Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Gurus, God, and carbon emissions

People keep asking me when I will be getting to the ashram. I keep telling them that I am not going to an ashram, but rather a yoga school. Why is it that all yoga learning seems to be associated with ashrams?

Why, you ask, am I not going to an ashram? Well, the short answer is that I don't play well in groups. For the long answer, consider this:

Take a group of people with disparate tastes, circadian rhythms, personalities, cultural backgrounds, belief systems, body types, and tell them you know the way for them to achieve yoga. It is as follows:
  • You must all wear the same clothes
  • You must all wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day
  • You must all eat the same food, at the same time of day
  • You must all do the same asana practice
  • You must all do karma yoga, even if you are not so inclined
  • You must show devotion to the Guru, for it is through the Guru that you will reach God
  • No sex, not in this establishment!
Do you think this cookie-cutter solution will work for all of them? Er, no. A few, perhaps. But not all.

Now take the same group and say to them:
  • You can wear whatever you like, as long as it is respectful of the culture you find yourself in
  • You can wake up and go to sleep whenever you like, as long as you get to your classes
  • You can eat whatever and whenever you like, hey, this isn't a residential program. You can even drink if you are so inclined (not that I am!)
  • We will teach you tools to personalise your asana, breathing, and chanting practice so that it suits you on any given day in your life
  • You can do karma yoga if you find it useful. Otherwise, don't
  • Please show respect for your teachers and the information they are sharing with you, but you can choose your own path to God
  • Sex? Not our business what you do in your private life, just please do it responsibly
OK, I know I am over-dramatising a bit, but let's be honest, option 2 is going to work for a whole lot more people. Still not all, but more. That is why I am going to KYM and not an ashram.

I think often of the anecdote we were told to distinguish between a Guru (one who who shows you the way) and an Acharya (expert teacher).

Guru: Do as I say, don't do as I do
Acharya: Do as I say, because I am doing it too

I am a Westerner, and a stubborn one at that, and the concept of gurus is not entrenched in either my culture or my psyche. I just can't understand why we are so often told we need a conduit to God, when yoga gives us all the tools to find enlightenment on our own, with the guidance of a teacher we trust. Note: guidance. Thank goodness for teachers like Mark Whitwell, who are saying just that: it's all in you right now, you don't need to change anything, and you certainly don't need a guru. Unless you want one, of course!

Now (blush) I must confess that I don't know how to offset my carbon emissions from all the flying, because I haven't done it before. I am running out of time before we leave on Thursday morning, so it may have to wait until we get back. Can any of you offer advice on this one? I would love to know what you have done.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to seeing the statue of Patanjali in the KYM courtyard once again.


Linda (Sama) said...

Nadine, people say the exact same thing to me when I tell them I am going to India to study at KYM...."what ashram do you study at?"

only 148 days, 3,570 hours, 214,242 minutes, and 12,854,558 seconds until I get back to KYM....but who's counting? :)

Karen Beth said...

I've always worried about typical teacher training courses for this very reason. As a result, I've always really wanted to attend a one-on-one teacher training but haven't found one suitable yet. Glad to hear that there are options out there that aren't cookie-cutter classes.

Thanks for this info!


Anonymous said...

Carbon offsetting? You know, of course, you could do nothing worse than fly or you wouldn't be asking. :) But how about making it simple? Plant some trees or give money to a tree planting organization -- something local and perhaps something in India, to cover "both ends," so to speak. And thanks for the "no guru needed here" comments; I get tired of the guru thing. There's this great quote from Celtic paganism: "A western rose cannot bloom as an eastern lotus." I'm paraphrasing, but you get it.

Regina Clare Jane said...

That was an awesome post, Nadine! I am so glad I came for a long-overdue visit! You have expressed much of how I feel about this kind of thing in general...
I felt a lot of this going on in that workshop I took, and that was only for a few weekends!

Cupcakes & Yoga said...

I cannot wait to read about your experience at KYM!

Total Health Yoga - Kris said...

Dearest Nadine,
Wonderful and wise post. Your sediments regarding Guru's is something that I've thought about for years now. I even prefer the word 'guide' over 'teacher', as the best teacher is within, but a guide can help you listen to what you already know.
Love and have a safe trip,

PS Plant trees, give to the rainforest. That's what I do, because quite frankly I will be flying when necessary to experience more of this wonderful world!

rand(om) bites said...

Awesome post Nadine and I feel very in tune with what you are talking about. I can understand the idea of going to an ashram but I don't think it is for me either. That way of life would not fit in with my everyday life, my friends, my family and work.

I practice yoga as something that is with me always, no matter what my spiritual beliefs are, what I am wearing, when I am eating or even where I am. I appreciate the discipline though but believe there are no rules when it comes to making yoga a part of your life.

It does challenge me though. What is yoga, where it has come from, the different styles and attitudes. It can be a little confronting sometimes. Sometimes being a westerner, I feel like a fraud so need to remind myself that everything in life evolves and changes. Nothing stays the same. It can only grow, expand and if you can share it with others, the better for it.

There'll always be a yoga foundation, a starting point but where one's practice takes them is different for everyone. And that is okay.

Thanks for helping me explore my own thoughts and feelings about yoga!