“Yoga is Skill in Action”
The Bhagavad Gita
Skill: the ability to do something well; expertise, adeptness, adroitness, prowess, mastery, competence, capability, aptitude, artistry, virtuosity, talent
Among all the many skills we develop as yoga teachers, the skill of being a student is perhaps the most important. It’s the meta-skill that overarches all the others.
Unlike most other subjects, being a student of yoga is not only about the knowledge we gain or the skills we sharpen. It’s about walking a path that takes us to the higher realms of wisdom and freedom. It’s a continual unfolding of the truth inside.
For the teacher who approaches yoga as a path of lifelong learning, yoga continually deepens. It never gets dull.
Through steady practice we gain access to the living core at the heart of our tradition.
Our teaching stays authentic and carries the force of our own experience. Mastering the skill of being a student not only enriches our...
It’s the a-ha that answers the question we have been asking ourselves.
It’s the bright idea that floats effortlessly to the surface of our awareness.
It’s the creative solution to a problem that arises seemingly out of nowhere.
How many times have we heard or experienced this? The answers we seek come after we have let go of all effort.
Psychologists might give one explanation for this, productivity specialists another. But yoga has a particular take on how this phenomenon works.
In yoga, our mind is seen not only as our faculties of questioning, thinking, analyzing, reasoning and so on. Yoga recognizes there is also an aspect of our mind that connects us to our inner wisdom.
When we disengage from solution-seeking part of our mind, the busyness of our mental chatter settles. Internal space clears. Then, as if silently summoned from the depths of our being, the voice of deep knowing can emerge, precisely because we have made ourselves available to hear what...
Subtle takes time.
In the space of sustained inner attention, awareness penetrates beneath the obvious to notice and capture insights in our practice.
Subtle can’t be downloaded or clicked on.
It’s delicate like the wings of a Gossamer butterfly.
Yes, practice gives us the opportunity to develop the strength of mind and sensitivity needed to refine our perception and grasp what might otherwise remain elusive.
The question is, how much do we value it? And more importantly, are we willing to unplug and simply stay put with our experience long enough for the subtle to emerge?
The traditional 3 paths of yoga outlined in the Bhagavad Gita provide a useful framework for deconstructing the work of the hatha yoga teacher:
Karma Yoga, The Path of Action
The disciplines we practice and teach. Asana, pranayama and the actions we perform, study, and refine within these practices.
The actions we use to teach: concrete skills including planning and preparation, the cues we give, the adjustments we make, the attention with which we observe our students.
Jnana Yoga, The Path of Knowledge
The understanding that informs these practices, including the teachings of our tradition.
The larger context we hold for the practice that evolves out of a combination of study, reflection and personal, inner experience.
The wisdom that gives rise to what we convey (whether overtly or subtly) when we teach. This includes the physical and energetic space we create through our welcoming, our interactions and our sheer presence.
Bhakti Yoga, The Path of...
A self-realized meditation master once said:
Hatha Yoga, Shmata Yoga. Even en elephant can stand on his front legs, but has the Ida and Pingala merged into your Sushumna? Is your courtyard filled with the fragrance of your own love?
I am paraphrasing here, perhaps quite liberally, but you get the jist of it.
It’s a question I come back to again and again. What makes asana more than a physical discipline, even one done with an awareness of breath and good alignment?
And the answer keeps coming back: it’s the context we give it, the intention behind it, and the inner trajectory it moves us in that brings asana into the realm of spiritual practice and part of a larger path of self-development.
All we do on our mats - the one-pointedness we cultivate, the strength we engender, the vitality we increase and even the more subtle awareness ourselves we cultivate – must be placed in service to our own evolution and to becoming a stronger force of love and goodness in the...
Is there anything more powerful than remembering death to clarify what is most important in your life?
In the Buddhist tradition, remembering your death is a daily practice. Not in a morbid way, but as a reminder of preciousness of this fleeting, transient existence of ours. The perspective it brings allows for a healthy detachment from the unfolding dramas of daily life.
Our yoga practice should do us the same service. Hopefully, our practice environment (both inner and outer) gives us the space to remember again and again what we hold most dear and essential.
Remembering that each day is an opportunity to take hold of, to live fully and to learn from, practice supports us to become established, steadily and gradually, in our inherent goodness and share it with our world. These are the things to be remembered daily.
The first “spiritual” book I ever read was Peace is Every Step by the Vietnamese Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh. This small book about mindfulness opened up a world of possibility for me, one where happiness and contentment could be cultivated from within.
Recalling it now, more than 20 years later, I am reminded of the precious beginnings of my search, and the longing sparked an inquiry myself and what this life was all about anyway.
Remembering back to the early teachings that touched us and turned our attention toward living a more consicous life are landmarks to be honoured. They help us to acknowledge the yearning that ignited our search and that is still, when we can remember it, likely at the heart of our practice.
Whether or not you can join me for my upcoming workshop on 5 core teachings of yoga, I hope you'll take some time this week to reignite your love for yoga by revisiting the sacred knowledge of our tradition that has...
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.
Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi - 13th century mystic
At the meditation ashram where I sometimes have the privilege of teaching hatha yoga classes, the teachers debrief after each and every class.
Reflecting on your teaching with others is a valuable way to improve your skills as a teacher, acknowledge your strengths and identify areas for growth. The last of course is the most delicate and least comfortable for most of us.
Teaching yoga is a highly personal endeavour. Dedicated teachers put themselves out there every time they take their seat at the front of the room. We teach out of a love for the practice and they -both teaching and practice - are dear to us. This high degree of personal investment makes us vulnerable. It may cause us to fear entering into a dialogue and miss the golden opportunity to receive constructive feedback.
It requires courage to disengage from the...
Yes, my Canadian sisters and brothers and friends throughout the Northern Hemisphere, it’s that time again. I wish I could have waited at least until November to give you some ways to generate heat in your practice. As I sit here typing with chilled fingers and a cup of hot water on my desk, though, I realize it's time.
Strengthening agni, the fire element, in your practice means not just building internal heat, but using your yoga to become more powerful, purposeful and self-motivated. These are some of the qualities of the Manipura chakra, located at the level of the solar plexus, which is associated with the element of fire. This is why many of the poses I suggest below bring energy to that region.
Best asanas to build heat:
· Standing Poses: Especially Virabhadrasana 1, 2 and 3, Utkatasana, Garudasana
· Twists: Standing and Seated, especially “closed”...
Our free, online bonus content is designed to complement and enrich your experience of Evolving Your Yoga. Resources like video pose tutorials, downloadable journaling prompts, breathwork, guided visualizations, and more will support your exploration of each of the Ten Principles for Enlightened Practice.