The Modern vs Traditional Yoga Dilemma through the heart of a devotee...
Who is this?
ask the question "What is Yoga and where did it come from?"
In January of 2017 I wrote this statement….
“Namaste Divine Friends and Family. I will be taking an extended break from social media. It’s time to retreat into art and raising my baby and cultivating ways to silence and peace. It is most certainly a troubling time and now more than ever do we need our spiritual discipline and togetherness. In a completely 100% related topic I will also be refraining from “selling” any Sanskrit/Yogic wisdom. Meaning after the Texas Yoga Conference in Feb, I am taking an indefinite break from sharing or teaching classes. I have discovered some things about my path as an educator in this field. I will be writing an article about it, and basically the overarching theme is the marketing, selling, cultural appropriation and materialization of the process of educating someone in Yogic Wisdom has pulled us far away from the original intention and even the true “definition” of the word Yoga. So if you value the authenticity we have to offer and have the dedication and discipline to honestly incorporate it into your lives, then kindly personally reach out to me, I will only always do this for free, in my own home, or an a gathering of people that have true yearning. I will try my best not to fall into coercing people or baiting someone into a class or workshop with prescription based methods or secret monetary agendas. It is truly unfortunate that even those with pure and divine intentions in this field are forced to use these methods. Yoga is a holistic system and will not grip and sustain life if the values, philosophy and other disciplines are not intact. So I will not perpetuate this major dilemma of the modern Yoga studio world... One may not realize how difficult it is to survive (literally survive with food and shelter) as an educator in this field or an artist for that matter... and sometimes it feels as though the modern world is designed to crush you... And truly sometimes the only way back to your positive mind is to surrender all that over to what we may relate to as a source of Divinity. So with all surrender I’m trying my best to let go and let God, and have that Divine Energy precipitate down into my worldly woes... I will be available through email or phone if you happen to know my digits. My door is always open to true seekers that wish to make this a part of their daily lives. I will always make art, work in sustainable permaculture, education of children, and all the wonderful dances of this amazing world. For now I say fair well to the cesspool of “chitta vrrtti” that is social media. I will come back to you fresh with more mind dumps and musings, and continue my journey to inspire. Life can be unpredictable and my feelings may change with time, but for now, this is the water I’m swimming in... Love and heart felt prayers to you all in this difficult time. Peace and Light, Namaskaromi, Tyagaraja”
How did a highly skilled educator, and genuine, dedicated and authentic seeker come to this conclusion?
“The Walk in Welcome” Devaluing - Dilution - Disfunction
I was first certified through The Yoga Institute of Lex Gillan, one of the oldest established Yoga institutions in the United States. When deciding to write this piece I knew I would need to speak with someone who has actually lived through modern changes in the yoga world. Lex first heard of Yoga in the 1960s when he was 16. He began offering Yoga classes in Houston in 1973. In his early days Lex offered a tiered class system for his Yoga studio format. Even if one was an advanced practitioner one would still have to join at the beginning and go through the system. “There were few if any drop-in classes until the mid-to-late 1980’s, and I myself never did them,” Lex continued, “Yoga has been taught for 800 years with a grade level format with single teachers or a lineage of teachers; it was only once Bikram, Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois became popular did we see the an explosion of the “drop-in class.” In a structural grade level format, yet students would stay longer, benefit greater, and truly zone in on a practice that can integrate into their everyday lives." The demographic of client that enjoys this system today are usually above the age 40 or a rare breed of focused dedicated youth. “For years The Yoga Institute was the only studio in Houston. In those days there were only a few styles of yoga being taught, now The Yoga Journal has a national directory of over 51 different styles, the majority of those are linked to the modern Yogic Guru's coming from India in the 60s and 70s."
