It is not possible to give examples of illnesses or ailments that can be improved……

I was asked in 2011 to provide ‘expert quotes’ in response to three questions for a media article by a freelance journalist on a Yoga related topic. These were my reflections that I am reposting unedited, especially given the surge in these past 7 years in what has become labelled as ‘Yoga Therapy’:

Q1. What are some examples of illnesses or ailments that can improve or be cured with the use of Yoga?

“It is not possible to give examples of illnesses or ailments that can be improved as it all depends on the matrix of the person who may also have certain combinations of problems. A student with cancer may improve or a student with a history of colds may experience little change.

The viewpoint of Yoga is to look at people as individuals and work from there rather than the more usual view of making lists of problems with flash card like answers to a specific problem. e.g. Sciatica, High Blood Pressure, Insomnia, Osteo-arthrosis, Chrohn’s Disease, etc.

“We cannot say that this Āsana or this Prāṇāyāma
can be given for this disease.”
– T Krishnamacharya 1984

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Yoga teaching as an extension of Yoga practice rather than……

Reflecting on Desikachar’s comment, quoted below from yesterday, I am reminded of its depth in terms of its observation around its message exorting us to consider the relationship between the need to practice more, the more we teach.

“The more you teach,
the more you must practice.”

Within this message is also the need to take steps to ensure our Yoga practice avoids being an extension of our Yoga teaching. In other words ensuring our Yoga teaching is an extension of our Yoga practice.

Our Yoga Teaching needs to be an accessory to our Yoga Practice.
Rather than our Yoga Practice being an accessory to our Yoga Teaching.

Hence the need to hold our personal practice on a separate trajectory to our teaching practice. Within this there are further considerations that may be helpful such as the need to ensure that our personal Yoga Practice doesn’t become a repetition of, or rehearsal for, our Yoga Teaching plans. Or not using teaching time as  a way to ‘clock up’ practice hours through demonstrating, or leading the class through ‘follow me’ choreographies.

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Its potentially complex these days when something taught……

Its potentially complex these days when something taught to an individual student,
in a personalised, age and situation relevant context;
within a specific environment and epoch;
becomes the ‘gold’ standard for groups of students to follow ‘faithfully’,
through respecting every inch of the formal nuances.

Equally, its potentially complex these days when something taught to a group of students,
in a generalised, open aged and multi-need context;
within a non-specific trans-national environment and epoch;
becomes the ‘gold’ standard for individual students to follow ‘faithfully’,
through respecting every inch of the formal nuances.

it is still unclear how much Yoga someone has to do to get the benefits…..

“But it is still unclear how much Yoga someone has to do to get the benefits found and
how cost-effective it is relative to undertaking other forms of exercise or taking drugs.”
– Prof Myriam Hunink
Erasmus University medical centre in Rotterdam and Harvard school of public health in Boston

Are we in danger of the teaching of Yoga Āsana (and consequently Yoga ‘Therapy’ Teacher Training Courses) being increasingly shaped towards the health and therapeutic healthcare ‘Yoga For’ needs to meet the demands and standardisations of the medical and/or insurance health authorities in terms of:

1. Choice – Which Yoga posture works for what problem?
2. Duration – How long must I stay in a particular posture in order to have a specific effect/result?
3. Frequency – How often must I practice this posture to effect a result?
4. Timescale – Over what period of time must I practice this posture to effect a result?
5. Comparable Applications – What will be the effect of Yoga postures compared to other forms of physical exercise?
6. Relative Costs – What will be the cost of Yoga compared to other forms of exercise?
7. Treatment Budgets – What will be the cost of Yoga as a form of treatment relative to taking drugs?

Complex implications to evaluate and they leave us with more questions around what is healthy for the heart of Yoga rather than what is healthy for the heart of the person!

“We cannot say that this Āsana or this Prāṇāyāma can be given for this disease.”
– T Krishnamacharya 1984

Musings on the Student’s Relationship with the Teacher

Memories from my early days, over 40 years ago now, of going to teachers to teach me Yoga were generally around the notion, replete with conscious and unconscious expectations, that the teacher was there to bring out the best in me.

