Teaching Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

What are the important qualities of a yoga teacher? How can yoga teachers imbibe the spirit of Satyananda Yoga?

First we have to realize what yoga is and how the teacher uses it. Today there are many yoga teachers around the world. Even though these teachers may have a personal or commercial reason for teaching yoga, all adopt a particular method. Some teach postures only, some teach meditation only, some teach yoga as a philosophy or as ritual. The concept they have developed is according to their training and understanding.

However, there is another dimension to yoga, which is recognition of the human nature. It is the whole personality, body, mind, emotions and spirit, which need to be catered for through the practices of yoga. If you teach yoga only for the body, it becomes part of physical training, physical culture, physical exercise, which is incomplete. The body is not isolated from the mind or from the emotions or from the spirit. Similarly, if you teach meditation because you feel it is more important than the practice of asana, then again you have to understand that the mind does not exist alone, but is supported by the body, by the emotions and by the spirit. Therefore, a balanced sequence or series of yoga practices involves something for the body, something for the mind, something for the emotions and something for the spirit.

Out of all the different traditions in the world, the Satyananda Yoga/Bihar Yoga tradition aims at integrating the physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions of yoga in one practice. That is what we recognize today as the Satyananda/Bihar system of yoga.

The physical exercises can be learnt anywhere. Nowadays there are hundreds of books, audio and video aids from which to learn meditation, but what has been the actual gain so far? There are many people who practise meditation without following the set procedure of pratyahara, dharana and dhyana, as specified in raja yoga. But people tend to believe that dhyana is important and that pratyahara and dharana are unimportant. When they practise dhyana, meditation, they have bypassed two other aspects of their mind. These aspects of mind become active and distract the concentration. Later the practitioner feels that his/her meditation is not leading anywhere because of distractions, disturbances and too many confrontations.

So, the first quality of a yoga teacher should be to recognize the needs of the human nature and personality, to be able to look at a person as a combination of head, heart and hands - body, mind, emotions and spirit. The second quality of a yoga teacher is to follow the set procedure, not to jump from one technique to another thinking that some part of the procedure is irrelevant. These two qualities or understandings make a good teacher and the rest evolves from there.

As a teacher one has to make an attempt to understand the needs of the aspirant. There are some common needs. Physical health, mental well-being, emotional harmony, intellectual clarity and spiritual development are the needs of every individual in the world. You can't say that physical health is not your requirement. People think of yoga as something physical when they are suffering, but by then it becomes too late because yoga is not a therapy, although it is used as therapy. The main intention of yoga is not curative but promotive and preventative. With the promotion of health and with the prevention of imbalances and illnesses, one is able to attain good health, mental peace, intellectual sharpness and emotional harmony. These aspects are the need of every individual today, so the teaching of yoga should evolve around the fulfilment of these needs.

In other words, keep in your shop the items that are in demand and not the items that you wish to sell. If what you wish to sell is not in demand, it is simply going to gather dust. But if you stock items that are in demand, which may not be your choice but which are everyone else's choice, then you are going to clear your stock very fast. That has been our experience with yoga as well. We have seen that if there is a balanced set of practices covering all the aspects of personality, then people derive greater benefit from the yoga practice and can understand yoga in a better way.

Ganga Darshan, December 22, 1999