Following in the guru’s footsteps

Posted by on Oct 2, 2013 in Blog

Following in the guru’s footsteps

How grateful are you for your yoga practice? I am forever grateful, and so it is out of respect for the tradition that I share this very brief introduction to the colourful and rich tapestry that is yoga.

Yoga is often thought of as physical exercise as it is the asana (posture) aspect of yoga that is most developed and widespread outside of India. And if it weren’t for the work of one man in particular, the yoga we know today may not exist. I’m not sure what Krishnamacharya would make of the billion dollar yoga industry but I’m sure he would approve of the vast reach yoga has attained and the millions of people who benefit from a yoga practice.

Krishnamacharya, born in the late 1880′s, is the father of modern yoga. If you practice yoga, there is some link to this man who spent his life reviving yoga in India with a focus on the physical practice of asana, the postures we use today. His four main students have massively influenced the uptake of yoga outside of India. T.K.V. Desikachar, his son, along with B.K.S. Iyengar, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois; and the first woman disciple of yoga and a Westerner, Indra Devi; who taught yoga to Marilyn Monroe.

The yoga tradition is much older than this however. As a system of Indian philosophy, it was first systematised and written down about 2,500 years ago by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Called ashtanga yoga by Patanjali, it is made up of eight ‘limbs’ (ashto = eight) , each representing a specific aspect of this very practical philosophy.

The limbs include postures (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama) and techniques for preparing the mind for meditation (dhyana).  There is also guidance for daily living and the final of the eight limbs, samadhi, a state of pure consciousness that is the ultimate goal of a traditional yoga practitioner.

The Yoga Sutras are divided into four chapters and 196 sutras, or verses. Sutras 1.2 and 1.3 give the reader a simple yet profound explanation of what yoga is. I like the translation ‘Yoga is the mastery and integration of the activities of the mind. Then the seer, the Self, rests in its true nature.’ Now that’s something to think about, although not to dwell on it for too long as it is a text for application rather than intellectual study and debate. I’m inclined to follow the wisdom of Pattabhi Jois, the ashtanga vinyasa guru who famously said, ‘Yoga is 99% practice,1% theory’.

Another important yoga text, is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written by Svatmarama in the fifteenth century. Hatha, is a term used to describe classical yoga and also indicates a balance of opposing energy.
Ha = sun and Tha = moon. It focuses on asana, pranayama, mudra (energy seals) and achieving samadhi.

There is much debate about what is traditional yoga and this debate is sure to continue as the practice of yoga evolves. Staying true to the fundamentals of yoga and respecting its origins will help it to evolve with integrity. So what does all this mean for your yoga practice? Well, it’s useful to have an understanding of what it is to practice yoga and how it applies to your life both on and off the mat. Yoga is more than physical exercise, but in our physical practice, if we are aware of the integration of body, breath and mind we are doing yoga. As Desikachar says:

“It is something that we experience inside, deep within our being. Yoga is not external experience. In yoga we try in every action to be as attentive as possible to everything we do. Yoga is different from dance or theatre. In yoga we are not creating something for others to look at… We do it only for ourselves.”

Love yoga? Then read, study, get to know the guru’s who shared the gift of yoga, but above all… practice!