Hatha Yoga describes the Shatkarma in the second chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Shat is Sanskrit for 6 and Karma is the word for Action. The ancient Yogis believed that in order to understand the universe you needed to first clear out the impurities, toxins and distractions of humanity. To do so you had to begin by cleaning out your body.
The Encyclopaedia of Traditional Asanas describes hundreds of seats; various ways in which to move the body in an effort to eliminate the limitations that result in discomfort. The Sanskrit word "as" means "to sit." Asana can also be interpreted as "establishment in the original state." The postures were designed to create heat (Tapas) allowing us to eliminate toxins and impurities in the physical body so that we could move into svabhava (introversion). The practice of Asana eventually provides us with steadiness and inner awareness of our True Self.
Breath and movement are the keys to Yoga. Every breath directs and deepens movement. Directed breath or kripalu.org/resources/why-do-pranayama Pranayama specifically directs your body, mind and internal energy. Proper practice of Pranayama can lead to the creation of body heat, spiritual experiences and energetic shifts. The formal practices described by Hatha Yoga are done so with a specific intended use and course.
By today's standards some of the practices described by Hatha Yoga are downright disgusting. Swallowing a milk soaked rag (Dhuati Karma) doesn't sound like something I want to do. However, there are many practices that we continue to apply today in order to keep our bodies clean.
Neti: Nasal cleaning involved the use of a string threaded up the nostrils and through the sinus passage. Today we use neti pots, sprays and tissues.
Dhauti: Cleansing of the digestive tract included milk soaked rags and forced vomitting. Modern science has helped us to identify foods that can clean our system.
Bhasti: Thank goodness for modern science and doctors who help us to keep our colons healthy.
Trataka: Blinkless gazing was used to clean the eyes. Many of us practice this just because the view is so beautiful. Eye drops assist us when we are ill or require a little help on a dry day.
Consider that which you do to keep your body healthy and clean. Many of our current practices and habits have roots in those of the ancient Yogis. What practices can you add to you life to clear away the toxins from the world around you, eliminate that which you do not need and create a bit more space for internal focus?
#1 Yoga is Stretching
Yes, Yoga poses do include stretching. More accurately Yoga poses, or Asana, help you to learn how to lengthen and lift, extend and contract, engage and release muscles as groups and in isolation. The value of Yoga Asana lies in the expression of each posture, not how it looks. When done accurately and with proper technique Asana provide much more than stretching or strengthening, they help you to feel more comfortable in your body and develop the ability to use it safely in every activity.
#2 Yoga is for Women
Originally, Yoga was practiced only by men; holy men. They were held in higher regard than kings and queens. They were considered holy because they had dedicated their lives to understanding why we are here. When Yoga was discovered by the Western world powerful women (queens) began to learn the practice. It’s impact upon American happened by storm. The practices of mindfulness were absorbed by those who were invested in revolution, change of perception and free love – the hippies. The practice spread among men and women like wildfire. There are far more females who practice Yoga today, but if everyone were to practice Yoga it could help to change the world.
#3 Yoga is Expensive
How much do you pay for your daily cup of coffee? Your house to be cleaned? Your chiropractor to adjust your back? Your happy hour? Yoga costs no more. However, the value it brings is immense in comparison. That which you receive from a Yoga practice lasts far longer than any cup of coffee or happy hour cocktail. Consistent and dedicated practice will eliminate your need for caffeine and body treatments. It will enthuse you to keep your house clean on your own. Forget that cocktail, you’ll be able to relax without a sip of alcohol. Attending classes will provide you with the skills and knowledge to apply Yoga to your life and actually save money.
"That which you receive from a Yoga practice lasts far longer than any cup of coffee or happy hour cocktail."
