Hatha Yoga is essentially a self-practice, so as teachers, we are being most direct and to the point when we create opportunities in our classes for students to explore for themselves and experience self-connection and direction. This means getting them to make their own decisions about such things as how long to stay in a pose, how to respond to non-specific movement queues, such as "move your spine like a snake" or invitations to "make the movement your own, it doesn't matter if it looks the same or different as anyone else". We could even let them to know that the standard alignment for poses which is usually recited by teachers is just a template and that the ease, stability, concentration, & relaxation in a pose trumps specific alignments. Trumps, get it? I don't either but man, the US election is everywhere I look on the internet these days!
One of my favorite ways to set up this kind of learning experience is to lead a vinyasa sequence of about 3-5 poses. Here's a pretty standard one many teachers use.
Here's what to do...
1. If necessary demonstrate or explain the sequence step by step first, or lead the sequence slowly with key points of each pose in as few words as possible.
2. Lead the class through the sequence as vinyasa 3-5 times, conveying rhythm in the flow by the pace and rhythm of your cues and breathing in and out of each pose.
...Exhale, step forward
Inhale, Warrior I
Exhale, Warrior II
Inhale, Reverse Warrior (not shown, from Warrior II back hand down to the leg, other arm up)
Exhale, Side Angle
Inhale, Hands Down
Exhale, Step back to Plank & Down to Chaturanga
3. Repeat the sequence, now holding each position 3-5 breaths. Give additional cues and adjustments now and any insightful commentary relevant to what is being practiced(external or internal!) but as usual, use as few words as possible.
4. Now instruct the students to repeat the sequence on their own, with no queues. Tell them to relax more in each pose and breath deeply for as long as they feel able. Tell them when they are done to rest in Child's Pose, or Mountain Pose, or other asana depending on the direction you want to take. Tell them to focus on the sensations within.
In this format, any sequence of Asana can become a powerful entry into a flow state of concentration for the student, even if they walked into your class and had never performed a single yoga pose or that sequence. And, by the last round of practicing this sequence, they would be doing it completely on their own. Also, you will neatly have an opportunity to invest more into observing your students' practice since you don't need to talk or think about what to say, and as everyone knows...theres something magic about action in silence.
Yoga is a practice which offers limitless possibilities. Many people come to Yoga and after a short introduction to whatever particular yoga practice they may think "Ah, that's Yoga." Indeed this exact thought, the certainty of what the practice is, limits the very practice itself. A healthy practice takes whatever yogic knowledge is already acquired and uses it to open a greater potential field of awareness and practice. This greater field of awareness entails knowing more experientially the way in which all things are connected the same as you feel your finger is connected to your body. You feel the condition of your life become connected to your self. A higher perspective is to find a way in which an unlimited aspect becomes the definition of self. Yoga practice is an exploration of the Self. Ever hear that one? Your Self represents the potential for limitless experience. Yoga represents the experience of connection to the infinite. Yoga is limitless.
All forms of Yoga practice do however share two things in common. They utilise techniques to stabilise the state of consciousness for concentration, and, these processes of concentration harmonizes the different aspects of that persons experience towards realising wholeness and well-being, personally, socially, and existentially.
Their are four main categories of Yoga practice. Each one suits different character types, meaning each human can find or has already found a form of Yoga that is most natural or agreeable with them and their life.
1. Hatha Yoga - Where Most of Us Start to know about Yoga Practice
Those who like to feel their efforts bring some good results, there is Hatha Yoga. It is in high use because it brings results quickly, people really need the will and discernment that Hatha Yoga brings, and it's of course easily marketable and profitable, hence the explosion of "modern" Yoga.
Ha and Tha mean Sun and Moon and these are representations of our duality, the opposites that interplay and influence the nature of life on Earth. The body also contains many representations of these opposites. Hatha Yoga teaches us to look at the most fundamental aspects of our existence, our body, our breath, our mind, and to learn to see and exercise their functions with full awareness. We try to learn to see the opposites from a single perspective, that encompasses both of them. The result is balancing of the systems and a greater capacity for life and all of it’s greatest experiences, love, understanding, patience, and peace. This is why Hatha Yoga is also often the door way to other forms of yoga practice.
If you want to read more about different styles of Hatha Yoga stay close for my next post!
2. Karma Yoga - Real Life Yoga
Karma means action. The height of Karma Yoga is to “surrender” your action… There are a few ways to consider what this means and how it can be applied. One is to work towards aiding humanity and reduce the suffering of others without expectation of recognition or reward.
