This is the first of four posts on lectures given by Kausthub Desikachar and A.G. Mohan during my two trainings in India during February and March. I will say, yet again, that I have been blessed beyond belief to have been introduced into the Krishnamacharya lineage as early as I was in my teaching career. Even after 10 years of teaching, these last two trainings confirmed (again) how vast yoga is, that no matter how many people I have studied with, there is always so much more to learn. I will never call myself an expert. It is an honor and a responsibility to be a representative of this lineage. I hope I can always convey as authentically as possible what I have learned via my trainings in this tradition.
Transformation begins with a serious practice of yoga. Throughout the lecture Kausthub emphasized a serious practice of yoga — yoga beyond asana, yoga that is more than skin deep. He said that according to some ancient texts there are four stages of transformation, other texts talk about 7 stages. In his lecture he dealt with the Upanisads and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika that talk about our personal transformation having four stages.
It is Kausthub’s belief that not even 5% of people practicing yoga today are in the first stage of transformation, i.e , the state where prana begins to move fluidly in the body (prana being the life force, not merely the breath as is frequently taught in modern yoga.) He said that most yoga practitioners don’t know what prana really is because they only know asana. This knowledge of prana does not come from a casual yoga practice; it does not come from a practice that is only about the physical. Transformation begins when your yoga transcends the body.
The first stage of transformation is when prana flows smoothly throughout the body. Our perception become very sensitive. Patanjali speaks to this in YS 3.36. Our senses change, everything heightens, our sensations are beyond memory and all these happenings really can’t be explained in tangible terms.
At this stage it is very common for people to stop their yoga practice because their entity is so different now, it is discomforting, it is out of the norm. Our perceptions are altered on a deeper level and this changes our relationships with people, with partners, and sometimes people want to change jobs. However, Kausthub said that this is not the time to make dramatic decisions.
At the second stage of transformation, there is an identity crisis. We start feeling like crap. Our internal drums are beating and there is a loud noise inside us that disturbs our structural foundation, the way we have been accustomed to for so many years. Our mental patterns are challlenged, our outlook changes, but again, try to make no changes….yet.
This is another stage where people leave their practice, we want to continue but we can’t because things are even more discomforting. This is the time to especially sustain the practice. Kausthub said that it is at the end of this second stage that collapse often happens and depression can set in. The ancient yogis said LET IT COLLAPSE. Just as an old building starts to collapse, no matter how much you try to prop it up, it’s not the same. Let it collapse and then build a new foundation for a new building. This is progress.
The third stage is when new patterns start to manifest, the new structures are built. Let whatever is new come up slowly, don’t grasp. It is only by not grasping do these patterns sustain themselves.
The fourth stage is freedom, not bound by any patterns, but this is a stage that few people reach. It is difficult in modern times because we are still attached to so many things.
There was a different teacher-student role in every stage of transformation. That is the way it was in the olden days as my teacher Ramaswami calls the ancient times which is very different from now. In the olden days, yoga was taught one-on-one, teachers did not teach to 300 at a yoga conference. There was absolute trust between teacher and student and the teacher was the platform of support for the student when the student’s structure was changing.
Kausthub believes that model is seriously lacking in modern yoga. Back in the day this teacher-student model was taken for granted but nowadays it is not consistent because there are too many styles of yoga and many of the giants of yoga who could lead people in these transformations are now dead. As for yoga teachers nowadays, Kausthub said that if anyone tells you something is absolute, like “this pose will always help X”, “this pose will cure X”, “X pranayama will change this”, know that it’s bullshit because nothing is absolute. Every mind, every body, every day is different.
The tools of yoga (asana, pranayama, meditation) don’t have power on their own; their power comes from the way they are practiced. He gave an example of child’s pose: it’s called child’s pose because it’s so easy a child can do. Do it over and over without any emphasis on the breath or mental awareness and it’s just movement. But taking 15 seconds to do it with emphasis on the breath and mental awareness has power because you are releasing your prana in a totally different way.
Don’t evaluate your yoga by your level of flexibility or your ability to get into a pretzel pose — only evaluate your yoga by the transformative effect it has on you. When someone asked Kausthub “how do I find a teacher like you are talking about?”, he said “instead of looking for a teacher, ask if YOU are ready to be a student. Seek to be a student first, then you will you find your teacher.”
Referencing current problems in modern yoga, Kausthub said the main problem, in his opinion, is that anyone can be a yoga teacher nowadays. Everyone wants to be a teacher but there is no accountability. Of course training is important, but being a good teacher is not about how much you know but is about your transformation. A serious question to ask is: if someone is going through these stages of transformation, and their teacher just graduated from a 200 hour training, how in the world can a newbie teacher cope with the questions that student will ask if the teacher herself has not experienced those stages yet? In the olden days, a teacher always needed their own teacher before they could call themselves an ACHARYA, and that practice no longer exists in modern yoga. Because anyone can call themselves anything nowadays! Look for a teacher who has a current relationship with a teacher, but focus on the teachings, not the teacher. Kausthub said his father and grandfather were not perfect men, they were not perfect teachers, but they had a passion for the teachings. That is what makes a great teacher. Freedom is not about being perfect, it’s about making friends with your imperfections.
Making a veiled reference to Friendgate, Kausthub said this is not the first time yoga has faced difficulties. If the spiritual teachings are valid, yoga will sustain; if yoga is merely a fashion, it will not sustain. The teachings are much larger than any crisis modern yoga is currently experiencing.