The art of teaching


Krisna_instruisant_Arjuna“When the disciple is ready, the Master will appear.”

Om saha navavatu saha nau bhunaktu saha viryam karavavahai tejasvi navadhitam astu ma vidvishavahai
om shantih shantih shantih
Accept us both together. Protect us both together. May our knowledge and strength increase. May we not resent one another.

Before I started practicing yoga, I had various people in my life whom I called teachers. I have fond memories of my school days, and have come to realize that each one of the teachers that left an impression on me did so because they shined a light on some aspect of relationship. I suppose I can see these teachers as my first yoga teachers; each one helped me get a better understanding of myself.

When I first started practicing yoga, I was fascinated with the idea of having a Guru. I studied about the importance of the teacher, and was determined to find mine. I searched near and far, and at some point I even felt a little bit like the duckling from the very popular 1979’s children’s book, Are You My Mother? With each new teacher I encountered, I waited for a magical moment, the moment I knew I’d found “the one”. Years went by and I attended many classes, workshops and retreats with many renowned and wonderful teachers. I went through at least one life crisis, and eventually I found myself at the Jivamukti teacher training in 2007. I embraced this method of yoga and its founders, Sharon Gannon and David Life, whom I had never met until the training. My head wanted me to feel an electric current drawing me ever closer to these masterful yogis, but my heart was conflicted. While I certainly felt vulnerable in their presence in a weird and wonderful way, I was confused, scared and uncertain. How could I know for sure?

In addition to my own uncertainties, there was almost a cult-like encircling around the teachers that I had never seen before. I was dumbstruck by the reverence and devotion other teacher trainees bestowed upon Sharon and David. Part celebrity-styled idolizing, part deep-admiration and love, it was sometimes difficult to discern the difference between the two, and hence my understanding of the complexity of relationship between student and teacher grew. Perhaps I was simply not far enough along on my path at that time to understand the nature of teacher-disciple relationship, or perhaps I understood the word Guru to be something so revered that I would only bring myself to use it only when a most divine bond had been cemented. Whatever the case may be, by the end of the training, I had come to realize that the relationship in question was as much about the teacher nourishing the student as the other way around. I left the training with unanswered questions. Is the student chosen by the teacher, or the teacher chosen by the student? How can a student see them self in the teacher without the teacher seeing them self in the student? As long as there is a divide, is it yoga? Is there a difference between a teacher and a guru?

For many years, I carried these questions around like extra baggage, being naively let down by teachers who showed their ego at times I deemed to be inappropriate; disenchanted by others due to my own narrow-minded expectations.

Still and forever on my journey, I have come to realize a few things.

First, to refer to the quote above: “When the disciple is ready, the Master will appear.”

We all have a variety of teachers in our lives that become our teachers when we are ready to see them as such; ourselves included. Friends, family, loved ones and nemesis are not to be overlooked. When a time rich in potential for transformation unveils itself, you can be assured, the right teacher in that moment will be there to guide the way. It is our choice, or course, to be open the form in which they will appear. It may not be what we are expecting.

Then, the mantra: Om saha navavatu saha nau bhunaktu saha viryam karavavahai tejasvi navadhitam astu ma vidvishavahai om shantih shantih shantih Accept us both together. Protect us both together. May our knowledge and strength increase. May we not resent one another.

In times when I have been in the presence of a great teacher, I have learned over time that it is always up to me to embrace the relationship. I am in the presence of magnificent teachers every day, and my biggest obstacle is my own ego, filled with judgement, preferences, and avidya (ignorance). The moment I see a teacher as human, flawed, capable of using their power to harm or manipulate, embarking in selfish actions, I succumb to fear, and miss out on the opportunity of learning, of growing. In these instances I fail to see clearly from a state of love. I create a separation.