For example I feel that many of us if group class teachers are used to working with the Lazarus factor (raising folks from the dead each week). Here we can get caught or even need the expectation, both in you and/or in the student, that you will be or are ‘the one’ to revitalise the students tired and/or wired bodies as well as restoring confident dispositions.

However my experiences arising from working with TKV Desikachar stood that notion on its head. This was not through anything he said or did but from my own slowly acquired realisation that my way of looking at the relationship was confused.

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Reflections on TKV Desikachar’s Teaching and Svatantra……

As his pupil my teacher worked at guiding me towards becoming increasingly independent in developing and refining more and more my personal practice skills so I became less and less dependent on him being the vehicle for if, when, where, what and how well I practice.

I have always respected this aspect of his 121 teaching in that, like a parent with a child, he progressively facilitated my learning to enable me to grow into an intelligently consistent, situation adaptive and yet long term developmental self-practice, initially through, then much more than just Āsana.

Especially as, like any art that we wish to become accomplished in, this self-skill was cultivated primarily within my home environment with all its hues and moods that inevitably influence, or are driven by deeper motivations within our current intentions and situation realities.

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Yoga Learning without Teacher Training and within Group Classes

TKV Desikachar teaching at Gaunts House

I have just come across a post on the “Pros and Cons of Yoga Teacher Training” by J Brown from July which rolled up yesterday in my Facebook newsfeed via YogaDork.

He raises some good points in his blog such as the observation that running Yoga Teacher Training Courses have become a de rigueur for Yoga Teachers and, I would add, especially Yoga Studios, to the point that as a new studio opens its doors, such offerings are part of its programme from day one.

As I observed in a post from March 2012 on:

Further musings on Yoga Student and Yoga Teacher Trainings……

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Dhyāna is taught as a personalised process unique to each student……

dhyanam

Question:
Would appreciate any clues as to the Dhyāna practice as you were taught.”

Response:
Reflecting on this question reminds me of a video of a lecture by S Sridharan from the KYM recently reposted on August 5th 2015 on the Krishnamacharya Yoga Facebook page. I feel that the extract below sums up well the essence of Krishnamacharya’s teaching, especially when involving the Antar Aṅga:

“But when it came to personal practice we would have to meet our teacher in his room separately…..
What my teacher has imparted to me as my Yoga practice. I cannot share it with any of you.
Not for the reason that I don’t want to share it, it will have no value for any of you…..

When we teach something it should be very personal from the point of view of Yoga practice.
Yoga is a topic that just cannot be taught over a platform.”

He also discussed earlier in the video the notion that the only group activity was the study of texts. When it came to personal practice this was within a private room and was a personal matter between the teacher and the student.

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Āsana brings steadiness, health and lightness……

Āsana_7_web

kuryāttadāsanaṃ sthairyamārogyaṃ cāṅgalāghvam |
‘Āsana brings steadiness, health and lightness.’
– Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā Chapter 1 verse 17

For me, still to this day, one of the finest, simplest, direct and most succinct definitions on the purpose of Āsana within the processes and practices of Haṭha Yoga, is the definition offered in the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā Chapter 1 verse 17.

It is a definition valid for any presentation or as a response to questions from any level around why we practice Āsana.

It can be a springboard to discussing physiological qualities such as the relationship of Agni to the energetic qualities of health and lightness.

Or it can be a springboard to discussing psychological qualities such as the relationship of the Guṇa, such as Rajas, to mental qualities such as steadiness.

Practice as a Process and Practice as Content…..

IWCP2P27

Where do we start when approaching the determination to open up to practice options beyond the group class mentality with its double edged sword of support and dependancy?

We can start by exploring what it means to cultivate a personal regular home practice in terms of looking at it as from the viewpoint of being a process as well as having content.

Here it might be helpful to examine what are the differences between these two concepts so vital in the work of Desikachar around planning Yoga practices for individual students.

So what is Yoga practice as a process? Practice as a process is everything that surrounds the establishing of a home practice.

This can be the time of the day, energy levels at the time of practice, what the student would be stepping away from in order to engage in practice, differences in gender and impact on body rhythms, what follows the practice in terms of activity or life demands, to name but a few aspects of process.

