It’s frantic out there in the Yoga world. Just recently, while teaching a dedicated group in Zurich, one of the participants shared that there are more yoga teachers in Zurich than any other city in Europe. It seems everyone wants to do a teacher training to get to know more about yoga.
I remember a time not too long ago where undertaking Yoga Teacher Training was a novel idea. Our first group at Be Yoga (Alan Finger’s Ishta Yoga Studio) was comprised of twenty-five eager students – each one personally vetted and encouraged to join. We were pioneering a new program and these guys were our guinea pigs. People came from all walks of life and were drawn to the course because yoga had hit them so hard they wanted more. They were hungry for it, and as teachers we couldn’t wait to feed them. Nine months later our fledgling group took flight. That first training spawned subsequent groups with trainees who now lead major trainings worldwide. In just 14 years Yoga has boomed, but sometimes the baby does run away with the bath water, and the senior teachers who spawned the movement get left behind.
I was shocked when one long time yogi and wonderful teacher told me she was thinking of changing vocations, and not because she didn’t love yoga, but because no one seemed to have the interest in seniority or tradition anymore.
I never wanted to make a career out of yoga. I wanted to be a Yogi and all that I thought that meant. I imagined myself meditating in caves, practicing on mountain tops and generally attaining a state of perfection. Well here I am far from my “ idea ” of perfect, with the understanding that perfection is not a state to be attained, rather it’s something right here right now – “already gained” as they say in the Upanishadic texts.
What revolutionised my thinking? Why am I still passionate regardless of the twists and turns that have happened in the yoga community? Why do I keep plugging the importance of finding the roots of yoga rather then skimming the surface?
Because Yoga literally saved my life, and more importantly the TRADITION of yoga saved my life. I wanted to go deep, but it seemed like the harder I looked – the more I questioned, and the shallower everything became. I was convinced that yoga existed in an “out there vibrating phenomenon ” that could only be tamed through endless practices. I was trying to placate something to find myself, all the while losing myself in practices. I didn’t know any better. No one does. Authentic teachers are hard to find, even rarer are authentic teachings. We think we can get stuff from a book but the truth is the books exist because truth exists. Yoga is an unbroken oral tradition.
So where does a sincere seeker find something authentic? An ashram in India? I wish it was that simple. These days it seems like the ashrams are rife with as much sexual scandal and corruption as politicians. The Indian Gurus have found western followers and have grown fat on the lamb of popularity. Looking good on the outside, saying all the right things while harbouring a few Daikinis in the bedroom. I don’t think sex or money is really something to gawk at. We all do it and get away with it. Yet somehow we expect our spiritual teachers to be twice removed from something intrinsically human.
And where is this tradition? Way before Patanjali put his name to the sutras, the revivalist Adi Shankara used sound logic and reasoning in his debates to defeat and remove Buddhism from India, re-establishing Aidvaita Vedanta. These days its hip to know all about Tantra, but the purest Tantra is Vedanta. Vedanta means the end of knowledge. And where does knowledge end? In the Knowledge of the knower. Tantra expounds the tenet that everything is divine – Vedanta goes one step further and explains through a timeless methodology what Self (divinity) is. There are many teachers sharing Vedanta but a rare few are in the lineage of Adi Shankara.
Recently on a field trip in India I visited the spot where Shankara did his sadhana. The atmosphere at the temple moved me to tears, not because of any particular vibration, but more in the simplicity of its existence. It was my first experience of something that has been around for over 3000 years. A place where people offered themselves and their hearts on the altar of knowledge.
I used to think I didn’t need a teacher and that I could figure it all out by myself, be my own guru so to speak. But the truth is no matter how hard I practiced, no matter how many paths I explored, I still felt like I was stumbling in the dark. I was still emotional, confused, full of crisis and conflict and nowhere nearer to the state of perfection I associated with Yoga. Sound familiar?
It was in my deepest crisis that I found the teachings of Adi Shankara. Through words and a learned teacher versed in shastra (scripture) my rebellious mind was led step by step to the truth. Each argument presented with irrefutable logic until there was nowhere to hide.
The technique subtly takes away every idea one has of one’s self until SELF is revealed.
Knowing Self is no big deal, just like eating pizza is no big deal. Once you taste pizza, you have knowledge of pizza.
Just before I finished my course I had a private meeting with my teacher. After some small talk he said “Soon people will be as hungry for traditional teachings as they are for yoga now.”
Since my immersion in India my teaching and practice has been stripped down to the barebones. Once having been exposed to the teachings one can never go back. It’s like being exposed to the sun – once you lay back and bask in the light you’re whole being feels nourished and replenished. It’s the same with Tradition. Once you have been exposed to the knowledge you bask in the eternal nature of your Self.Knowing yourself as that Presence in which everything is present means you can never be absent to yourself again.
So who wants to be a Yogi? I do!