When we step in front of a class of students to teach, it is natural for the ego to grow. After all, the teacher is one person while the class is many people. The teacher knows about the practices, history and purpose while the class is learning. The teacher controls the practice while the students follow her lead. All attention is directed toward the teacher. It is normal for this to create an inflated sense of importance.
But the teacher and student are two parts of a larger system of learning, and they need to work together to be successful. As much as the student must serve the teacher to learn and progress, the teacher must also serve the student. The two are an inextricable team.
In the Sivananda tradition, there is a little invocation that precedes every class, describing this union between the teacher and student, and how they must work together in harmony.
May we (the teacher and the student) be protected together,
May we be nourished together,
May we both work together with great energy,
May our study be enlightening and not give rise to hostility.
...AND NOT GIVE RISE TO HOSTILITY
I especially like the last line: "May our study be enlightening and not give rise to hostility."
It is pretty easy for the teacher to resent students who do not listen to instruction. These students make the teacher feel powerless and worthless, so the teacher dislikes them. Hostility is born.
It is also easy for the student to resent the teacher. The student may be struggling to understand or progress. Or he may have conflicting experience or knowledge that makes him resist the new teachings. Or he may just be having a bad day. As the teacher pushes the student to conform, the student grows frustrated with the teacher. More hostility is born.
It is important not only to avoid this hostility, but to actively promote collaboration and communication between teacher and student. We are all in it together. It is a symbiotic relationship, as the student can not exist without the teacher and the teacher can not exist without the student.
A student must always be able to ask questions. Surprisingly, the questions will help the teacher as much as the student. They reveal the student's understanding--where he gets it and where he struggles. This is the single greatest tool that a teacher can use to serve her students.
Today, July 9th, we celebrate the life and work of Sri Bishnu Charan Ghosh! So many around the world have benefited from his contributions to fitness, yoga and his dedication to teaching. We are ever grateful for his work and may we all remember him today and always.
In honor of his life, here is an excerpt from the new book Calcutta Yoga Jerome Armstrong:
Bishnu naturally took to the stage. “I showed my muscle move ments and I can still hear the resounding claps I received. The people shouted from the gallery – ‘it was worth the eight annas spent.’” Once he had “performed the muscle control” exercises of nauli and uddiyana under “gas lights shown from below with reflectors,” he came on stage “dressed like a clown” and took part in all the performances, such as “parallel bar and ring acrobatics,” creating a “storm in the audience.” As he performed, Bishnu heard someone shout, “Did I not tell you, it is the same boy who has come back as a clown? He is the best performer.” Though it was his first performance, he won a silver medal that day. Bishnu later recalled:
I was stupefied! Thank God I was in a clown’s dress or else everyone would have been witness to my highly emotional expressions that day. Lalbabu must have given such silver medals to many such students but it was like manna from heaven for me that day. I cried the whole night, tears of emotion. That silver medal gave me the incentive to proceed in this path for the last 40 years.
This was not a one-time act; Bishnu “became famous as a clown” during the early 1920s.
As he took up bayam, combat sports and feats of strength, Bishnu had two qualities that he felt propelled him to succeed: “determination finish a job” and a desire for praise. He candidly stated, “I paid full attention to anything I did so that I would be loved and praised.” Alongside Thakurta, Bishnu participated in boxing, wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu matches, lathi-khela (sticks), and lifting tonnage. They performed in Calcutta at Seller’s Circus and Gemini Circus, and at events in the villages throughout Bengal. The troupe organized demonstrations either for charity or to raise funds for the City College akhara managed by Thakurta.
Read more about Bishnu Ghosh in Calcutta Yoga by Jerome Armstrong.
In our normal bodily positions like standing or sitting, the head is above the heart. Pumping the blood from the heart up to the head requires fighting the effects of gravity, so blood pressure in the head is higher than other parts of the body.
When we adjust the position of the body, as we often do in yoga practice, the head sometimes goes below the heart. When this happens, gravity pulls blood into the head, raising the blood pressure. Our body adjusts by decreasing the blood pressure in the head to protect the brain and face. This effect can be both positive and negative depending on our health and our bodies' ability to adjust the pressure.
