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Living ‘Yoga’ beyond the mat


Here is the interview published by Yoga house, The greens this month. The email conversation took place few months ago with Melanie Swan and myself. Melanie swan is a writer and a Yoga teacher. She writes articles on health, yoga and such. Yoga has always come with misconceptions and preconceptions. At one time, it conjured up images of the yogi in a lotus position on top of a mountain or in the ashrams, sitting in meditation. Today however, it has become more synonymous with the handstand, which is far less than its real dimension in spite of its prevalent presence in social media.

Yoga is so much more than asana; just one of the ‘eight limbs’ of yoga as per the yoga sutras, the ancient yogic philosophy, yoga carries a world within it.

We spoke to Yoga House teacher Karthik, and asked him to explain how he takes his yoga practice and its philosophy beyond the mat and into his daily life, and this is what he had to say.

MS - What does living yoga beyond the mat mean to you?

K - “From the very beginning of my yoga journey, I was clearly explained what yoga is all about , what yoga is and what yoga is not. My teacher always talked about 'living yoga'. By that, he meant taking yoga beyond the mat out into everyday life. For example, waking up with gratitude for everything that is about to happen that day. There is a short ritual I do first thing in the morning as soon as I wake up; I offer a short prayer to thank Mother Earth and the entire Universe for manifesting me in this form and carrying me with tolerance. Indian culture is built around this attitude, to be grateful for all beings no matter how small and whatever their situation may be. When the good happens I am taught to be thankful and when the bad happens, I seek refuge in God. Practice on the mat only enhances one's inner openness towards yoga which is just the tip of the iceberg."

“If we have to talk about the physical aspect of the practice, then ‘yoga’ starts even before the class. It begins when we leave our footwear outside of the studio, the way we roll out our mat, how we respect our yoga mat on which we practice, without dropping, kicking or tossing it around. It’s about being considerate of other people's right to space and silence. These are small things that can enhance one's approach to life and respect for others.

“I quote my teacher: ‘a moron who starts practising yoga on the mat, eats organic food but does not change the way he thinks will only become an organic, flexible moron.’ Yoga has more to do with an all encompassing attitude to life than just a relationship with you and your body.”

MS - What ways do you practice this yoga off the mat?

K - "I have become a vegetarian ever since I started this journey [as is prescribed in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika]. This didn't happen because my teacher told me to but because my first experience of yoga is about compassion."

“I also try to respond, instead of reacting to a situation. I step back and see myself as a third person by observing my thoughts, emotions and habitual reactions. This does not only give me time to respond appropriately but also helps me learn my own behavioural patterns."

“I practice gratitude; to be thankful for all the positive things that have happened in my life and also to the things that did not happen perhaps the way I wanted them to."

“I bless my food before tasting it, bless everyone involved in the making of that food including the chef, the Earth, the water, the clouds, the sun and the rainbows."

“I watch my steps so that I don't step on ants and insects, which is a form of meditation that I enjoy every day. It makes me feel that I am part of them, and they are part of me. All living beings have the right to live as much as I have."

“I respect the belief system, perception and opinions of others.”

MS - Do you think it is the responsibility of teachers to instill this knowledge and understanding to students; that yoga is so much more than Asana?

K - “It is a sad truth that many of the teachers of yoga are the ones who are damaging yoga more than everyday common people and practitioners. In the world of social media, Yoga has now started looking like gymnastics. Any crazy pose, which probably has no name, no scriptural reference or historical reference is now being taught as a yoga pose in many yoga classes across the world. Some have even started inventing their trademark poses. It is shame on such teachers who spread ignorance in the name of yoga as a means to promote their own position for generally fame and financial benefit."

“Just because one does a pose with a chin mudra does not make it a yoga pose, unless one knows how and where the energy (prana) is directed, either to physical organs or to stimulate the intellect. Moving the body from one pose to another without holding it for a certain period of time is not very helpful when it comes to the subtle aspects of the practice. It will only lead to the agitation of the mental and emotional body which is unfortunately a widespread response phenomena when it comes to the practice. It only moves one further away from yoga. It would be amazing if all teachers took some responsibility and reviewed the fundamentals of any yoga book, which clearly sets the intention of the practice. Teachers for once can let go of their ego and their obsession for popularity. I say this as a yoga teacher myself, with my experience and outlook upon yoga."

“However, even the most authentic teacher can only teach when the student is ready to receive. Both play a role. The teacher cannot fill a cup which is already full. A student is also made up of his past karma, virtues and knowledge. It is rare to find a student who is completely receptive and open to gain knowledge from their teacher. If a student does not come with an open heart and mind, there is little that a teacher can give. It is their choice. Either there are open doors or closed ones. There are no in-betweens in this regards. But even then, by choosing to start the practice, unexpected doors can slowly open"

“There are no shortcuts when it comes to the practice and experience of yoga; one has to start from the basics and commit for the long term in order to truly see the benefits and reap the rewards. In this time and age few people are ready for such a commitment but having said that, more and more people are starting the practice and as they understand the subject in more detail they find themselves giving more time for self-improvement, humility, respect for authenticity with the recognition that this is a long journey ahead."

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