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What comes first -the teacher or the path?

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

Ah Yoga – you ever elusive mistress! If you, like me, have often wondered why you prefer some yoga classes to others, why you feel drawn to a certain teacher’s energy or wisdom, or why you love or even hate a certain style of asana practice? Then allow me to tease out some of the many reason why that might be the case.

Yoga, in its entirety, offers different avenues for exploring what feels good in the body, in the mind or in the soul. The word Yoga is derived from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘to yoke’ or ‘union’ and it was first mentioned in the Rigveda which is an ancient Indian text collection that complies 1,028 Vedic Sanskrit hymns. There are many ways of grasping this action of ‘union’. Some may understand it to signify unity of the individual soul with the eternal soul, others a merging of the body with the mind, and those who sympathize with the sciences may view it as an amalgamation of the right hemisphere of the brain with the left hemisphere. Yoga has the capacity to include all these meanings and stretch the theories even further. Already you are beginning to see just how wide the scope goes.

I understand yoga as a way of life, a philosophy of living that encompasses my entire human experience. Regrettably however, yoga, like many other Religions, Traditions and contemplative paths was imparted through an oral tradition, therefore most of what we ought to know about its teachings have been lost, misinterpreted or simply changed in accordance with the seen, and unseen bias of the ‘teller’.

In today’s contemporary (chiefly Westphalia) world we have demystified Yoga and turned it mainly into a physical exercise which largely ignores the archaic roots from which it stemmed. While this is not exactly a crime, I believe it is important, necessary, and crucial to any faith or practice to at least try to understand the beliefs contained within the origins of it. Particularly (as is true for me) if this a topic you have decided to build your life and career around.

Vedanta is one of six schools of Hindu philosophy and it reflects the ideas that emerged from and were aligned with the speculations and philosophies contained in the Upanishads which are very ancient and sacred India Sanskrit scriptures. Vedanta prescribes 4 major paths of yoga to attain and re-establish our connection to the Divine Source of all life which is also the essence of our innermost being. These four paths of yoga; Karma yoga, the yoga of action and selfless service, Bhakti yoga, the path of love and devotion for God and all of creation, Raja yoga, yoga for the mind or the ‘eight step path’ and Gyana yoga which is the path to attaining self-knowledge through study, practice and experience. However, each path is intricately connected to each other. You cannot simply seek knowledge in books and ancient texts without meditating upon the information contained within it. On each yoga path are various yoga schools who interpret the yogic texts in their own unique way and practice their specific styles of yoga as a result. Usually, there is one path which resonates most with the seeker according to this person’s nature or aspirations, but there are elements of each path within all the others. As all the paths point the way in the direction of Oneness, or Divine Union, the paths themselves blend and it is impossible to tread only one path exclusively.

To put it into a western religious centric context; an Italian person is drawn to following a Christian path. They attend a Catholic school to receive their teachings. Their path is one of Christianity, their School is a Catholic one. Keeping in mind that the Catholicism practised in Italy will vary strongly to the Catholicism practised in Ireland or Mexico for example, each path and school will, with its cultural, political, and socio-economic nuances, specific to the country and era in which it is practiced vary to a larger or smaller degree. Understood in this way it is easy to see how and why such contrasting elements are present in each teacher of yoga.

As we travel on our yogic journey, components of each path will become more appealing than others as we enter different phases, but all the while, we should be cognizant that they lead to the same destination, which is in essence - the journey itself. It is worth remembering that all yogic paths, religions, and traditions, seek to highlight the problems and offer solutions to life’s many injustices. This crisis is not an individual or private matter belonging to any community; it affects all and is therefore a human problem. It is thus impossible to practice yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and compassion without recognising the huge levels of discrimination, prejudice, and exploitation in the world. Subsequently I believe, at their core, that all yogis are advocates for social change and social justice issues. Which means if you are reading this – you care deeply about issues that affect you and others you care about, something which you may never have been aware of before , but that makes you the most valuable and amazing person in whatever room you’re in.

Just as there are many different paths and schools of Yoga, so too are there many different religious, traditional, theistic, and non-theistic paths. They all have distinctive, yet at times comparable theologies and philosophies. For example, ancient practices associated with Christianity and Hinduism expose similarities between them. The Holy Trinity of Christianity, consisting of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is sometimes seen as analogous to the Trimurti of Hinduism, which touts the equal, yet distinct characters of Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. While a trinity resides at the core of both faiths, they are both distinct in their tenets.

So - depending on the cultural milieu in conjunction with the yogic path your favourite teacher has undertaken including the specific school, or schools in which they have received their training, their experiences of life and the issues which they are passionate about will ultimately shape their personality and yogic style of teaching. In the end, depending on the path of yoga, and life, you have decided to take could potentially explain the reasons why you are drawn to certain yoga teachers who practice their specific styles!

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