It can be argued that the drop-in classes opened up the “experience” of “yoga” to a broader demographic of seeker. There are several points that meet at a crossroad in this precise dilemma; a few main questions can be taken up which will span several topics. First, what is the definition of “Yoga” according to the perfected vibrational philosophy from which it is born, as defined in Yoga Sutra and Ancient Vedic Shashtra. The verb root yuj, of Yoga, means to conjoin, to bridge, to create union. More questions arise, union to what, between whom? Yoga Sutra defines that union as a cessation of chitta virtti or mind fluctuations (in this case heart fluctuations because the mind is defined as latent samskara experience of being alive deep within the heart). Through the arrest of the mind fluctuations the seer meets the seen and the seeker can witness the “True Self.” I know it’s long winded, and it needs to be. We are subtle beings, the philosophy is even more subtle and is fundamental in the understanding of the Wisdom Teachings. So, does any of this description sound physical? You will hear many “Yoga teachers” say Yoga is more than just the physical practice, and then go into 5 minutes of breathing and 1.5 hours of sun salutations and exercise based on yogic postures. What standard is set? If a yoga studio is primarily focused on the body and prescription based “Yoga” that is what will be perpetuated in that seeker. Yes, this is with full understanding that everyone is in their own place and on their own path, and true Yoga will meet that seeker where they are. However it is far more discouraging to a seeker that is not focused in the body that wants healing, meditation or peace and doesn’t have a mechanism of understanding to reach it, and that seeker goes into an “All Level Flow” class and becomes discouraged by the image of “fit body yoga.” That to me is a great tragedy, and more so speaks the exact opposite of the root definition of the Sanskrit word Yoga.
More questions, and more clarity… The Yogic Postures are known as Asana. The Sanskrit word Asana literally translates as, "seat," so already that gives an image of stillness. Specifically related to Yoga Vinyasa, for lack of better phrasing asana can be viewed as, steadiness, complete stillness with grace and ease in a particular posture. So it means stillness. In order to have Yoga, “union with your True Self,” one must establish asanasthiti, comfortable stillness. Yoga Vinyasa is the phrase people are mistaking to mean, “flow.” Flow is constant movement. Yoga Vinyasa actually means a sequence or series of breath-based postures that lead toward complete stillness and ease within that particular asana. Constant movement increases the heart rate in which breathing cannot be steady and properly matched to the movement which is by definition aerobic exercise. A more expansive definition of Yoga Vinyasa could be defined as meditative postures synchronized to deep yogic breathing which lead to steadiness and meditation. As the heart rate increases, so does the rajasic (unsettled, restless) tendency of the samskara (latent memories) in the heart. When the heart rate is slowed through pranayama (life-force control) and awareness, the heart-mind fluctuations or chitta vrtti can more easily come to rest and for longer durations. Unbeknownst to the modern seeker, they are arriving at a “drop in all levels class” with no real understanding of the true intention of yoga, and that cycle is continuously perpetuated, and the seeker goes on and on shopping around never gaining any ground in a singular method, with a singular authentic source, and now we are in the dilemma in the modern yoga world of dabbling in superficial "yoga" and spiritual materialism, which is a direct perversion to the original sacred principles.
I am a solutions based thinker and there are many to be had for this dilemma. As a Yoga studio, being very clear and upfront with the seeker about these concepts before they sign the waiver as a new student, it will be clear what they are “experiencing.” I will be blunt… every, “core power,” or “flow” I have attended, including those of high level “A-list” celebrity “yoga teachers,” has been what I call, "Exercise based on Yogic Postures". Being blunt and calling something what it is from the outset does positive things, and this to me is just one solution to killing once and for all the “drop-in” class. Those seekers that are interested in Exercise Based on Yogic Postures have that broad surface level landscape to tinker in, and those seekers that want depth and focus can be shown the true aspects of Yogic Living through an authentic source. There is a right “teacher” for every path to meet that seeker where they are. There is a solution for every challenge of the modern yoga world and those solutions can be found in authentic training of human excellence, which is the process of living in Sacred Wisdom Teachings through an authentic Guru Lineage or Familial Lineage.
Filter of a filter of a filter
It seems to me that friends of mine and I are of a rare breed. I do not mean that in a hierarchical context; simply, we are rare. Even the sources of authentic heritage itself is rare, secret and hard to come by. My story can provide a brief context. When I became certified as a yoga teacher at the 200 hour level, I felt that I actually knew nothing, and was uncomfortable to teach, so I refrained, as I’m sure is the experience with many new teachers. However I couldn’t let it die; there was something born in me of a complete transformation. I sent the thought into the ether that I desperately yearned for an authentic guide or Guru. I have since come across both frauds and authentic pure-hearted traditions. I am fully aware that taking a Guru in the modern day can be risky and there are money-greedy con artists wearing robes. However, the wisdom teachings are also purely preserved by authentic traditions as well. They are available to the seeker with pure yearning, and even they can get caught in the muck of spiritual materialism and cultural appropriation. Which shows the sign of the times of Kali Yuga… The Dark Ages.
