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Teaching Dharma

Discovering our dharma--life purpose--is one of the most important steps we can take along our spiritual path. As teachers, it is our responsibility to help each of our students uncover her individual dharma. Here's how to start.

By Aadil Palkhivala

Throughout class, remind your students to move their pelvic energy up toward the heart center, using the gentle lift of the Mula Bandha and the strong ascent of the pit of the abdomen. This helps them use their asana practice to stimulate the heart center until finally, in Savasana (Corpse Pose), they can go deep into their hearts and look inside themselves to discover their inner reasons for living, acting, and practicing. The heart center is where the spirit lives and has its deepest connection in the physical body. Teaching students to go into the heart center throughout class and to settle there at the end of class helps them discover their spirit and hence, over time, their dharma.

Teach your students that asana is not to be practiced for the sake of asana, but for the sake of dharma. Who really cares if you can open your groin or not? It's wonderful that the potential for opening the groin exists and that opening it makes us stand taller, but where does that fit in the big picture? How does the asana practice aid the mandate of the soul? Our asana practice must serve our purpose, and not serve only itself. When we practice more than what our dharma requires, we only feed the ego. If my dharma is to be an exceptional artist, practicing asana for 18 hours is for my ego and does not serve me. On the other hand, when we practice to fulfill our dharma, our practice is imbued with passion--it is no longer a constant effort to appease the body's ego, but a yearning, calling us to be more fully ourselves.

As you develop long-term relationships with your students, remember their particular needs and, during class, make suggestions and modifications that are unique to them. This will help them connect their practice with their personal mission. For example, if you know a student's dharma is to be a highly accomplished pianist, teach him refinements in the use of his hands. Teach him how to protect his wrists and fingers, showing him poses that are best for their release and avoiding those that could create tension.

If we want to be well-rounded teachers of yoga, if we want to serve our students with the gift of yoga, if we want to help each student fully receive the blessings that yoga has to offer, we cannot merely teach asana. Our responsibility is greater than just knowing the actions of the poses. Our responsibility is to cultivate human beings. The asanas are merely the bait. People come to us to become fit, and we give them an evolutionary process. A student feels the true impact of yoga when the practice changes his entire life, not merely his body. A holistic way of teaching integrates all the eight limbs of yoga and moves the student to explore, discover, and then live their dharma.

The path of yoga is the path of revealing dharma and enabling us to live it. Our job as teachers is to assist this process. In doing so, we help our students realize their uniqueness, act on their passions, and, as they continue to walk on the path, discover the purpose of their soul.

This article is excerpted from a forthcoming book called Teaching the Yamas and Niyamas by Aadil Palkhivala.

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Reader Comments


Has anyone read The Book of Dharma by Simon Haas?? I cannot even put the book down!


Loved the article!! Thank you!


Deeply touch, tears to my eyes...perfect timing. Just the right medicine to re-install boundaries in my practice. Serving the heart... what a way to go!!!

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