If we are healthy, the shifting of the blood pressure up and down can be beneficial, teaching our systems how to respond to changing conditions. This is why healthy people should put the head below the heart.
If we have high blood pressure we must be very careful. Whenever the head goes below the heart, it is possible that the blood pressure will get dangerously high before the body responds. Or the body may not respond effectively and let the blood pressure stay too high for too long. So those of us with high blood pressure should take care when putting the head below the heart.
We can do gentle "inversions" by bringing the head even with the heart or only slightly below. This can be done in forward folding positions and kneeling positions like Half Tortoise or Child's Pose.
Una de las maneras principales en las que respiramos es con nuestro pecho. Los músculos entre las costillas causan que la caja torácica se expanda, llevando aire a los pulmones. Esto causa que los músculos abdominales se alarguen al ser jalados por la moción alta de las costillas. Los músculos abdominales deben de estar relajados para que las costillas se levanten por completo.
Los músculos abdominales al ser jalados y la cavidad abdominal estirada hacia arriba, su circunferencia es reducida, esencialmente llevando el abdomen hacia adentro. Esta apariencia es engañosa, ya que por fuera parece ser como si los músculos abdominales se estuvieran contrayendo para “meter el vientre”. No es así.
Two of the most important ideas in yoga philosophy are "ignorance" (avidya) and "discernment" (viveka). They are opposite sides of the same coin. When we develop discernment our ignorance is eradicated.
Ignorance (avidya) is sometimes called "primordial ignorance" since it is the state into which we are all born. It is like original sin in that way. It is the way we associate our thoughts and emotions with our deepest self. We notice thoughts and think, "This is me." "I am nervous." "I am angry." "I am confused." We develop a sense self, often called I-ness, ego or asmita. But these thoughts are not the essence of our being, and when we think that they are, it is ignorance.
Discernment (viveka) is also called "discrimination" and "knowledge." It is one of the highest goals of yoga, as we realize the true nature of ourself. As we observe our thoughts and emotions, we come to realize that they are not the deepest part of us. There is something deeper since it is observing the thoughts and emotions. So we search for the nature of this "observer," also called "the seer" or simply "consciousness."
The transition from ignorance to discernment is subtle, complex and takes many years. But it begins very simply. We notice our thoughts and emotions. That is the first step!
We recently had the pleasure of chatting with Henry Winslow for a new episode of his podcast, Dharma Talk. The episode is out now! You can listen to it here.
About the podcast:
Yoga student and teacher, Henry Winslow, interviews inspirational yogis about their path and purpose in this life, and how their yoga practice has shaped it. Tune in each week for powerful stories of self-discovery, resistance, and triumph, and get inspired to live your dharma.
Enjoy the podcast!
As the summer settles in, our teaching schedule lightens up. Ida and I don't travel as much or teach as many workshops during the warm months of the year. Inevitably this time away from teaching leads me to explore new areas of study and curiosity.
During the fall, winter and spring our schedule can be overwhelming and it is difficult to embrace new ideas. I may have an interesting conversation, learn about a new book or get a mind-boggling question that sparks my spirit of inquiry. But due to the requirements of travel and teaching those inquiries get put on hold until a later date. The procrastination and patience are important as we focus on the tasks at hand, but they can be frustrating too. Now, with the summer, the time has arrived to explore.
The questions arise in me again and again: How can I be a good yogi and also a good person? Where is the balance between learning, knowing and teaching? How can I take responsibility for myself, my communities and environment while still staying humble?
These are the questions that agitate me on a daily basis. I welcome any of your thoughts or insights.
One of the main ways that we breathe is with our chest. The muscles between the ribs cause the ribcage to expand and lift up, drawing air into the lungs. This causes the abdominal muscles to become long as they are pulled by the upward motion of the ribs. The abdominal muscles must be relaxed for the ribs to lift fully.