Practice as content is what we put into the practice in terms of choices around Yoga tools such as how we utilise and develop both short term and longer term, Yoga postures, breathing, chanting, rituals, meditation, etc.

Follow-on posts will examine these different aspects of Yoga as a process with examples of how we engage the important and unique differences between students personal lives, rather than the more standardised time and place processes within external group class setups.

My role as a trainer is to teach you to teach Āsana not teach you how to practice Āsana…..

imagesCAON78F6-200x183

Some thoughts from my Facebook Page I posted after as comments after reading and sharing a recent blog commenting on the Yoga Teacher situation in the US amidst the debate on supporting or not national Yoga Registration Standards Bodies and Government Regulatory Bodies having the last word.

To which I would add a personal reflection that I feel relieved that my priorities are re-focused on training students to be students rather than have to contend with the ever-increasing number of Yoga teacher Training Courses amidst the increasing trend of ‘fast-tracking’ within them of students towards training to be a Yoga Teacher or the current vogue of becoming a ‘Yoga Therapist’, amidst the ever-increasing number of ‘Yoga Bodies’ seeking to be ‘the’ verifier, approver or regulator of ‘standards’.

It has also long been an issue for me and a cause of conflict to have to contend with a confusion of my priorities as a Yoga teacher in running teacher training courses.

“Training to learn how to teach Yoga is not the same as training to learn how to practice & study Yoga.”

In that my role as a teacher trainer is to train students to teach and the conflict with the realities of encountering students that are not yet adequately trained to practice, or in their understanding of and relationship to personal practice.

As I have said many times, my role as a trainer is to teach you to teach Āsana not teach you how to practice Āsana (amidst many other dimensions of learning Yoga).

This is part of why my future Yoga Teaching/Therapy Practitioner Programmes are just a mere 200 contact hour, 18 month course, but with no Yoga input as they will be completely focused only on the teaching of Yoga techniques, theory and textual study that you will have already learnt.

This means that there is a caveat in that the student needs to undertake a pre-requisite 250 contact hour training in all dimensions of Yoga Study and Practice prior to applying, if still interested, in professional training.

Also I feel it is good to not have to contend with both sides of the issue, of the trainee learning to be a student amidst setting up a teaching practice.

Or even just being able to offer students the alternative of having to undertake a teacher training course because you want to study Yoga merely as a student and the only way it seems to be able to do that is to undertake a teacher training.

Plus there are now many 100’s of,  if not a 1000+, Yoga Teacher Training Courses in the UK these days competing for what must eventually become a shrinking training market as the reality of how saturated the Yoga teacher market place is becoming emerges……..”

The concept of Bhāva and Abhāva in Yoga Practice……

TKV Desikachar teaching at Gaunts House

Amongst the many concepts taught to me by my teacher, to help with understanding and thus working more skilfully with the student, was the notion of Bhāva and Abhāva.

The teaching within this important concept is that when a student comes wanting to learn Yoga, are they interested in learning Yoga to move towards the deeper teachings of Yoga (Bhāva), or wanting to learn Yoga in order to move away from something they find unhelpful or undesirable in their life (Abhāva).

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What is healthy for the Heart of Yoga?

urdha_mukha_svanasanamatsyendrasana dhyanam

There has been a surge of media attention in the UK on the health benefits of Yoga based on the results of a recent study published:

In the Guardian under the title ‘Yoga may provide similar health benefits to ‘cycling or brisk walking’.

In the Telegraph under the title ‘Yoga just as good as aerobics for cutting heart disease risk’.

On the BBC News page under the title ‘Yoga may guard against heart disease, study finds’.

Along with a more recent article in the Guardian under the title ‘Should Yoga be part of NHS care?”

All this is on the one hand seems great and on paper appears to be good publicity, yet it lands in an environment where we have a huge amount of information available on the potential dangers of unhelpful lifestyle on the heart and a huge amount of heart problems. It is almost as if there are parallels between the increasing weight of information and the increasing weight of the population.