We now have 200 hour level teachers instructing “exercise based on yoga,” that have learned through a filter of a filter and on and on. Even the so-called "teacher" is unaware of the true meanings of the words they are using, so for certain the mind fluctuations will be imbalanced in the seeker. It is very rare that the yoga instructor has the authentic training to be qualified to offer that wisdom to the public. And the teacher can tout their record and portfolio and still will be void of true understanding of Sanskrit tenants, and that will also be present in the daily life of that so called teacher - constant wavering of the path, confusion, insecurity, uncertainty and so on.
I simply cannot relate to the fear of surrendering completely to a path or teacher. I have had friends in the Rock 'n Roll business tell me, “Man I just can’t deal with all those rules and superstitions.” There can be an over emphasis on the paradigm of discipline. However, that is the beauty of surrender to an authentic ancient tradition and how the seeker can know for certain they have arrived at the right path. Through the disciplines of the right path the seeker is set free from the throes and bangs of the misery of daily life. They are set free from addiction, over emotionalism, and attractions of the modern world that keep one stuck in a cycle of the senses. So the mark of an authentic path is that the teachings are driving the individual toward human excellence and ultimate freedom. If the seeker is bound to external ritual and addicted or clinging to the personality of teacher the path is obviously not true Yoga. The modern seeker is unknowingly stuck in a cycle of dibble-dabble in this and that until the courses that they offer are such a hybrid conglomeration of teachings that there is nothing left for the seeker to practically apply to daily life experience. Integrating with an authentic path and lineage is also in keeping with the “way to learn” Yoga. The teacher, guide, or Guru can learn the tendencies of the seeker and give aid to the blossoming of abilities and positive qualities as well. This relationship is cultivated over a lifetime. Yogic discipline takes a lifetime to fully absorb, hence the traditions of old walk in this same fashion.
I attended a riveting discourse delineation of Yoga Sutra by Srivasta Ramaswami. Even Ramaswami-ji warned the seekers that finding the proper translation of Yoga Sutra can be difficult, because, and I quote, “One yoga teacher read a so called commentary on yoga sutra and wrote another commentary, another one read this commentary and wrote their own commentary.” Ramaswami-ji emphasized the importance for an individual sharing Yogic Wisdom based in Sanskrit to have authentic training from a qualified lineage of dissemination. The word for word description of the Sanskrit words is alone very powerful though still not enough. Proper historical reference points, real commentary of Vedic Masters such as Sage Vyasa to parallel the compact Sutra with other Sanskrit based references - all this is needed, and the time spent to ruminate and integrate afterward is also needed, which almost disqualifies me from teaching. I simply have not had the wisdom years on the planet to offer a complete system. I use this analogy often: An electrician needs 10,000 hours of in the field experience to receive an “electrician certificate,” the yoga teacher needs 200 hours of unregulated training to teach professionally. There are far more intricacies to the heart and the human mind than the electrical wiring in a building. I feel this ratio shows us that more depth and experience is needed. Truly the only source to find such levels of understanding are the headwaters of the mountains in which the Sanskrit wisdom is birthed. Certain Guru lineages, familial traditions, and householder traditions have been preserved from time immemorial. Some say it is due to the karmic destiny of the seeker to wander upon such pricelessness. You do not find and seek out this level of authenticity. When the yearning is pure in the seeker, this wisdom responds swiftly and accordingly.
Misinterpretations of Sanskrit Wisdom Teachings
Without the authentic dissemination of Sanskrit Wisdom it will be near impossible for a “teacher” to present the complete paradigm. First, some linguistic context... The word Sanskrit itself can be translated literally as, “san” without, “krit” critique, or that which is already perfected. To clarify, it is not teaching us that we cannot ask questions and have our own system of discernment. It is not teaching “blind faith.” The definition of the word Sanskrit reveals the fact that it is superficial to call Sanskrit a “language.” Sanskrit is formed through bija mantra (seed sounds) or the Sanskrit alphabet and these sound partitions have never evolved. The pronunciation, conjugations, and meanings have have a vast ocean of variety and interpretation - from ancient times onward. Other “languages” have evolved a great deal through modern times. Also, Sanskrit is a phonetic language, which means it is vibrations of living sound - pure light, that which is already perfected. I won’t go on about pronunciation because I have already written a piece on this topic, and it can be argued (http://tyagaraja.com/2015/02/importance-of-sanskrit-pronunciation/.) I do feel that pronunciation is crucial along with the pure intentions of the chanter. Because Sanskrit is a living vibration, when uttered, the purpose of chanting Sanskrit is to bring alive in the physical world the subtle understanding of that which is being chanted. Even simple words carry so much past-time and philosophy. The correct understanding of a simple word can even clearly bring about physical integration into a yoga vinyasa practice.