Of course, we all have insecurities, and sometimes in the presence of a master, those insecurities can feel like they are being unmasked and magnified for the world to behold. This is in equal parts terrifying, diminishing and enlightening. The teacher who holds this power is a Guru, as they are lifting the veil of darkness, or avidya. We see ourselves as we are; all the beauty and potential, all the flaws. The challenge and work at hand is to accept this, and understand our responsibility to oneself. The Guru is not necessarily there to hold our hand and cater to our every need and weakness. Far from it.

It may seem for some that the remover of darkness, the Guru, is there to deliver the disciple into a field of rose petals at the dawn of a new day, with nothing but peace and freedom from the word ‘go’. In my experience, this ain’t how it works. In reality, the Guru may lead us to see great suffering and pain before finding enlightenment. Darkness can take many forms, including believing that happiness comes solely from material gain or physical appearance. Imagine you have spent your life amassing fortune in torturous, harmful conditions….or starving your body to an incurable state of illness in the hopes of finding happiness, only to be told it was all for naught. Not a field of rose petals at dawn, I can tell you.

I have my own unique views when it comes to the guru principle. I hold my teachers in my heart always; they come to me in dreams even when I am not able to be physically near them. Their words resonate within me and I aspire to be near them, to be with them. Ultimately, however, I have come to believe that the Guru exists in its purest state, within. It is something ignitable in each of us that can be turned on by tuning in. Sometimes it takes an exceptional teacher to help us find the switch, but when we do, we become powerful beyond our imagination. We become an instrument for divine will.

The true art of teaching then, comes from learning to tune in long enough to find our own ‘guru’ switch, and then empowering others to do the same. We can only do that when we embrace, accept and protect each other, and that takes a lot of letting go of fear, resentment and anger. The master will appear, it’s just a question of time.

Why our choices matter…


(If you don’t wish to read this post in entirety, please do watch the video below)
Yoga can sometimes appear to be a bit like a slippery ball of yarn; difficult to grasp onto one comprehensive meaning that gives a lay person an understanding of the enormity and spectrum of the practice. While the direct translation of the word is solid – to yoke or unite – the interpretations and understanding of what yoga is differ enormously, and most of the time only capture a limited aspect of an all-encompassing practice. Regular practitioners can generally agree on one thing; there can be a passion regarding the practice that is on the same level of importance of life itself; in fact, the yoga practice is embedded into all aspects of life.

My experience with yoga is that it is a practice of relationship: relationship with self and relationship with other. The state of yoga is seeing ourselves in all other human beings; treating every living being as oneself. The world most of us live in is not created from this fabric. Holding a job, a home, a family implies a sense of self, or ego (‘my’ job, ‘my’ family). These labels, or containers, help to define and separate, it becomes a way of managing ourselves in the world. Yoga, however, is the process of integrating.

To the outside world, or those new to the practice, it may seem that the teachings of yoga can be radical, or extreme. These are two different words, with very different roots. Radical actually stems from the word ‘root’, or ‘inherent’, while extreme stems from the root word ‘outermost’, or ‘utmost’. These subtleties can easily be mistaken and overlooked by the dedicated practitioner, but make a very big difference in the intention of the practice and the ability to be integrated in the world, and in seeing ourselves in other beings, versus living a life of separation that opinates and judges.

In the eight-limbed path of yoga, otherwise referred to as ashtanga (literally translated to eight, ashtanga, attachments or limbs, anga) there are guidelines for practicing yoga in an integrated way in life; not just on a man-made yoga mat, and not just as a specific time in the day when one works on the body-mind relationship. Yoga states that the body-mind relationship extends well beyond time and our body, for yoga inter-relates all of animate life; yoga states we are one.

The first limb of the eight limbs are the yamas, or restraints. These restraints refer to how we relate to others. While we still see ourselves as separate, individual beings (jiva in Sanskrit), the first yama states that we should be kind to all other beings. In Sanskrit the word is ahimsa, or non-harming. This is a rich topic because there are many interpretations and mechanisms for harming others, some without even knowing it.  For example, we may think non-harming suggests that it is better to lie to another being to avoid conflict, or to lie to ourselves to avoid a painful truth. Ahimsa does not imply lying, or making judgements (in fact, the second yama is satya, or truthfulness). Non-harming does imply compassion, the act of experiencing the suffering of others as one’s own. As yogis, we practice both not harming others, as well as identifying with others who suffer. The next step is an obvious one, and that is to not only not harm others, but to actively do something to prevent the suffering of others.