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An introduction to what is the art of the viniyoga of Yoga Practice

TKV_5

An introduction to what is the art of the viniyoga of Yoga Practice

The concept of viniyoga is the art of applying Yoga to the needs and aspirations of each person as a unique individual rather than fitting a number of individuals into the more generalised Westernised educational or physical fitness modalities of group class instruction.

“The spirit of viniyoga is starting from where one finds oneself.
As everybody is different and changes from time to time,
there can be no common starting point, and ready-made answers are useless.
The present situation must be examined and the habitually established status must be re-examined.”
– TKV Desikachar

Thus, using the term ‘viniyoga’ to describe a Yoga Class as a ‘Viniyoga Group Class’ or using the term to banner a group class teaching ‘style’ would in reality be a contradiction to how the name viniyoga, offered by Desikachar in 1983 as a collective description for the lifetime teachings of T Krishnamacharya and TKV Desikachar, was intended to be used. In this context the term viniyoga relates solely to the transmission of Yoga within a 121 relationship. In this respect one can consider that even the notion of training teachers just in a group class environment to teach according to ‘Viniyoga’ could be seen as an irony.

So to summarise, the main aim behind the introduction and use of the term viniyoga as the application of Yoga, is to collectively describe an approach to personalising a Yoga practice according to the individual and their situation; through respecting our unique differences in age, gender, mental aptitude, physical health, social lifestyle, occupation and interests; together with developmental potentials according to the persons current situation and needs.

This guiding principle of seeing the person rather than the problem……

Yoga for Every Body (220px)

Yoga Practices for Therapeutic situations

As the basis of this book is Yoga for Every Body I would now like to focus on this aspect of Yoga. To help in understanding how to proceed we will firstly discuss some basic principles for Yoga as a form of therapeutic intervention. From here we will look at different examples of practices for different students each with a unique story accompanied by unhelpful symptoms arising from their particular life story.

It is tempting here to propose a technique and then state that this technique will help this particular situation or problem. However, my teacher taught me that Yoga is to be tailored to the needs and aspirations of each person rather than fitting the person to some ready made technique.

“It appears that modern Yoga Therapy is increasingly angled at looking at a persons problems,
rather than looking at a person with problems.”

Thus with this guiding principle of seeing the person rather than the problem or disease and the acceptance that we are not working just with a preordained technique we can continue.

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Personal Sādhana and Professional Teaching Today……

Personal Sādhana and Professional Teaching

Chatting recently with a student about starting their first group class teaching the principles of applying Yoga. They were saying how the practice arts they had learnt so far had only been applied in the context of their personal Sādhana. As such what had been experienced felt very precious and they felt as if they didn’t want to share it with others yet.

They were reassured when I said I not only understood and agreed, but felt that too many want to ‘share’ what they have learnt far too quickly.

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I also feel that 121 priorities must take precedence over workshops and……

Extract from an email sent today that I felt I would like to offer as a post:
‘I also feel that 121 teaching priorities must take precedence over workshops and trainings.
This is part of my Dharma to my teacher and to the essence of viniyoga.
I feel that once we cease to be chronologically or financially available as a 121 teacher,
in favour of being a group class, workshop or trainer teacher,
in terms of such as group size or financial benefits,
we lose our heart contact with the Paramparā,
as we have received it,
or as it was intended to be transmitted by T Krishnamacharya.’

Increasingly I observe Yoga teachers, even if not trained specifically in……

desikachar_ph
Increasingly I observe Yoga teachers, even if not trained specifically in this area, offering private tuition or 121’s as an adjunct to their other teaching activities.

I also observe a proliferation of Yoga trainings for becoming a teacher within 121 situations, especially Yoga Therapy, often as an adjunct or ‘bolt on’ to group teacher trainings, accepting students even if from other approaches, styles or traditions.

I have increasing questions around the personal developmental aspects of these options within the context of them being acquisitional skill based professional add-ons to ones teaching repertoire.

For example how does offering 121’s, as if a group class for one, or as I have observed, even advertising 121’s for up to two people; or offering short term therapy (i.e. palliative) based Yoga lessons, compare with the ancient models, such as the one I experienced over two decades of personal lessons with my teacher arising out of T Krishnamacharya and TKV Desikachar’s traditional transmission of ‘apprenticeship’ over a long period?

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