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Teaching the Spiritual Essence of Yoga with Integrity

The heart of yoga is spirituality, best defined as the process of self-awareness, self-discovery, and self-realization. This is what most of our students are seeking, even if they do not consciously realize or express it, and supporting another being on the journey of self-discovery is one of the greatest gifts we can bestow. But how can we teach spirit, depth, and meaning in an authentic and satisfying way?

By Dr. Swami Shankardev Saraswati

It is often only when we teach yoga that we begin to learn what yoga truly is. This is because it is in the context of teaching that we are forced to examine our understanding of yoga critically, and to witness to what extent we embody and communicate this understanding.

Yoga can support the whole being if the student is open to the process. How open a student is often depends not only on how we teach technique, but on how we present our understanding. How we demonstrate essence and spirit in our teaching depends on how much we are actually living yoga, how heart-connected we are, and how much depth and wisdom we have developed.

There are many challenges facing us as teachers. How do we infuse a yoga class with depth without using excessive theory, jargon, and Sanskrit terms, which are often meaningless to our students? How can we teach with integrity, without feeling like an impostor, during personally challenging periods of our lives? In meeting these challenges, we must continuously contemplate what yoga and spirituality are for us, and how we gain depth in our own lives. Only then can we teach the rewards of a deeper practice.

What is Spirituality?
In essence, spirituality deals with our relationship with that which is beyond us as individuals. This is a relationship with something greater than we arewith a creator, or a source of being that we have come from before our —birth, and where we will go to after our death. This is a very personal inner journey.

From the yogic perspective, we experience the spiritual by cultivating our awareness and taking this awareness deep into the subtle dimensions of our being. Awareness allows us to experience the subtler aspects of life and marks a step on our inner journey toward self-realization. Once we have forged a conscious relationship with that which is beyond the "little" us, then we can bring that connection and understanding into our everyday lives. Only then can we truly permeate our lives and teachings with depth and meaning.

As teachers, we may be asked to give some form of spiritual guidance to our students to support their journey. The aim of yoga teachers should always be to empower our students to find their own way. One of the tools we give them to do this is awareness. Therefore, always direct your students to become more aware and more confident in their own feelings and intuitions.

Gaining Spirit in Ourselves
The most important first step for teachers is to develop their own spirituality. Spiritual knowledge comes only from a great deal of study and personal self-development. It takes time to develop true wisdom and a grounded, authentic spirituality. This cannot be achieved from books, and if we attempt to teach what we do not know, our students will quickly perceive this. If our spirituality is grounded in authentic realization, then we develop a heart-connected relationship with all of life and, therefore, with our students. Then even simple practices become potent.

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Reader Comments

Zee

Today's modern yogis are like fleshy robots running on outdated spiritual software. They possess immense knowledge and full capacity for thought. They competently handle all the complexities of life family, health, finance, career, household day in and day out, year after year. They are intelligent, mature, clever, kind, honest, and fairly representative. And yet, whenever we turn to real spirituality, the most basic and essential facts about awakening, all we get is dubious stares and incoherent skepticism.

Yogis are all in this lululemon spirituality trance. They keep themselves strung out on tranquilizers all the time. They are all in the hands of a loving God, that is one kind of tranquilizer they like to swallow. Means you can just do your asana, read Bhagavad Gita and pass the time. Be nice and say you are sorry when you done wrong and your loving God won't cook your ass. They hope for transcendental bliss, cosmic consciousness, kundalini awakening, supreme love... Reincarnation is another pill that goes down easy. Zazen and pranayama are practised as an advanced spiritual studies. Be nice, be quiet, smile, breathe deeply, be good, don't ask questions, don't use your minds, don't make a disturbance sound familiar?

Is there some purpose of yoga other than to awaken us from delusion?

Spiritually-inclined yogis, from all styles and disciplines are really doing nothing more than maintaining their ignorance. None of them are divesting themselves of their egoic bonds. There is no interest in freedom. It's all been channeled safely into non-threatening, ego-gratifying avenues such as "living practice", "yoga is a gift", heart based spirituality, yama and nyama hobbies, etc.

Yoga asanas, meditation, praying, chanting, vegetarianism, attending darshan and satsang, vipasana, pranayama, zazen, donating money to charitable institutions, reading classical spiritual literature, purifying body etc...

Yogis are doing all this spiritual stuff because they want to maintain certain direction. They want to develop spiritually or grow closer to God, or go to Heaven, or raise their consciousness, or get enlightment, obtain liberation - something along those general lines. In short, they are moving, progressing. They are heading toward one point and away from another.

Yogis believe, in the broadest sense, that something is wrong and that "living practice" of yoga can make it right. What that something is, what's wrong with it, and how it can be fixed all differ from person to person, but general pattern is always the same. However, the truth is that wrongness is entirely imagined. It is the Ego. It is the core of delusion.

The essence of bondage is to consider ourselves to be a process, to have past and future, to have history, to keep progressing somewhere. In terms of awakening it doesn't matter much if one meditates or not, or whether one eats meat or not, or whether one gives to charities or steals from them. For awakening we need to dismantle our false preconceptions and get out from Hindu-Christian-Buddhist-Zen-New Age trap. We need to challenge our opinions; our most cherished and deeply held beliefs because no belief is true. We need to understand our ego structure, our false self.

Delusion is the structural integrity of ego. Observe ego at work, make a study of it, and dissect it, reverse- engineer it. The real spirituality starts from there. The yogis who want to explore life and freedom must harden their heart and sharpen their mind. Yogis must face the facts, they must face their own mortality, their own meaninglessness. There is nothing more devastating to ego than the contemplation of meaninglessness and insignificance. Of nothingness. Of no-self.

One does not undergo the process of awakening out of love for the true but out of hatred for the false: a hatred so intense that it burns everything and spares nothing. And it is that hatred that today's yoga spirituality discourage so reaching state of awakening is nearly impossible.

Veena grover RYT

Karen,Thanks for your suggestion.God bless you. Veena

Veena Grover RYT

Spirituality cannot be taught, only experienced.When a person is ready, god opens the doors.Awareness comes & person surrender to higher power.

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