The link between practicing non-harming behaviour, consumerism and activism is a well documented topic, which my teachers, Sharon Gannon and David Life have spent their life articulating. Most of us can agree that when it comes to consuming other beings as food, it is clear that harming is involved-one being must be killed in order for the other to eat it. However, there are many misunderstandings of the conditions the animals in the average factory farm are treated, and the horrific conditions the workers in those factories must endure. In practicing ethical vegetarianism, or veganism (the practice of not consuming animal products), it is a proactive measure to not participate in the cycle of harming. Even so, lifestyle and diet choice can become a fixation point where other relationship falls by the wayside. It is possible, for example, for ethical vegetarians to harm to themselves if left undernourished for a lack of knowledge about how to eat healthfully in this manner or due to specific health reasons. There also may be a tendency towards harmful thoughts, or even actions towards others who do not assume the same label. This often is guided by ignorance, of relying labels which only ultimately feed the ego instead of relating to the other being. Practicing the yamas and yoga in general, implies having the awareness to catch and eradicate critical thought when it enters the mind. It is a practice, and like all practices, we each do the best we can within our abilities and constraints.

What is important to note is that as consumers, the choices we make and our purchasing behaviour is powerful. The more knowledge we have, the more we may make informed decisions and implement changes where possible. If the choice is to eat meat, for example, know where it comes from and how the animals are treated; subtleties and small details matter. This small step may change the lives of thousands, not to mention your own.

Resources:
Abel and Cole
Planet Organic
Books at Jivamuktiyoga.com

 

Top ten gifts for the yogi (who needs no thing)


Well, well, it’s that timeout year for those of us living in the world going to homes where gifts are exchanged around the holidays. Not in need of anything, why not ask for something that could help to deepen your practice? Here are my top ten Nice to Have gifts for any practicing Yogi.

10. Mala beads from etsy.com
A shop within a shop, etsy makes it easy to find boutique, handmade items that are right for you. For mala beads, try sellers Lovepray Jewellry,or Sevgi (seen in the photo)

9. Yoga and Vegetarianism, Sharon Gannon
A succinct explanation of the ethical practices of yoga as they relate to a vegan diet.

8. The Warrior Within through the a Bhagavad Gita, Manorama
Manorama is inspiring, down to earth and living wisdom. Study the dormant energy within by listening to this CD time and time again, and become who You Are.

7. Light on Life, BKS Iyengar
A must read every year, connect your practice to your life and relish in Iyengar’s infinite wisdom.

6. Dharma Talks with Tias Little
An eloquent, exuberant teacher, dharma talks 1-4 are interesting, enriching and enlightening. Tias has the gift of weaving diverse traditions together into a seamless narrative.

5. Living without Stress or Fear, Thich Nhat Hanh
The sweetness of Thay’s message helps us to smile at our basic human instincts and embodies compassion. Any CD by this vietnamese Buddhist monk will have immediate calming effects and help transform negative energy into positive action.

4. When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron
An American Tibetan Monk, Pema is relatable, funny and modest. Also highly recommended, Getting Unstuck.

3. Sharon Gannon and David Life, The Spoken Word Series
Sharon Gannon and David Life’s unabashedly straightforward and honest approach to yoga, vegetarianism and animal rights makes no apologies for its honesty and deep insight. Amazing teachers who continue to inspire, inquire and evolve.

2. Wisdom and Practice, BKS Iyengar
A wonderful reference documenting the life of a living yogic master, his practice and his writings. Beautiful images and interwoven texts.

1. The Yoga Matrix, DVD set by Richard Freeman
A brilliant, comprehensive listen worth revisiting again and again, encompasses the Ashtanga system in depth from a master practitioner.

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