tradition and customisation
When we learn Yoga from anybody and everybody, we lose sight of the need of today as well as our personal need. When we learn from living traditions, the teachers help us to customize the Yoga processes based on our need. So, there is a distinct possibility to customize the set of asana, pranayama, mantra etc., to each student. As mentioned above, the living traditions would reveal a few processes that are the need of the day. This aspect and beauty of Yoga would be missed if we choose to study under a teacher with little or no link to living traditions.
Yoga and religions
Kerala is God’s own country and is the authentic home to Ayurveda. Irrespective of their religious denomination, the science and art of Ayurveda is still thriving in Kerala. Similarly, Yoga is a gift of Sanatana Dharma to the World. The Yoga system existed even before the word “Hinduism” was coined. So kindly stay away from those who try to paint a religious picture of Yoga. Think for yourself and analyse the facts and come to your own conclusion. This is the only way to come live without being influenced by another person’s prejudices, biases and perspective.
In the Divine Life Society, Rishikesh. Photo: Coni Hörler
The world’s oldest knowledge system, the Rig Veda has a portion called Arunaprashna and its verses are still used while doing Sun Salutations. The Yogic Sun Salutation is rooted in that Vedic practice. It is important to know this fact, as Yoga practices existed even before the advent of organised religions.
Do your research on living traditions in Yoga
Yoga is the best system and example to practice the precept “prevention is better than cure.” Not only physical ailments but regular practice of Yoga helps us to stay balanced, creative, focused and successful in all our undertakings. Thus it is your responsibility to analyse your needs, research on the living systems or the authentic sources connected with these living traditions, choose the duration of the course and finally practice whatever you learn faithfully over a sustained period to derive the incalculable benefits that Yoga as a system has to offer. Happy learning!
Krishna Prakash is the founder of Shrimath Yoga, an ashram that is located in Bangalore. Since inception in 2011, students from 40 countries have studied Yoga as a system and given excellent reviews for Shrimath Yoga. Retreats and Teacher Training Courses are available in very small groups with a strong focus on each participant. Krishna continues to learn from the living traditions of Bhagawan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri, Sri Ramakrishna Mutt, Bihar School of Yoga.