Another way is to see all of life’s happenings, all events, all phenomenon… as the effect of the original action, original Being, or God. In such a perspective, our ego diminishes. We are not responsible for anything. Well… is that true? Karma yoga can be tricky and it should come paired with the notion of Dharma. You don't want to become lazy thinking everything will take care of itself without your effort. Dharma is duty, right action, doing what you should do. Whether we are responsible for things or not… everyone DOES experience the crossroads of choosing their own course of action to follow. If you listen carefully within you will know and choose the action which is your dharma. Sometimes you will not always want it or it will not always be easy, but you will know it’s right. This is another meaning of “surrendering” your action. Even if you don’t want to do it, you do. This is about learning to trust your conscience or higher intuition and not blindly follow your more animal based likes and dislikes.
3. Bhakti Yoga - Devotional Yoga
Bhakti means devotion and love. Devotion stabilises the mind. Devotion can eradicate doubts which might distract us from profound concentration. Love pulls us deeply into the present. This leads to profound gratitude for being alive. This is a recipe for the union of Yoga. The natural question is to what do you devote? Whatever has made all of this come to be! It’s the universality, connection, the oneness. A bhakti yoga feels this through their love and gratitude for everything as a manifestation of God.
Bhakti is practiced frequently by ritual. There are many rituals... chanting, lighting candles and burning incense, making offerings to deities or God or your teacher, all of which are ways of practicing to bring these qualities of love and devotion into our daily experience when we might find it difficult to just feel love for everything as it is for no reason. But if you can do it for no reason, by all means please do!
4. Jnana Yoga - Getting to Know
Jnana means knowledge. Through the guidance of teachers and great spiritual masters we can apply our intellect to more clearly observe and see the true nature of our own life. This is the practice for those who are philosophically inclined to inquire into life. There are three essential questions which philosophy tries to answer.
1. Who am I?
2. What is this creation or existence?
3. Is there a God or creator and what is His/Her/That's nature?
Jnana Yoga is important for all practitioners because it informs our practice. Knowledge helps us avoid wrong turns and from repeating mistakes. It also helps us lift our imagination and vision to what may be experiential beyond our normal perception. Are there kinds of experiences you believe you haven’t yet experienced in life? From time to time you can read yoga philosophy, try changing your perspective with a thought experiment, or have a good old fashioned talk about life with some of your friends. The spoken word is much more powerful than the words from the book. Seek living knowledge as much as possible.
Back to Hatha Yoga Styles
Almost all yoga classes happening in the modern studio are within the system of Hatha Yoga, even if it’s called Vinyasa, Power, or Ashtanga. Ideally no matter the style or teacher, the class should consist of exercises that bring people to balance with themselves and their present circumstances. That should start with the environment the people live in and what kind of behaviours and conditions are already the norm for them. Naturally, there are many opinions and options about what is relevant to balancing people in their circumstances! Naturally, some styles and teachers will focus on certain aspects more than others. Also, many "modern styles" of Yoga are partially a result of branding and the need for a means to live by those who seek to make Yoga a career. So, they try to stand out to make it. Standing out is ok, but the integrity of Yoga has to stay! For teachers of Yoga it is healthy to come in with the concept that Hatha Yoga already contains ALL possible practices, that there are no "new styles" but rather perhaps different schools and the individual re-discovery of technique and are main job and attention should be on facilitating people to discover their connection to the infinite.
What makes Hatha Yoga really work though is starting from the present condition and exploring different ways to engage your concentration and relaxation. This should be done in cycles for the greatest effect. Your innate intelligence take this physical exploration experience and begins to reengineers you body and mind to work better with the external conditions. This is also a way of aligning with nature. Over time and repetition, a tendency becomes natural. We train to be in our best balance. When the balance becomes sublime, you can escape all tendency. With such discipline effort becomes effortless effort, there can be soft intensity, relaxed firmness, and the ability to find the middle in more situations and decisions. The yogi becomes established in his/her Self and is more peaceful and harmonious with the internal and external.
Some styles or teachers may represent Hatha Yoga in an unbalanced way for you specifically, but this can still be a lesson on what is balance for you. All styles and teachers ultimately serve as a means of entry for people beginning the yogic process. As I stated previously, there is a yoga practice that will suit each person. As they develop through the first initial practice they might become aware of another form of practice and move to something more balanced, more internalised, more peaceful for them in their current circumstances.
When you are taking classes or trying out new practices ask yourself some questions such as…
Always go by your own conclusion. Doubt new information until it’s tested and proved by yourself. Trust yourself!
Stay close for my next post! What are the different kinds of Hatha Yoga Schools and styles in the current time?
Love and Oms
George is the founder of Sajeeva Yoga School, and a practitioner and teacher on the journey of exploring life, truth, purpose, and
Yoga technique, Yoga in Asia, Yoga Workshops, Teaching Methods, Asana Alignment, Yoga Tips, Breathing, awareness, mindfulness, spiritual journey, yoga lifestyle,