Purna Yoga: A Comprehensive Approach to TeachingA student once told me that she suffered from excessive phlegm in her sinuses and throat. Though she had been practicing asana intensely and regularly for 12 years with many of the world's most noted teachers, her problem persisted. After asking some questions, I realized that this problem could not be solved by an asana practice. Her diet was to blame. I suggested she stop consuming wheat and dairy products and, within two months, she was cured.
The more comprehensive our approach to teaching, the more we can help our students. In the last decade, I have been developing a more encompassing approach to yoga, similar to the one envisioned by my master, Sri Aurobindo. Purna is a Sanskrit word meaning "complete." Purna Yoga is an evolving system using a wide variety of inspiring and effective techniques to address our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. Purna Yoga is my synthesis of the vastness of yoga into a format designed to help others in their quest to fulfill their dharma or life purpose.
Yoga is as vast as creation, and its wealth continues to expand. As teachers, we must strive to expand what we know, not just in depth, but also in width. To be of most benefit to our students, we must master asana and gain a working knowledge of many related fields. Below is an overview of a course of study for yoga teachers.
There are three general types of asana: sustained, flowing, and therapeutic. In sustained asana--as taught by my asana teacher, B.K.S. Iyengar--postures are held for longer periods of time. In the holding, practitioners discover refined movements and alignments and are able to open and channel their inner energy. Flowing asana, taught in a variety of traditions, generates heat, flushes out toxins, and develops external form and strength. The use of the breath to connect the postures requires and cultivates an intense mental focus. Therapeutic asana is designed for individuals, each student receiving a unique practice. The normal rules may not apply--knees may be kept bent, movements may be done slowly, active poses may become passive, and in some cases (such as depression), passive poses may become active. Teachers often use extra props to help support the student.
Pranayama helps cleanse and strengthen the nervous system. When the nervous system is in our control, we are able to perceive the causes of our physical tensions. Thus asana and pranayama work together. With asana, we learn to control the body and keep it still, and with pranayama, we learn to control the mind and nervous system.
As we practice pranayama and refine our control of the breath, we open up the energetic channels of the body to receiving light and inspiration in our life. In an ideal body, asana is simply a preparation to safely receive the power from pranayama.
When teaching asana, have students use their breath to do the deeper work. This will help them build the connection between breath, nerves, and body, for it is the nerves that always tell the muscles what to do. When teaching actual pranayama, have the student start with Ujjayi pranayama, then Viloma, and then the more subtle and powerful pranayamas. Mudras and Bandhas
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