When we recognize violence and suffering in the world, often our first response is, "How can I help?" What can I do to reduce the violence, to reduce the suffering?
It is easy to say that the world needs to change, or to try to affect change in the world. The problem with this attitude, from a yogic perspective, is that it externalizes. It has us imposing our will upon the world, usually at the expense of a clear view of ourselves. It is generally our most ingrained and obvious views that we seek to export to others.
In the Yogasutras it is explained that, "When non-violence (ahimsa) is firmly established, hostility vanishes in the yogi's presence." (2.35) Only when we are peaceful ourselves can we affect peaceful change in the world.
As one of our teachers said, "It is impossible to give what you don't have." If we are not peaceful, how can we give peace? It is as futile an effort as if we had no food but tried to give food to others. First we must have something before we can offer it.
So, from the yogic view, the best way to reduce someone else's suffering is to eliminate our own. The best way to bring peace is to become firmly established in peace ourselves.
Each of us is capable of remarkable progress in yoga. But that progress requires commitment and the recognition that there is more than one element to a well-rounded practice. There are four parts of a yoga practice, and when they are all incorporated, our progress is swift.
1. STUDIO PRACTICE
This is the most common element of yoga practice, especially in the modern West. We go to our local yoga studio to do class, led by a teacher. These classes have the benefit of being scheduled, so we carve out time from our day to attend. Regular attendance leads to familiarity and hopefully expertise.
The main drawback of studio classes is that they are geared toward the group and not the individual. The practices are generally "good for everybody," which often means they are not optimized for the progress of each unique student. There is great benefit to be wrung from Studio Practice, but it is important to complement it with Home Practice.
2. HOME PRACTICE
The benefits and drawbacks of Home Practice are exactly opposite of Studio Practice. The main benefit is that it fits our skill level and trajectory perfectly. We can include practices that are challenging enough to enable progress; we can take time and repetition to build new skills. A Home Practice is vital for the progressing yogi. It will always be changing, because we are always changing.
The main challenge of Home Practice is that it requires tremendous internal motivation from us, as opposed to a Studio Practice in which the teacher assumes responsibility for the student in motivation, choice and length of practices. At home, we have to carve out our own time; we have to ignore the dinging phone; we have to stay focused and alert all by ourselves. Great aids to this end are videos, books and pre-determining what our practice for the day will entail.
This, along with Home Practice, is where exceptional yogis are made. We go beyond the ordinary physical- and fitness-based approach and begin to explore its larger and deeper meaning. Study includes a vast array of subjects---and we can start with what interests us---from anatomy and psychology to history, philosophy and spirituality. The good news is that we really can study what compels us, as it will lead us to greater knowledge, understanding and curiosity. The challenge is simply finding time, plagued as we are by busy schedules and abundant sources of distraction.
4. INTENSIVE STUDY/PRACTICE WITH MASTERS
In all walks of life, our habits blind us and we can lose track of the forest for the trees. In order to see ourselves clearly and keep from developing detrimental patterns, it is important to step outside of our daily routines once in a while. In yoga, this means finding yogis who have committed their lives to its practice and teaching. They have generally gone far and deep into the practices, and we benefit greatly from being in their presence and receiving their instruction. Their expertise is compounded by their fresh perspective---since they don't watch us practice everyday---and they will often see our weaknesses and potential immediately.
The main drawback of studying with masters is that it takes great commitment of time and usually money. We may have to travel to another city and dedicate an entire weekend, week or month to their program. In our experience, it is usually worthwhile, but it doesn't make the decision any easier!
Scott & Ida are Yoga Acharyas (Masters of Yoga). They are the head teachers of Ghosh Yoga. This blog is about their experience with yoga practice, study and teaching.
- Understanding Chair Posture
- 5 Reasons To Backbend
- Lock the Knee History
- Why Teaching Is Not a Personal Practice
- The 113 Postures of Ghosh Yoga
- When You Take a Class, Take the Class
- Should We Be Teaching Advanced Postures in a Beginning Class?
- The Yogi Becomes Invisible
- Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
- The Oxygenation Myth