Stages of Learning

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Yoga mastery is a step-by-step path, whether it be the mastery of one exercise, one kriya, or one lifetime. Your students will experience transformation toward mastery by moving through a set of stages in their spiritual growth. Of course, not all students will come to you in the same stage. Therefore, as teachers, we need to be sensitive to the stage in which each student finds herself and the type of teaching, encouragement, and challenges that are appropriate to that stage.

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Patience is Essential

In our culture, we often seek the immediate. It would be fantastic if, like the Greek goddess Athena, we could spring full-grown from the head of some Zeus, perfectly wise and masterful. But we will have missed something along the way, something precious and beautiful that we already possess: the God, the unlimited spirit, in our heart.

To awaken that inner spirit, students must savor, learn the lessons and face the challenges, and hone the skills that come with each stage in the practice. Students must be dedicated to the disciplines that help identify the ego and unfold the Self.

Transformation through the Five Stages

As we walk the path of yoga and meditation, we do more than gather postures, Pranayama, kriyas, mantras, and a thousand other techniques. We transform. We do so not to gather brilliant-sounding platitudes, to get somewhere else, or to have something new. We transform to awaken to our humanity, our reality, and our consciousness.

Like a Growing Flower, We Transform in Stages

First, there is a seed that secures its roots and prepares for the journey toward the sun. This is our calling and motivation. In Kundalini Yoga, we call that saram pad. (Pad means a step or stage.)

Second, the sprout emerges and grows straight toward the sky. This is called karam pad. It is a stage of doing, testing, and trying. The sprout keeps growing upward in every condition of wind, rain, or sun. A teacher tests the application of a kriya in all emotional weather conditions, mental challenges, and a wide range of student populations.

Third, leaves appear and bring in the power of the sun. New feelings arise, and you move with them. This is shakti pad, a stage when feelings of power test your ego. It is like adolescence, when you want to ignore the rules out of confidence in your own prowess. As a yoga student, you often want to test your teacher or challenge the teachings at this stage. Impatience and potency combine.

Fourth, the flower blooms. Your real nature becomes apparent, and you become subtle and sehej, or at ease. You do not react to every up and down in the day. You do not hustle and hassle to get things in life. Instead, things come to you because your aura and character are attractive, like the fragrance of a flower.

Fifth, sending out new seeds to grow. This is a rare and beautiful stage. In yoga it is called sat pad, the stage of true existence. Now, each word and action sets the standard—the seed—for your craft. You are fulfilled through a continuous cycle of seeding and manifestation. Humility, clarity, spontaneous action, and awareness are signatures of this stage. The little "you" of ego is either dissolved or used in service to the vast "You within you," to embody grace and quality in every action.

Teaching by Stage

Learn the characteristics of each stage and the teaching style required to help your students advance.

Saram Pad

In saram pad, the teacher embodies gur, or "formula." At this stage, the student needs clear, simple rules. All the exceptions, contextual changes, and more complex distinctions come later. Give them clarity and first steps to master. Do not show off your expertise and mastery by giving too many details. Keeping it simple gets students on the road and allows focused mastery.

Karam Pad

In karam pad, the teacher embodies guru, or "wisdom." This is the transformation of gu—darkness, ignorance, and bad habits—into ru, or light, knowledge, and supportive habits. During karam pad, students practice the posture in many kriyas, at different times of the day, in groups, alone, for a shorter or longer time, and so forth. They gain experience and need to know when they go wrong. Let mistakes happen, and correct them along the way. As a teacher, you must be attentive and give the student a gradually increasing set of challenges. The worst mistake you can make is imposing your own, more advanced expertise. Instead, allow each person to use her own senses, mental qualities, and emotional dispositions (gunas and tatvas) to find a way toward mastery of the self. The teacher provides challenges and situations that help them cultivate their experience, stretch past their comfort zone, and form an understanding through practice. It is also a time when students appreciate hearing stories of how others have successfully embodied the teachings.

Shakti Pad

In shakti pad, the teacher embodies sat guru, or "true wisdom," the wisdom that comes from experience. The student knows how to do the breathing and may be excellent in posture and philosophy. Now she wants to personalize things and make her own laws and rules. She is like the young driver who can drive to town skillfully but must now choose to go the fastest way, the way with the most friends, or the most scenic way. The challenge is retaining values and developing the ability to go beyond the personal emotion to the requirements of the practice. This is a difficult stage for a teacher—you need patience, acceptance, and a neutral mind to act as a mirror for your students. It is a fortunate student whose teacher can tolerate and respond to their reactions, confusion, and fears with a judicious application of kindness and discipline. Teach in a way that allows the student to gain her own foundation and self-trust. The teacher must hold a loving, neutral space, with direct statements that help the student drop the battle of ego versus spirit.

Sehej Pad

In sehej pad, the teacher embodies siri guru, or "great wisdom." In shakti pad, the teacher confronts and cuts the ego. In sehej pad, the teacher transfers knowledge and energy through his or her presence. The teacher holds a standard to which the student rises. For some teachers, the challenge here is to allow the student surpass them. The teacher must help the student learn from every polarity. Deepen your students' awareness, whether situations are easy or hard, recognized or not, appreciated or disrespected, relaxing or fearful.

Sat Pad

In sat pad, the teacher embodies wahe guru, which means "infinite wisdom." This is when ego is not an issue. Once I traveled to Los Angeles to attend a class with Yogi Bhajan, my teacher. He spotted me in the class and said, "What are you doing here? I am already here. I cannot be in every city. You are me. Be so!" My habit was to be at his feet in the role of student. I wanted to learn and to be blessed. At this moment, he dissolved the role of teacher-student, letting me know that the link of our consciousness and the path of service are one; there is nothing to gain and no separation in time and space. In sat pad, every action, every situation, and every moment teaches you. The teacher acknowledges, gives responsibility, or tests how well you maintain your grace beyond circumstance. There is no rule for teaching at this stage, except to uplift the student to be better than herself.

Additional stages do exist. But first you must recognize these five stages in your students, and learn that the stages arise in the different levels at which you are teaching. Assess your students and teach to the stage in which you encounter them. Grow each student as a unique manifestation of God. Help them find that place beyond experience, through the experience of their authentic nature.



Gurucharan Singh Khalsa, Ph.D., L.P.P.C., is director of training for Kundalini Research Institute (KRI). His most recent books are Breathwalk and The Mind, coauthored with Yogi Bhajan, and Psychospiritual Clinician's Handbook, coauthored with Sharon Mijares. You may find out more about Kundalini Yoga at www.3ho.org and may contact Gurucharan at yogamaster@aol.com.