13 Oct Yoga Philosophy and Your Core Values
It could be claimed that the exploration of Yoga Philosophy is a vital component of one’s yoga practice. The path of Jnana Yoga involves the intellect through self-enquiry, investigation of Īśvara (higher consciousness) and also the scripture.
The Bhagavad Gita dedicates an entire chapter (ch4) to Jnana yoga
“There is nothing as pure as knowledge in this world. In due course, one who is perfect in yoga realizes this.”— Bhagavad Gita 4.38
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2.32 lists Īśvarapraṇidhāna as one of the essential elements of personal practice. Īśvarapraṇidhāna is Sanskrit term that means the knowledge of self and one’s higher self.
Through the practice of Jnana Yoga, you come face-to-face with your own personal worldview and how it compares and contrasts to the worldview as outlined within Yogic texts. This can be at times, really interesting, awakening and inspiring yet at other times you can find yourself disillusioned, frustrated and even disturbed.
I say disturbed because when you consider yourself a yoga teacher (or an aspiring one), chances are, you’d like to think that you agree with the tenets of what you are sharing, right?
I recently taught the Real Flow yoga philosophy Module on the 200 hour teacher training and some very interesting debate was raised amongst the trainees.
It transpired that the 17 trainees and I, all had a large variety of different core values and beliefs when it comes to God, philosophy, religion and faith in general.
So what happens when you find yourself faced with an aspect of the yoga teachings that don’t sit comfortably with your own personal beliefs?
This blog is an attempt to explore how you can reconcile between yoga philosophy and your own personal philosophy and still teach yoga in an authentic way.
Question 1: As a yoga teacher, is it OK to omit philosophy from your class?
I’d say that it depends…it depends on what your core values and ultimate goals and intentions are with the practice. Omission of anything will only lead you so far down the path…Perhaps rephrase the same question and apply to Anatomy to find your answer…i.e. Is it OK to omit anatomy?
Yes you could leave it out. If aspects of the yoga teachings don’t resonate for you, whether it’s in life in general or whether it’s just that day, then omitting the teaching and focusing in on an area of yoga instead that does inspire you more is better than reluctantly covering topics and being insincere. Ultimately, in order to be authentic it’s important to be clear on what you are sharing and to be honest with your students and true to yourself.
An alternative middle path approach to tackling this issue, that I found myself doing quite a bit, whenever I felt that, “the jury is still out” on a yogic teaching is to allow your students the opportunity to decide for themselves. I would offer the teachings and provide my source, i.e a particular scripture or guru and invite them to explore and decide for themselves… for example:
“Samsara means ‘same agitation’ it is used within the Gita in reference to the perpetual cycle of death and rebirth…Now, I’m not sure about reincarnation as such but we can apply the term more generally, Can you within your body notice any repetitive habit patterns that hold you stuck?”
“the Gita describes karma yoga as the detachment from the results of your actions. I invite you in this seated forward fold posture to enquire within your experience of it as to whether being detached from say, whether you can touch your toes or not leads to an outcome for you or not”.
Question 2: Is it OK to disagree with the fundamental ‘ultimate goal’ of yoga yet still practice yoga?
Whether from the Vedantic or the Samkhya worldview, it is clearly stated within the Upanisads, the Baghavad Gita, Patanjali Yoga Sutras and the Siva Samhita that liberation (moksha / kaivalya) from rebirth (samsara) is the ultimate goal of yoga. Liberation from rebirth obviously relies on a belief in reincarnation. Furthermore there is a certain degree of theistic monism (belied in God) presented within the scripture yet within my group of trainees there were some that were atheist.
Again, I’d say that it depends on your core values, your goals and intentions with yoga and ‘how far down the rabbit hole’ you’re willing to go yourself. You can only take people as far as you’ve been yourself.
Question 3: How do I know what my Core Values are?
The yoga philosophy teachings indicate that it is through the combination of clear intention, meditation practice, dedication, effort and humility and grace that we will uncover soul’s purpose (dharma) and core values. In effect, if you practice yoga, you develop deeper insight and intuition and thus your own core values will reveal themself to you.
Yet I see a kind of paradox that arises here; if you don’t know what your core values are, the solution is to practice yoga, presumably implicitly taking on the underlying core values within yoga philosophy, merely as vehicle in which to work your way towards finding your own core values! Then when you go deeper, whether this relationship between you and yoga is sustainable if your core values are ultimately different from those presented in yoga philosophy is debatable!
Question 4: Can you still practice yoga without regard for yoga philosophy?
Have you ever tried assembling Ikea furniture without reading the instructions and the outcome is a right mess? Fail to prepare, prepare to Fail? Can we say the same about yoga practice when it comes to reading the scripture?
For me personally, I like to equip myself with as much knowledge as I can so that I know what I’m getting involved in. I took this approach for my childbirth, I swotted up on hypno-birthing, read books, spoke to new mums and listened to podcasts so that I felt ready for the unknown. However I know not everyone likes to prepare like I do. Some people live their lives more spontaneously, which is fine and perhaps there is good argument to say that a laissez-faire relaxed approach to preparation is most conducive of good results. Indeed the Upanisada and Hatha Pradapika both mention that practice is more important than theory.
“Not through much learning is the Atman reached, not through the intellect and sacred teaching. ….Not even through deep knowledge can the Atman be reached, unless evil ways are abandoned and there is rest in the sense, concentration in the mind and peace in one’s heart.” Katha Upanisad ch2
“Perfection results from practical application. Without practising how can it happen? Just by reading the shastras, perfection in yoga will never be attained” Hatha Parapika 1:66
But if you go fishing don’t be surprised if you catch a fish!
Likewise, if you practice yoga and you are not aware of the affects of yoga, it could be that at some point down the line that you find yourself either positively or negatively surprised. However, if it’s the latter, I warn you, the outcome has been known to be potentially very harmful for the practitioner (Iyengar’s Light on Yoga and Kundalini Tantra by Swami Satyananda Saraswati are just two of many sources that warn against practice without proper preparation and support).
Whomever told you yoga is designed to make you relax and feel good, were telling you at best a half truth, at worse, a lie!
Yoga as presented within the scripture is the path of enlightenment and as such inevitably involves ‘growing pains’, transformation, change and transcendence. This can present itself in numerous ways that affect you physically, physiologically, energetically, emotionally, spiritually.
Sometimes, and normally as a beginner, these changes are experienced as enjoyable. Other times, normally as you go deeper and the yoga really starts to do it’s work, these shifts can be experienced as uncomfortable and very unsettling. I’d say that this is why and when it’s important to practice with a yoga teacher you trust and to have the awareness of the philosophy of yoga so that you are aware of the context and the affects of yoga.
Furthermore, if you know in your core values that you are not looking to change any aspect of yourself then it might be worth really questioning whether yoga is the appropriate modality for you. There are plenty of other physical disciplines that are fun, functional and keep you fit and healthy if that’s what you’re looking for.
I’m just saying, if you’re going to practice yoga, whether you’re interested in the philosophy or not, at some point the philosophy can and will find you!