Philosophy Essay- Triyoga advanced Teacher Training
Self Study: Back to this Essential Teaching
“In order to understand ourselves we need a great deal of humility. If you start by saying, ‘I know myself’, you have already stopped learning.”
“We hope that teachers and students alike will decide to take responsibility to study authentic traditions and only work with people who have worked on themselves.”
-Avitri and Aadil Palkhivala
Yoga is a method of practice for self-liberation. Many modern teachers do a 28 day training on the fundamentals of yoga in order to gain a 200hour certification. Teachers are eager to share the practice and begin to offer classes, focused mainly on asana. In its origins, however, yoga was a lifelong commitment self-study, transmitted from teacher to student. It began as a ‘back to nature’ movement, rooted in seeking an alternate reality, and ultimately, complete freedom. Although there are varies methods depending on lineage, the goal of yoga has been the same throughout. In a modern context, this essential teaching has been lost. Modern teachers are failing to commit to a path of self inquiry, therefore presenting a fragmented version of the practice to their students. Asana has become the focal point as modern yoga shifts towards a consumer-based business. Jennie Lee explains the issue with this modern shift:
We are meant to have a unique self-expression, however if the consciousness of the separate 'I" dominates, we spend all our time indulging, defending, protecting and developing that separate identity exclusively, forgetting all about the soul. We become rooted in personal desires and attachments, and ignore our innate Divinity, and the need to walk in the world as vehicles of its expression. (Lee)
In the global community, we often receive incomplete practices of the yoga tradition, neatly packaged to sell asana-focused classes, which promise to heal the body and calm the mind. What modern yoga fails to impart is the essential practice of self-study, or Svādhyāya through this influx of global consumerism. In his book Understanding Yourself: the path of Svādhyāya, Soviet defines the roots as two sanskrit words sva meaning one’s own self, soul and dhyaya meaning to mediate, contemplate, think of.” Svādhyāya. therefore, can mean the study of one's own self. There is a misconception that self-study and narcism are synonymous. Taking ‘selfies’ of advanced yoga postures does not count as self-study in the classical sense because it depicts a false self, dominated by ego. Self-study in this context means the study of sacred texts, yoga philosophy, and personal practice through direct experience. Feeding the ego on the path to self realisation is a hindrance. In Easwaran’s translation of the Upanishads, Yama explains:
In the secret cave of the heart, two are
seated by life’s fountain. The separate ego
Drinks of the sweet and bitter stuff,
Liking the sweet, disliking the bitter,
While the supreme Self drinks sweet and bitter
Neither liking this nor disliking that.
The ego gropes in darkness, while the Self
Lives in the light. (Katha 3. 1)
Social media plays a large role in perpetuating this phenomena by depicting practitioners as having achieved ‘enlightenment,’ ‘truth’ or a perfect headstand. Within this depiction of yoga lies a group of modern practitioners offering a version of methodology bypasses the vital teaching which calls on the student to hold up a inner mirror to the self -not a camera. Forgetting this essential practice in order to make yoga more ‘popular’ on the global stage makes yoga a commodity rather than a sacred practice of challenging Svādhyāya. In his essay Yoga’s Greatest Challenge, J. Brown calls this phenomenon the ‘Instagramification of yoga’ as teachers package their classes for students to consume, “Somewhere along the way, we went from passing on the wisdom of ancient cultures to pleasing customers.” Brown stresses the importance of putting “philosophy at the forefront,” yet many current teacher trainings, put asana instead.
A recent study published by the University of Southampton looked at 250 people after a yoga and meditation class and found that neither yoga nor meditation “quieted” the ego; but instead boosted self- enhancement. Following class, students were asked four questions: “I like having authority over people,” “I am more capable than other people,” “I think I am a special person,” and “I like to be the center of attention. The study found that yoga, as it was taught, encouraged the students to rate themselves highly in comparison to others. Rather than promoting a non-dualistic reality, it measured yoga as an ego-inflator. If, however, yoga is taught a form of self study rather than a ego-centric commodity, different results are possible. Even the most skeptical critics of modern yoga can see we have lost touch with the root of the practice. In her article It’s Official, Yoga Makes You Smug, Nell Frizzell concurs “If practised daily, under the supervision of a dedicated and enlightened teacher, with corresponding and concurrent study…I have no doubt that yoga and meditation can “quiet” the ego.”
