It has to be understood clearly that there are two aspects to yoga: yoga as a practice and yoga as a lifestyle. Yoga as a practice is limited to the techniques of asana, pranayama, mudras, bandhas, shatkarmas, raja yoga and kriya yoga. This practical side of yoga you can do, no matter where you are: at home, while traveling, in a five star hotel or a retreat, in a jungle or in the ashram. This group of practices anybody can do at any time for any purpose or reason.
For yoga practice you do not need a guru. You need a competent teacher, who can teach you the way to practise pawanmuktasana, pranayama, yoga nidra, meditation, raja yoga, or kriya yoga. A teacher teaches you the yoga practice purely on an instructional basis. You do not need a guru to learn pawanmuktasana, surya namaskara, yoga nidra, antar mouna and japa. You need a competent teacher.
The other aspect of yoga is the yogic lifestyle. After having gone through the yoga practices, if you are inclined to pursue a spiritual path and bring some qualitative and positive transformation into your lifestyle, your mind, behaviour and thoughts, then a guru is needed. When you want to tweak your personality, at that time the guru comes in, not before.
As long as yoga is practised you can put a cross on the guru, it is not needed. However, when you want to modify your life, behaviour, attitude and nature, the guru is needed, and that is part of lifestyle.
The yamas and niyamas belong to the realm of the guru not to the realm of the yoga teacher. You have been practising yoga here at Ganga Darshan and you practise yoga in other centres as well. Does anybody teach you yama and niyama from day one? They may tell you about it, yet do you practise it? Is it even necessary to practise yama and niyama while you are doing yoga as a practice?
Yama and niyama cannot be practised as long as yoga remains a practice, for when yoga is a practice, there is no self-awareness. There is only perceived need, requirement of the body, mind, sentiments and emotions.
Today many people are receiving their certificate of yoga instructor. They are teachers and not gurus. They will teach how to practise pawanmuktasana, yoga nidra, concentration yet they will not be gurus. They can develop into competent teachers in the course of time, yet they can never become gurus, for the focus of spirituality is not there.
With yoga practices you deal with the vrittis of your mind, whereas in spiritual life you do not deal with the vrittis of your mind. The moment you become aware of your spiritual self, your spiritual need, your spiritual requirement, your spiritual personality, the gross vrittis have to subside. A new vritti has to develop, the Brahma vritti which is the spiritual vritti. The gross vrittis give you pain and pleasure; they connect you with your senses, the sense objects and the world. As long as the vrittis, the senses, mind, sentiments and emotions are connected with the world, your needs, ego and desires, how can you ever discover the state of peace, balance and harmony? You cannot.
In the practice aspect of hatha yoga you do the physical practices of asana, pranayama and mudras to organize the body. To learn how to relax, de-stress, focus, concentrate and meditate you use the tools of mantra and yantra. Through these practices the mind is pacified, and the gross vrittis lessen their power and intensity. After that, the spiritual vritti has to develop.
Sri Swami Satyananda said that 'to cultivate spiritual awareness is the destiny of every person, not God-realization. How far you cultivate it is up to you.'
Yamas and niyamas are not part of the basic yoga training and teaching. People can talk about it as a theory, never as a practice. It is not possible to practise yama and niyama, for the inclination and the mind are not geared in that direction. If there is anything that is the cause of everybody's downfall, it is the mind. That is the reality of life. The positivity, the negativity, the likes and dislikes are rampant even though people know it should not happen. Why do people get angry when they know they should not be angry? Why do they react to somebody when they know that it is not their call? Why do they become negative when they know they are spiritual aspirants and should try to maintain optimism, positivity and happiness?
People prefer to spend twelve hours, or twenty-four hours with a grouchy face, rather than look at themselves. If their mood goes off, for a week it will be off and they do not want to see the person with whom they have fought. Hatred and anger will be there. Where is their sadhana? There is no effort to express their optimism, happiness, creativity and joy.
People should have the wisdom, drive and motivation to connect with the beauty that life has to offer and not with the thorns that prick from time to time. The rose bush is full of thorns but it has one flower which is more attractive than all the thorns on the stem. The rose is so attractive that people can cut themselves and hold the thorns to admire the beauty of the rose.
In yoga practice you are concerned with techniques and that is what you have to focus on. In yoga lifestyle you are concerned with personality and you have to focus on that. In practice you do not need a guru, you need a competent teacher. In lifestyle you do not need a competent teacher, you need a guru. In practice you do not need to practise yama and niyama, but when it comes to modifying the lifestyle, yama and niyama become the basis, the foundation stones to bring about internal change.
There are people who are practising yoga for decades and never move to the spiritual side. That is perfectly all right. There are people who will never need to practise the physical aspect and who simply want to move to the spiritual side. That is also okay. However, the difference has to be understood by all.
If this logic and difference is understood, then a lot of confusion in relation to yoga, as to where to learn, how to teach, whom to learn from and who to teach, will disappear. Is this person the right guru? Is this person the right yoga teacher? That confusion can be removed with the right understanding of yoga as practice and as lifestyle.
—Satsang to students of the one-month Yoga Instructor's Course, 29 March 2015, Ganga Darshan