When I first started practicing yoga, about 10 years ago, I was an university student in the Netherlands. Back then I was really focused on getting fit and I could never lose enough weight. For little money I became a member of a fitness studio, which offered many fitness courses, amongst which Pilates, Zumba and of course yoga. I had no idea what yoga really was and I only cared about the fitness side of it. No surprise that I stopped doing yoga soon, as it didn’t burn the same amount of calories in an hour like during other fitness classes.
I can barely remember our yoga teacher, but I know that she did not explain to us what we were doing and surely we weren’t focusing on the present moment or on the breath. That’s unfortunately not an exception. Many yoga teachers teach the fitness side of yoga, neglecting the real meaning of yoga. Yoga teachers, who work in fitness centers, teach to a bunch of people, who are not coming to their class in order to reach a higher state of consciousness, but rather to improve physically. Those yoga teachers, hired by fitness centers, are often required to adapt to the broad public, having to neglect the spiritual practice of yoga.
I think it’s important to teach the whole aspect of yoga and of course you cannot do that in one single class. But step by step you can introduce new aspects of yoga and bring the entire practice closer to the students. We all need time to get used to new things and we don’t want to be thrown into the unknown. But if yoga teachers don’t open the students up to the real depth of yoga, their students lose a great opportunity.
A great way to start talking about the essence of yoga is to introduce a bit of philosophy before even starting the class. This brings yoga closer to the students step by step and if they want to know more, they can always investigate further. As a yoga teacher it’s best to teach some philosophy, pranayama, kriya, mantra or mudra in each yoga class for at least 5 minutes and observe how the whole energy of the group shifts over time.
In fact, the practice of asana, poses, is just a small part of yoga. Yoga means “union” and consists out of 4 main paths:
- Gyan Yoga (using knowledge to reach the ultimate truth by removing illusions)
- Bhakti Yoga (becoming devoted to someone, like a divinity, or something, like a regular practice)
- Kriya Yoga (internal action, purifying the mind and body with asana and other purifying practices)
- Karma Yoga (outward ation, offering a service without expectations and bringing yoga into all actions)
Raja yoga is the combination of some or all of those 4 paths of yoga. For anyone trying to achieve liberation, more than one path is usually chosen.