As contemporary yoga teachers face this challenge of honouring the past and laying out the future, it is essential to centre practice around continued learning. Teachers can fall into the habit of stepping back and making it all about pleasing students, when the very root of the practice is for the teacher to be a beacon of increased self-awareness and transmit a quest for self-inquiry to students. When one is presented with aspects of the self which are difficult to face, such as patterns of behaviour, self-study in the form of classical texts, pranayama, and meditation are often left out. Asana practice can then become self-limiting and far from the original source of tradition. It is the duty of the teacher, personally embodying Svādhyāya, to face these challenges and use them to move closer to the goal of liberation. This is the way to open the door for students as well. This requires teachers from all lineages to uncover and understand the deeper layers of the self through a commitment to self-knowledge. In Consolations, David Whyte speaks of Self-knowledge as:
a frontier between what is known and what is not known… am moving edge between what we know about ourselves and what we are to become. ..knowledge of the self always becomes the understanding of the self as a confluence: a flowing meeting of elements, including all the other innumerable selves in the world, not a set commodity to be unearthed. (Whyte 199)
The more we study, the more we uncover about yoga’s origins, myths, and challenges. It is through this study that practitioners honor the tradition and remain a part of its lineage. Studying classical texts and practices keep the truth alive, as without it, we lose what has come before. In this practice, the yogi uses sacred text, physical practices to move closer to understanding the truth of the self. As practitioners in the modern era, we are told to first release the ego, so that the self can be revealed, but this is an important teaching which lies in the student teacher relationship. When teachers impart this to their students and acknowledge the relationship to the very essence of being, is that which liberates us all. In his book Freedom from the Known, Krishnamurti says “It is vital that we understand ourselves completely.”15 Krishnamurti explains that it is essential to strip away the preconceived ideas of the self in order to experience reality in the here and now. He encourages becoming free from what you already know and starting fresh.
I can observe myself only in relationship because all life is relationships. It is no use sitting in a corner meditation about myself. I cannot exist by myself. I exist only in relationships to people, things, and ideas. and in studying my relationship outward things and people, as well as inward things, I begin to understand myself… I am not an abstract entity; therefore I have to study myself in actuality- as I am, not as I wish to be. (Krishnamurti 16)
There are many paths to self-liberation. The important thing is to continue to study, to continue to ask questions, to practice the yoga traditions as they are laid out by the lineage. Whatever form the path takes, it is important to study with teachers who are committed to learning about themselves. Studying is the way to stay connected to the to the source of this knowledge which connects all beings. Perhaps one will merge with the true essence of nature, as a part of everything, not apart.
Krishnamurti, J. Freedom from the Known, Bramden, Rider Publishing 1969, 2010
Whyte, David. Consolations. Washington, Many Rivers Press, 2015. 127
Sovik, Rolf. Understanding Yourself: the path of Svadhyaya, Himalayan Institute Press, 2014 191-197
Iyengar, B. K. S. Light on Yoga, Great Britian, The Aquarian Press 1991
Seaberg, Aris “Live Be Yoga: The Wake-Up Call Yogis Need to Bring 'Real Yoga' Back Into Their Practice.” Bellevue, WA Yoga Journal, September 18, 2018
Frizzell, Nell. “It’s Official, Yoga Makes You Smug-I think I’ll stick to being lazy.” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/19/yoga-smug-lazy-scientists-ego 19 Jun 2018
Lee, Jennie 3 Steps “To Eliminate Ego From Your Yoga Practice.” mindbodygreen.com
Association for Psychological Science psychologicalscience.org
http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797618764621. Yoga and Meditation Boost Self-Enhancement First Published June 22, 2018 Volume: 29 issue: 8, page(s): 1299-1308