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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

Recognize that each of your students comes to class with different backgrounds, aims, and expectations.

Remember the difference between religion and spirituality. An atheist may lead a more spiritual and giving life than someone who professes to practice religion.

Above all, use the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle. This is fundamental in teaching essence, and it never fails.

There are many ways that we can learn and convey essence, and these are just a few suggestions. The most important thing is to be authentic with students. Pretence and hypocrisy are obvious to everyone except the hypocrite. Allow the light of yoga to shine through you, and it will be visible to others.

Dr. Swami Shankardev is a yogacharya, medical doctor, psychotherapist, author, and lecturer. He lived and studied with his guru, Swami Satyananda, in India for more than 10 years (1974-1985). He lectures all over the world. To read more of his work or to contact him, go to

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Today's modern yogis are like fleshy robots running on outdated spiritual software.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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