“For those continually tempered by the heat of tapa, hatha yoga is like the hermitage giving protection from the heat. For those always united in yoga, hatha is the basis acting like a tortoise.”
Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Chapter 1, Verse 10
Everyone knows the story of the hare who, in his arrogance decided to take a nap while the tortoise slowly plodded his way across the finish line. This parable is profound and has much to teach the Yoga community too.
Why all the hurry to become a Yoga teacher? Traditionally, disciples would live with their Guru in an Ashram for 12 years before embarking on a life of teaching. Nowadays, you can become a Yoga teacher in a few weeks!
What does Yoga means to you? In the traditional sense, Yoga is a spiritual path with many tools to help the separated soul become one with its cosmic creator. Hatha Yoga was seen as a stepping stone towards a more profound and enduring awareness of the Oneness of being through Meditation.
People even assume that Hatha Yoga means posture or Asana work only. It does not. Asana was seen as the first step towards the subtle practices of Pranayama and Meditation so the more we look into it, we find ourselves getting deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Asana. I practice some Asana every day. There are so many practices you can incorporate into it and make it a powerful health promoting practice but, there is so much more to know and experience and as any seasoned practitioner will know, there is no quick substitute for a slow, slow fermented vintage wine. Yoga as exercise may be quick and fun but real Yoga takes a long time and it’s worth the wait.
Integral practice that incorporates many facets of Yoga makes for a richer experience that equips us with a higher level of functioning. A balanced body and focused, disciplined mind can change your life and others for the better.
The story of Yoga is inspiring and we want to taste its fruits quickly but the irony is that the deeper benefits of Yoga can only come about because of the time, effort and energy that has gone into practice. We may start off as excitable hares enjoying the yoga vinyasas that are helping us gain more freedom in our bodies but eventually we begin to appreciate the value of moving with the slower rhythm of the tortoise. We gain more clarity and insight into the nature of things and are less swayed by the turbulent, fickle nature of our minds and hearts. As the quote says, yoga becomes like a tortoise shell that can protect us from the ravages of the changing world around us.
My first teacher training course was a one-month intensive course in India. I enjoyed the process tremendously and look back fondly on the sixteen-hour days, but it did not prepare me to become a safe and effective Yoga teacher. I went on to do two further teacher training courses after that for another 5 years or so in total and even then, the greatest thing I learned was how to ask more questions.
Yoga teaching is a life-long vocation where you never stop being a student. It is supported by a profound perennial philosophy that helps you build a greater and more holistic paradigm of life than you currently know. It touches on the unknowable. A truth that is felt yet not consciously known is deeply humbling.
Savour it and let it find you. It can only see you if you stand still for long enough.
Muktibodhananda Saraswati, Swami. (1993) Hatha Yoga Praipika. (2ndEdition) Bihar School of Yoga. India