Examples are always better than precept. Take the sanskrit word “Tadasana,” the accurate pronounciation would be “Talasana” where the tongue touches the roof of the mouth and the nasal “d” becomes almost a nasal “L” sound. So already 90% of teachers I’ve heard, even the most sincere ones, are saying this word incorrectly. In every class I’ve attended this word has been defined as “Mountain Pose.” In our understanding the phrase mountain pose is found in the Vinyasa for Parvatasana, “parvat” means hill or mountain. The true definition of Tadasana is also the definition of how to practice the Vinyasa, (sequences related to this particular asana). Tadasana means swaying tree, or a tree that bends in strong winds yet doesn’t break, like a palm tree. Tadasana Vinyasa utilizes the full extent of the spine and the arms and legs. Already there is more clarity. If the word meant mountain then it makes the seeker feel and think, stiff, strong stillness. One does gain strong stillness through Tadasana, but it is through flexibility and resilience of the spine and proper use of ujjayi pranayama.
There are endless such examples. I believe the point is clear. When seeking to understand Sanskrit Wisdom, you must ensure you receive that wisdom through authentic sources.
Selling Prescription Based Yoga
As a modern Yoga community we have fallen into what can be called “prescription based yoga.” While it may be true that shirsasana (headstand) may be good for giving balance to the entire parasympathetic nervous system, kapalapathi pranayama can clean the guts and the mind; if other aspects of life are not in line with Yogic Principles, the effects of specific poses will have minimal to zero value. The lifestyle of a Sanskrit based seeker or those that practice Yogic Mindfulness is a holistic system. If the diet is not in line, the pranayama will be of no use. If the pranayama cannot be done, the healing aspect of the breath cannot be moved into the joints and neuromuscular junctions. If the body is uncomfortable and immobile it can be very difficult to take in sacred philosophical tenants. It may be well known that cultivating an all-around healthy lifestyle of mindfulness is the bases of a balanced and integrated Yogic discipline, yet rarely is it fully established in the seekers daily life. When a seeker asks a teacher, “I’m having lower back pain what should I do?” and the teacher shows a series of poses without mentioning right diet, mindfulness, and other tenants, the physical positions will have little to no use. Furthermore, this action simply reinforces the practitioner toward the body, toward the physical, toward the most narrow and limited aspect of Yogic healing.
In Conclusion - Modern vs Traditional Yoga
There is no escaping modern life’s imprint on Yogic Living. It is still strange for me to say the phrase, “let’s go do some yoga,” or “I’m going to take a yoga class.” A statement better reflecting understanding might be, “I will engage a discipline of Yoga Vinyasa Krama, followed by a series of pranayama, which leads toward Upasana and Samadhi." It takes much longer to say all that, and it needs to take longer. The clarity is important for the wisdom to sink into the heart and never be forgotten, to never waver, to always be balanced and steadfast on the right path. If I were to title my classes, "Yoga Vinyasa Krama, with Pranayama and Meditation", no one would show up. And the fact of the matter is that marketing “Yoga” has diluted that wisdom to a detriment. Now we must work our way backwards, uncover our misunderstanding and move forward with the right concepts and clarity. We cannot escape modernization of Yogic Wisdom, and there has been some good that has come out of it. Lex Gillan says, “Recently I’ve been partnering with Baylor College of Medicine and other research over the last 2 years on a response to a top rated Houston High School looking to incorporate a required course for all new 9th grade students to combat the high stress of students.” So clearly, in this case, it is a good thing that the idea that Yoga and Meditation have positive benefits has spread to the masses. When asked what advice or predictions Lex had to offer he said, “Folks coming through certification in the beginning were the “old-timers," even if just for themselves. I used to tell them to open studios and spread the dharma in their communities. Now I don’t. The teacher trainees these days are mostly young people, and to them I say go out and volunteer time, and get some classes under your belt before opening a studio.” Lex continues, “There is no comparison between now and the 70s. I’m old school. There’s no breathing and meditation being taught, it’s mostly focused on the body.” To find an authentic tradition in such a trying and materialistic time is a very rare and sacred thing. To the one that finds it or the one It finds, blessings proceed. We are stuck here in this Kali Yuga, there is nothing we can do about that, yet there is something that can be done to gain the right clarity and make it a duty to live out these principles in the daily life.
Hari Om Tat Sat
Jai Guru Dev
(Interview was with Lex Gillan founder of the Yoga Institute Houston and Santa Fe.)
Creative Commons Copyright Reserved by: Tyagaraja of Sustainable Humane Earth.