A yoga conference held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong entitled, "A Passion for Yoga" just completed. The speaker/teachers included Sharath Rangaswamy, Rajiv Chanchani, A.G. Mohan and O.P. Tiwari. They represent some of the most senior and distinguished teachers of yoga in the world.
Sharath Rangaswamy is the grandson of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and is the assistant director of their Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute (www.ayri.org) in Mysore, India. He is also recognized as the most advanced Ashtanga yoga practitioner in the world.
Rajiv Chanchani is one of the most senior teachers in the lineage of the BKS Iyengar tradition. He has been practicing for more than 30 years. He currently runs the Yoga Ganga Centre (www.yog-ganga.com) with his wife, Swati in Dehradun, India in the foothills of the Himalayas.
A.G. Mohan was a close student of the great yoga master, Sri T. Krishnamacharya from 1971 to 1989. He has authored several books on yoga, including "Body, Breath and Mind", which includes a forward written by Sri T. Krishnamacharya himself. Sri Mohan is the co-founder of the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (www.svastha.com) in Chennai, India. He currently runs the Mandiram with his wife, Indra.
O.P. Tiwari is a senior student of Swami Kuvalayananda, who was a leading proponent of using scientific research methods on Yoga and was a master of Pranayama practice. Sri Tiwari currently runs the Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute (www.kdham.com) in Lonavla, India.
Needless to say, the accumulated wisdom and experience of these teachers is more than impressive. Sharing the room with these great teachers and practitioners all at once was not only a great honor, but you could also feel the energy that they all brought with them through many years of practice and devotion to their teachers. What really makes these teachers stand out in the world of yoga today are the fact is that they all come out of authentic and established lineages. These lineages are filled with master practitioners and the accumulated yoga wisdom of thousands of years. Every one of them also is thoroughly devoted to practicing and teaching purely as their teachers taught them. The level of devotion to their teachers and to keeping the practice as pure in this manner is intensely inspiring and powerful.
A devotion to keeping one's practice as pure as possible cannot be stressed enough. By saying "pure", what I mean is that it is important to try, at all times, to be connected to an authentic and established source for that you are learning. I know, easier said than done. Especially in this day and age, when the practice of yoga is spreading so rapidly and there is a proliferation of practitioners and teachers who were either never taught properly or are using the practice of yoga mostly for personal or monetary gain. A majority of people are just too inexperienced to know the difference between authentic and inauthentic practice.
One of the first things you can do is to check into whom a teacher's teacher is and to inquire about the relationship that he/she has with that teacher. An established and devotional connection between a student and his/her teacher can be a very telling indication of the authenticity of one's practice and whether or not it is grounded in an established traditional lineage.
The second thing you can do is to make sure your own motivations for practice are pure. For example, are you practicing for personal gratification or gain or are you seeking genuinely to become a better person? If you are honest about your own motivations, then you can usually trust your own instincts about your prospective teacher.
What made the meetings with the teachers at the Hong Kong yoga conference so impressive to me was that there was such a strong experience and sense that these teachers were actually living their yoga practice and not just talking about it. Especially in their interactions between each other, they all exhibited lightness, a kindness, a joyfulness and a wisdom in their conversations and actions.
The practice of yoga is for the purpose of the realization of our true Selves, of becoming closer and closer to our original essence/nature. We should all be continually growing into the fullness of our potential as human beings. The expression of wisdom, compassion and love should be the natural outcome of our practice. As the Dalai Lama once said, "If your practice does not make you any kinder, it is not worth anything".
Yoga is an ancient and sacred practice, one that is filled with great power and potential. As such, it should always be treated with the highest respect and care. We should all learn from the kind of men who were represented at the Hong Kong yoga conference. Their dedication to the most essential aspects of the practice of yoga is exemplary. There is urgency to this dictum right now, as the practice of yoga is spreading so rapidly throughout the world. Let us never cease in being true to most sacred and pure aspects of our Selves and of our practice.
I would like to give a special acknowledgment to Ingo Schweder of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and Alex Medin for their tireless efforts, which resulted in the creation of "A Passion for Yoga". It is this kind of dedication to the highest aspects of yoga practice that will ensure that as many people as possible are exposed to teachings from authentic sources.
I have been back in Tokyo now for a few weeks after spending nearly 2 months in Mysore. Ever since my first trip to India in 1995, I have always experienced challenges readjusting to "normal" life back home. Day to day life in Mysore, which is built around practice and rest, is much more conducive to a yogic life. By this I mean that it is a way of living that leads more to inner peace, to a more naturally contemplative and reflective life.
Those of you who live or have lived in a large urban center (Tokyo is comprised of 30 square miles and has a population of 33 million people!) know that the opposite is true about life in the city. The energy alone is intense and frenetic. Radio waves, electronic pollution and psychic pollution are rampant. Then there is the bombardment of sensual distractions (signs, lights, advertising of every kind, sounds, noise, smells).
One's attention is continually being drawn out. Body and mind are continually being stimulated to the point of overload and overwhelm. Even when I stay at home, I can still feel the chaotic energy of the city invading my system. Not only do I find resting and sleeping more difficult, but the quality of practice seems to suffer as well. In general, the mind is more active and the attention is more distracted.
What to do?
What I have learned over the years is to adjust my mindset when making the transition between life in Mysore and life back home. The mind's natural tendency is to compare two different environments and to judge one against the other. This kind of prejudice can cause all kinds of suffering. It is important to realize that each environment is unique and should not be compared with another. It is true that Mysore (and India in general) is much more conducive to the yogic life. It is also important to realize that every challenge offers an opportunity for a different kind of merit. Yoga is the path of purification and awareness. When we are confronted by the challenges of urban life, we all have the chance to see ourselves more fully, to become more aware of our own limited mental and emotional constructs. As much as possible, if you bring any degree of awareness and acceptance (truly there is no real awareness without acceptance) to those moments when we are entangled in our own limitations and judgments, we have the opportunity for merit, purification and freedom. Granted, this is easier said than done. I myself have struggled with this very practice hundreds of times. Still, if we are persistent and if we consistently remember the spaciousness of our true Selves, we can gain tremendous strength and wisdom over time.
So, when I find myself struggling or suffering in any way with my life in the city, I gently remind myself to be as present as possible. I remember that I am doing an entirely different kind of work/practice than when I was in Mysore with my beloved Guruji. It makes all the difference in the world.