What is the purpose of a yoga teacher in today’s culture?
In addressing this topic I think its necessary to provide or at least attempt to provide a working definition of yoga that may fit more closely to my values, what it means to me and outline some of the key benefits of yoga.
According to Sri Swami Satchidananda’s translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – Yoga citta vritti nirodhah, the “restraint of the modifications of the mind” is Yoga.
However as outlined in T.K.V. Desikachar’s translation of the Sutras (The Heart of Yoga) “Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions.”
Meanwhile Nischala Joy Devi interpretation of this well known Sutra states that “yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart”. This view of the principles at the basis of yoga practice is an approach from a heart-centred, intuitive, feminine perspective, resulting in the first translation intended for women.
Personally I find her idea that when this sutra is translated referencing only the mind, with emphasis on control, restraint or some form of restriction as encouraging students to be harsh with their consciousness, to be highly persuasive and most definitely compelling.
As Devi sates: “Consciousness abides in the heart, not in the mind, as many believe.
But when we realize that it is the heart that is the holder of our consciousness, reunion –once understood to be a difficult task – seems more likely.” By inclination I am very open to her contention that the “heart responds more readily to tenderness, and gentle, caring treatment of your consciousness is the best way to liberate it.”
It is noteworthy to observe that among the hundreds of translations of the Yoga Sutras that exist today almost all are written by men so as Devi observes “perhaps this is why so many of my female students have told me: I have tried to read them, but they don’t relate to me. So I gave up.”
In reading the Sutras as I currently am I can readily attest to their somewhat esoteric and complex nature, a text written well over 2000 years ago but I also ask myself, what do the sutras mean to me as a post modern Western man living in the 21st century?
Clearly the Sutras are open to interpretation but while not a Sanskrit scholar I think that perhaps a way to pursue yoga is look to see how the tenets of yoga confirm to my values and experience of life. Central to my mission as a yoga teacher is to provide a safe zone for compassion and empathy, offer healing and express the humanistic principles espoused by Devi in her book The Secret Power of Yoga.
In summary, Yoga is not something you do…it how you lead your life. The message of this discipline is that yoga is an adaptive intelligence that can provide a way to navigate the challenges of life, make difficult decisions, a tool to help you to do what you couldn’t do before and respond to different situations in different ways in mind, body and spirit.