|[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 303 ]
The topic of lifestyle can be a touchy subject and difficult territory for the yoga teacher to encroach upon today. The ethos of "having one's cake and eating it too" is one that is deeply entrenched within the psyche of the modern-day person, even for those who have recognized the need to rise out of the quagmire of materialistic living.
This was a characteristic of the Westerner that was probably not immediately recognized by the first waves of Indian gurus to break upon Western shores within the last century. In the yoga tradition, a guru never provided instruction into the world of yoga until a student had proven that they were fit for the teachings, in both discipline and reverence. This one is known as an adhikarin. As Smt. Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani pointed out in her article, Yoga in Modern Times:
"In an effort to woo followers, most gurus [who went westward] did not interfere at all in the personal lives of their students. The students were ‘customers’ and the 'customers are always right'...
...Some of the Indian gurus did not originally realize the decadence of the Western Culture and lifestyle and taught yoga practices to people who were not ready for them. The Christian attitude towards spirituality contains a dichotomy between body and mind. Therefore, one can smoke, drink alcohol, even be sexually promiscuous and still 'be a good Christian', especially if one expresses contrition for one's 'sins'.
Values such as a regulated lifestyle, Karma, Moksha, reincarnation, devotion to guru, allegiance to one path of spiritual endeavour, which are the spiritual bedrock of yoga, were foreign to the Western mind. Hence, Indian gurus, eager to create large followings, encouraged an eclectic approach to yoga."
As a result, the wild horses of the Western students' minds were to a large extent, never broken -- allowed to run untamed and free throughout the pastures of yoga, sampling of it whatever they wanted, whenever, and however they wanted it.
The foundation of yoga in the West still rests quite predominantly upon this lingering attitude. I have often had students come to me and tell me what they want me to teach them, and I have also observed other teachers who craft their classes around what the yoga student 'customer' wants.
Most yoga teachers today have no sense of how to deal with this and so they continue to teach in a haphazard fashion, catering to the whims and fancies of the casual and undisciplined yoga student.
Many teachers themselves have very little discipline, nor understand why it is even necessary. This is the example by which they teach, and hence the attitude that they invariably pass along to their students. As Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri remarked:
"I am surprised how many yogically minded people have not experimented with yogic living. That includes a natural diet of natural foods, plenty of fresh water, and the complete avoidance of tobacco and alcohol... Please be certain that if your yoga instructor smokes and drinks, even moderately, that the yoga you are going to get through that screen is going to be distorted. Junk is junk, and if you want health and well-being, you cannot play with junk!"
NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.
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