Yoga Sutra-s I.20:
“Through faith, which will give sufficient energy to achieve success against all odds, direction will be maintained. The realization of the goal of Yoga is a matter of time.”
(Reflections on Yoga Sutra-s of Patanajali, TKV Desikachar)
Some of you might be incredulous at Dr. NC’s statement that my spine will become realigned in three months if I do my yoga therapy practice every day, but I am not. That’s because I have sraddha which is Sanskrit for “faith.”
Sraddha is not religious faith but a “strong belief.” In his translation of the Sutra-s, Desikachar writes: “Faith is the unshakable conviction that we can arrive at a goal. We must not be complacent about success or discouraged by failure. We must work hard and steadily inspite (sic) of all distractions, whether good or bad.”
When I first attended KYM in 2005 I was struck by a teacher’s words when she said that personal transformation in yoga can begin in a group class, but is only accomplished by working one on one, the teacher with the student, in the traditional way, the old school way. THAT is sraddha and that is the difference as I see it between Americanized yoga and the yoga that I study in India.
The “goal” of yoga as propounded by Patanjali in his Sutra-s is freedom from suffering. nothing more, nothing less. How many doing yoga right now in the west have that sraddha, that belief? How many want to relieve their suffering — and we all suffer whether you want to admit it or not — or just merely go through the physical motions of the asana practice not being fully present, aware, and awake in the present moment? How many treat their asana practice as a performance or have been in a group class and felt that the teacher is on stage?
How can there possibly be personal transformation if there is no sraddha?
As I did my asana class every day with Usha, I felt myself softening, for lack of a better word. She knew I taught yoga and she asked me if I minded her “corrections.” I told her that I absolutely did not mind her corrections, that I am a yoga student first, and then a teacher, and that I am at KYM to learn.
So she began to point out the “hardness” in my body as I moved. For example, the hardness of my outstretched foot in janu sirsana, the foot tightly flexed, the ballmount pushing out, toes spread, that “energized” foot as we are so often told in a group class. Or my hands above my head in uttanasana, tight, flexed, palms facing each other, instead of the palms turned outward, fingers soft.
I then began to realize how “hard” American yoga is compared to the yoga I do in india, soft, yielding, receptive, nurturing, and I have to question why.
While Usha was correcting me, I told her yes, this is the way my teacher Ramaswami holds his hands when he shows us uttanasana (Ramaswami was an original trustee of KYM, an old friend of Desikachar), how could I forget this? It was good to be brought back home and removed from my “performance”, my need to show the perfection of my alignment, the hardness of my body, because it’s not about that at all. It’s about healing first and foremost, and having the sraddha to believe in that healing.
That is what I think in many cases American yogis need to realize, that yoga is about healing first, the other benefits are secondary. That our bodies and minds are laboratories for the exploration of the deeper aspects of yoga. That instead of performing on the mat, we need to dive into that yogic stew of the tools that Patanjali gave us in his Sutra-s and marinate and cook ourselves into a brand new, or at least, an improved, tastier dish.
Yoga Journal was waiting for me when I returned from India. If I did not get it for free through my yoga insurance I would never subscribe to it. I paged through it for about ten minutes and threw it in the recycling bin. It has become nothing more than one huge advertisement for yoga clothes and other yoga tchotkes that we supposedly need and one show biz yogi’s or another’s teacher training program. One huge advertisement for yoga stuff mixed in with articles on non-attachment. What a disconnect.
It’s all about the marketing, but after all, that’s so American. We’re always running after the next best thing whether it’s the latest cell phone or the latest yoga gimmick. I returned from india realizing (yet again) that I am tired of the mass-marketing, the dumbing down of this ancient holistic science. Years ago in the pre-Yoga Journal days, people went to classes that were just called “yoga” or “hatha yoga.” When people ask me what style of yoga I teach, I tell them honestly, “my style — come check it out and if it resonates with you, fine, if not, that’s fine, too.” I’m not going to label my yoga or give it a brand name to sex it up just to attract students. I am certainly not going to put my own name on it and trademark it, which I of course could do just like any number of well-known yogis have done. Yoga is yoga.
I will not give the name of the blog where I read this, but underneath a photo of a young, skinny, cellulite-free woman in tree pose, a reader wrote that if she were “that skinny” she could be a yoga teacher.
have a little sraddha, baby.