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Teaching the Essence of Yoga

When we stand in front of our students, just what is it that we seek to teach? By familiarizing ourselves with yoga’s essence, we can seek its promise of liberation and share that sacred journey with our students.

By Dr Swami Shankardev Saraswati

Beyond Asana

We need to be aware that yoga is not just a series of exercises for health. Asanas alone are not yoga. They are just forms by which we can teach the principles of yoga: higher living in union with ourselves and life. Asanas give us health by working the organs of the physical body and thereby opening channels for prana to flow to stabilise the nervous system and mind. Asanas sets the ground for higher yoga. However, there are many great yogis who never practice asana. They take completely different paths to their own self-discovery. They may simply follow the path of mantra or of Vedanta (enquiry into who we are).

I remember as a young doctor meeting a young man who was paralysed from the neck down. He was dying from a disease called muscular dystrophy. Even though he was suffering, he radiated an amazing calm and wisdom. His courage in the face of great difficulty was inspirational. In fact, many doctors and patients would visit him in order to feel better. He never taught me asana but was one of my greatest yoga teachers.

Living Yoga

These definitions of yoga present its ultimate aim. It takes most of us many lifetimes to completely attain the last stages of true yoga. However, we need to hold these aims in our hearts, as the more we get to know ourselves, the more we discover the miracle that we are. Of course, we first have to remove the old patterns of thinking and behaving that get in the way of this discovery.

Yoga is a science of self-transformation, of speeding up our natural evolution. And it is a journey that takes time. As teachers, we need to remember and communicate that yoga is an amazingly broad and rich science of self-development and self-exploration; that human existence is an amazingly wonderful, awesome, and occasionally terrifying process; and that there are tools which can allow us to face life with more courage, awareness, skill and higher consciousness.

The key to yoga is awareness--discovering the luminous intelligence that lies within us all. When we find and cultivate this aspect of ourselves, we create our own health, happiness and peace which we can then, in turn, convey to others.

Dr Swami Shankardev Saraswati is an eminent yoga teacher, author, medical doctor and yoga therapist. After meeting his Guru, Swami Satyananda Saraswati in 1974 in India, he lived with him for 10 years and has now taught yoga, meditation and tantra for more than 30 years. Swami Shankardev is an Acharya (authority) in the Satyananda lineage and he teaches throughout the world, including Australia, India, the USA, and Europe. Yoga and meditation techniques have been the foundation of his yoga therapy, medical, ayurveda">ayurvedic, and psychotherapy practice for over 30 years. He is a compassionate, illuminating guide, dedicated to relieving the suffering of his fellow beings.


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