In Which I Write About the First Sutra

For my yoga teacher training, I had to write a paper about one of the yoga sutras so I’m using it for my column today.

WITH YOU, I BREATHE: A forty day yoga column

#18 In Which I Write About the First Sutra

In time of trouble, I had been trained since childhood, read, learn, work it up, go to the literature.

-Joan Didion’s The Year of the Magical Thinking

The first sutra appears simple enough: “Now begins the authoritative instruction on Yoga.” I’ve been taught that this sutra is the commitment sutra and although, I could expand on why this is, I want to explore another aspect of the first sutra.

The Heart of Yoga describes the first sutra as an introduction to “the subject matter, as the oral tradition requires.” The reader understands then that yoga is rooted in an oral tradition, which he may or may not have been aware. I think it’s important to contextualize the sutras, as well as Yoga, and compare and contrast the culture in which yoga originated to our current culture. It’s interesting to think that here I am, reading the Sutras from a book I purchased online, and writing this paper on my MacBook, which I will email to my two yoga teachers, and the sutras are rooted in an oral tradition, which means they were said aloud, repeated, and passed down orally.

With The Heart of Yoga’s brief description, I understand that the sutras were created in an oral tradition. I don’t think it is necessary for every student to know this but, for one reason or another, I think it might help. If people physically root down to rise up, understanding the roots of yoga history may help people rise, as well. In order to explain, allow me to tell you a bit about my personal experience with yoga.

I was once an individual who talked very little and felt timid. I had little confidence in my voice and body and mind. I did not feel confident in my soul or spirit because I didn’t believe I had a soul or spirit. I did, however, feel confident in my research ability. I went to good schools, studied hard, and learned how to research and write. When I wanted to know something, I went to the literature and doing so brought me understanding and self-discovery. Going to the literature brought me comfort.

After practicing Kundalini Yoga in group classes, I wanted to understand what was happening to me, so I did what I have done for years. I went to the books.  I drove to the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. I wanted to know exactly how Kundalini Yoga affected the consciousness. I wanted to know how Kundalini Yoga affected women with emotional and physical trauma. Specifically, I wanted to read a book that analyzed Kundalini Yoga within a feminist and psychoanalytical context. I went to the library and searched the catalogue and found nothing. All my life I’d been going to the literature and the literature help. Now, I went to the literature and the literature didn’t exist. I felt overwhelmed and alone.

A year or so into my yoga practice, Amber, one of my first yoga teachers, told me yoga was rooted an oral tradition. I felt a sense of relief and understanding. I finally understood why the yoga literature didn’t exist. I finally understood, if I wanted to know more about yoga, I needed to build relationships with my yoga teachers. My personal experience is an example of a student understanding the roots of yoga and then rising up as a direct result of this understanding.

By December, I will be a certified yoga teacher. I understand I don’t live in an oral tradition. I live in a time where group classes are common and oftentimes teacher and students say very little to each other, if anything. Some students come to relax and the ninety minutes is enough. Some students don’t have questions and they feel good after class and that is enough. However, there are students who arrive to yoga, thinking they’re just getting a physical practice and, without warning, experience physical and emotional releases. There are students who will feel a powerful shift and feel overwhelmed and, as a direct result, may leave and not come back to the class, because they don’t understand what’s happening and feel alone. There are students who will feel a transformation occur and come back to yoga classes for exactly that reason and do not know how to communicate their internal experience with their yoga teacher.

In an effort to help students feel supported and safe, I would like to let students know I’m available, if they have any questions. This is an easy enough thing to say at the beginning or end of a class, and if I have somewhere to be after class, I think giving out my email would be a helpful way to still allow students this space. I believe, as a yoga teacher, I have a responsibility to keep those lines of communication open because the relationship between student and teacher can allow transformation to occur. At the same time, I have the responsibility to know my limits as a yoga teacher and to set appropriate boundaries.

My desire to let students know I’m available if they have questions about yoga is deeply rooted in my personal experience. If a teacher had said this at the beginning or end of every class, I would have most likely asked her my questions–not the first time I heard her say she was available to answer any questions, but maybe the tenth time or twentieth time I heard the words. I believe this offering would’ve helped me feel less alone and feel less overwhelmed. If we physically root down to rise up, I think there is a way in which, we, as yoga teachers, can root down into our personal experience to rise up.

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