#4 I Can’t Do Yoga
Everyone practices Yoga. It’s not until we are able to identify that which we do that we perceive what we are doing. Have you ever picked up trash? Held the door for someone? Taken a walk in the woods? Listened to your thoughts? Closed your eyes for a moment of peace? Stretched your arms overhead? Told someone the truth? All of these are practices of Yoga. Attending classes with dozens of people and trying to get into a split may not be the way in which you are meant to practice. There are 8 limbs in the Raja Yoga practice. Any of them could be your starting point.
#5 Yoga Doesn’t Align with My Faith
There is Yoga in every religion, but no religion in Yoga. It is like a good stock. Yoga is the bone broth or seafood stock you begin with. It has all of the basics already included: guidance for the treatment of yourself and others, body health, mindfulness and awareness. You get to choose what to flavors to add on. If you place your faith in a single God, worship the Earth, look to various deities for support, or do not believe in dogma, you can add it in. Any Yoga teacher or studio should provide teachings and guidance that allow you to add in your personal flavors to your own practice. If you disagree with the teachings, then try a different teacher or studio until you feel comfortable.
"There is Yoga in every religion,
Becoming A Yoga Teacher
Did you know that anyone can be a Yoga instructor? Anyone at any time can say that they know how to teach Yoga and can easily begin selling Yoga classes. There is no certification required, no registration, no education.
Of course, we know that this is not what makes a person a Yoga teacher. The ability to instruct people to move through various postures does not necessitate special training. However, the skills needed to guide people through a Yoga sequence that intentionally creates physical, energetic and emotional change requires depth of study and practice. The Yoga Alliance provides us with a set of guidelines to follow in our training.
Self Study is one of the most important practices a Yoga teacher must do. While studying the texts, philosophies and practices of Yoga we must apply that which we learn to our lives. We must move with the intention of noticing how it effects our own bodies and live as witnesses and observers of our own thoughts, speech and actions.
Teaching Yoga requires constant practice and study. It requires self awareness, continued study, growth and development. A Yoga teacher is always practicing, but not always posing. They are developing deeper awareness of themselves in order to gain a better understanding of the practitioners whom they guide.
Intense, but not Intensive
The training required to become a Yoga teacher is intense, but it should not be intensive. The quality of the training a blossoming practitioner attends can make the difference between them becoming an instructor or a teacher.
The most common initial Yoga teacher training program is 200 hours in length. A comprehensive program includes everything from history to anatomy and should also cover the philosophy and practices of traditional Yoga. To fully grasp these concepts it is important that a budding teacher apply them to life. To do this, we must walk the walk and talk the talk, everywhere. We must take the time to understand and apply everything we learn. A quality Yoga teacher takes the time necessary to develop themselves, their knowledge and their own practice.
Everyone has their own special set of skills. A quality Yoga teacher does more than instruct poses. They absorb themselves into the practice and radiate their passion into the studio as well as out in the world. Every aspect of their life is dissolved in Yoga. Listen to how your teacher speaks, watch them move, notice what they do while demonstrating or moving through the room. Listen for their unique set of skills.
Learn about your teacher. Do they have a degree? In what field? What lives did they live before they became a Yoga teacher? How does their past effect the way in which they teach? Each one of us applies that which we had learned before we became Yoga teachers to the way in which we teach and live. When you practice with a quality Yoga teacher you will be able to see, hear and feel who they are as a result of their past experiences.
Value Your Teacher
Standing on your head, jumping from downward dog to handstand and being able to wrap your legs behind your shoulders does not qualify you to teach Yoga. In fact, many teachers lack the flexibility to access many of the party trick poses you will find on Instagram. In addition, just because your teacher can do these things that does not mean they can teach you to access the positions in your body or that your body can move in those ways.
Think about your favorite teachers in school. What qualities made them memorable? A quality Yoga training offers more than instruction during a work out. The teacher should create space, energy, guidance, support, instruction, direction, passion, enthusiasm and availability. The practice of Yoga is a way of life and they should share their life with you every time they teach.
When you find your Yoga teacher demonstrate how much you value them by paying full price, letting others know what makes them different and showing up to support what they do and continue to learn and grow with them.