a sacred trust
What is the essence of yoga? Cultivating a quiet, clear, focused mind, so we understand ourselves better, act wiser, and become less affected by external events. I subscribe to the Desikachar view: "Progress in practice is reflected by improvement in relationships."
Part of the essence of the Yoga tradition, in my view, is its ability to serve the different dimensions of human beings and to evolve to serve the changing needs of society. While the public image of yoga is dominated by asana, this is in part due to the visual appeal of asana and the common media practice of emphasizing the visual.
There appears to be a growing interest and acceptance of all aspects of yoga, including breathing, meditation and philosophy. Yoga is recognized, although not well-understood, as a complementary and alternative therapy. Yoga is also an important part of the wellness movement.
Unlike Ayurveda, yoga is mostly an oral tradition, so the West's connection to India primarily comes from living teachers. These teachers—notably B.K.S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois and T.K.V. Desikachar—still exert enormous influence on yoga practice in the West today.
Yoga is a mainstay of our culture. As a contemplative practice and philosophy, yoga is joined by growing interest in Buddhism and Contemplative Christianity. Much of the interest seems to be in the commonality of practice, not the metaphysical.
In my own teaching and practice, I keep coming back to the essence of yoga as described in the sutras. In practice, that means I become even more conscious about providing time and space for breathing and meditation practices in every session. I currently start each practice with a breathing meditation and end with a simple chant. I think similar efforts to build in contemplative and unifying practices are evolving all over the West as yoga practices mature.
My own teaching is increasingly influenced by my students. I have a small group of students who have been with me for many years, and I teach them in a small studio behind my home, overlooking a garden with a fountain. The garden and the fountain have become part of the "props." Practices evolve, and often simplify, to support the aspirations of the students during the different stages and events of their lives.
Much of my “advanced training" has come from working individually with students, where one can really begin to appreciate the many dimensions of a person, and see the effect of practice on that individual. I expect this is common to most teachers.
In terms of my role in the yoga community, working with IAYT is a sacred trust. We are drawing upon such a reservoir of good will created by those before us, and we are supporting so many doing good in the world. It is daunting and humbling.
John Kepner, MA, MBA, is the Executive Director of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT). He is also a practising yoga teacher and therapist in Little Rock, Arkansas with a professional background in economics, finance and non-profit management. John holds teacher and therapist certifications from the American Viniyoga Institution and a teaching certification from A.G. Mohan in Chennai, India. His work for IAYT and his writings for the International Journal of Yoga Therapy often have an economic and public policy perspective (www.iayt.org).
Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life