by guest author Jenifer Parker, owner of Healium Yoga Studio in Wellington
Editors Note: This article originally appeared as a comment in response to Kara-Leah’s article ‘I don’t know how to teach yoga anymore. Or do I?’
Foremost, the role of the teacher is to get the students on their feet in the teachings of the lineage, and then set them on their way.
This is no different than sending a child to school, expecting that he will pass each year, gaining knowledge, gathering new teachers, and eventually graduating, and then taking that knowledge into the world, mix it with his own insights and talents, and create something new and vibrant that helps all.
It’s firmly rooted in the teachings, but also is it’s own special “take” on that information. This is lineage.
Samual and Hawk* both will have many teachers over the next 15-20 years.
This will form their primary education, and when they graduate from high school, trade school or university, they will take that information and become vibrant contributors to our society. Seeing how vibrant they are now, as such little boys, I can only imagine what they will be as young men.
Would we want them, at the age of 20, too afraid to step out of the mathematics they were taught in year 2? Or too afraid to experiment with wood working than with what they were taught in grade 9? Of course not. We want them to be creative! Do we not?
And do we want them holding to our apron-strings at age 30 — when they should be free men, living vibrant lives with children and partners and dogs and cats and goldfish of their own?
No, we want them to take the knowledge that we give them and do something with it.
This is also what teachers want for their students — whether we teach yoga or cooking or maths. At the end, we are just helping to set a foundation on which someone can build their own true expression.
This is what Krishnamacharya did.
Look at the extension of his lineage: Astanga, Iyengar, Desikachar, Indra Devi are the “big four” coming out of his school — that we know here in the West (or South Pacific!). While all of these people share the same teacher, each has a distinctly different *take* and application of his teaching. They emphasize different things based on who they are, how they practice yoga, and what they see in their students and in their world.
Each of these “big four” created a distinctly creative system of yoga based on the teachings of Krishnamacharya. So I always beg this question: what is lineage?
Lineage goes backward and *forward*. You are lineage, and I am lineage, even though neither of us is famous like Iyengar or Jois. We are carrying forward the traditions of the past, what we have learned from our teachers, into our present and future based on what is right in front of us — not egotism, but a knowledgable foundation on which our experience expands method.
Just as Jois expanded method. Just as Devi expanded method. None of them teach “Krishnamacharya script” — they teach in the lineage. So, if Kara-Leah is teaching in the lineage of Shiva Rae, and she are her lineage and her legacy also.
Now, this often gets confused around guru, so it might be relevant to talk about what gurus are, how transmission works, and all that jazz.
In the tradition, there are three primary ways that people gain insight:
- hard work;
- transmission from a guru;
- immediate insight.
The first is simply practice. A person practices the prescribed elements, and over time, the practice bears it’s natural fruit. The pitfall of a practice that is wholly independent is that it can easily fall into egotism without specific guidance from a teacher or guru.
The second is the transmission of insight through presence with a guru. A guru is understood to be “above” the normal everyday folks in terms of spiritual development. And, this transmission often occurs silently.
What is interesting about this is that you don’t actually have to know the guru to have one.
It is similar in buddhism. You don’t have to actually know a buddha to get transmission, and in fact, transmission of buddhadharma can happen just by looking at an image of the buddha or thinking about the buddha. And many get transmission through dreaming of a buddha. This transmission process through extraordinary means comes directly out of the hindu tradition. Just looking at an image of your guru, or dreaming of one, equals transmission.
The trouble with this method, of course, is the “guru trip.” We have all read of fallen gurus, their human sides coming to light. Does this make their transmission less real or true? I do not know. But the other side of the guru trip is the individual handing over too much personal authority to the guru — rather than holding personal responsibility for their own spiritual life. So, it can be messy without clarity.
The third method is the experience of spontaneous insight. This happens to most people all of the time — and not always in dramatic ways such as Kara-Leah has experienced. The trouble with the most dramatic versions is that it can create a psychotic break (like KL had). The risks are well documented in India, with many hospitals designed to help with that sort of kundalini rising. But in a much more mundane way, we come to insight all the time in the simple process of contemplation.
Of course, with this, too, we can become self-important. And that is a risk of simply being a human being.
There is always the hope that in sincere practice and with clear channels of personal accountability, plus our own sincere heart and dedication to practice, and a community on which we can rely, we set ourselves up to succeed in our practice of yoga.
Jenifer M Parker is the owner/director of Healium, a holistic health collective, as well as a yoga teacher, Thai yoga massage practitioner, and avid meditator.
*Samuel and Hawk are Kara-Leah and Jenifer’s sons.