By Myra Lewin
People often ask what kind of Yoga we practice and teach at Hale Pule. The answer is not as easy as the question appears. While there are certain ways we teach the practices here, what we most like to impart is that Yoga is much more than doing the practices the “right way.” Yoga is a direct path to the God within. The practices are how you connect with this universe inside. How you do the practices matters, but consistency in your approach is what matters most.
When students come here to study, they have usually worked with many different teachers and styles. For some students, what we teach aligns what they have learned into a central channel of wisdom that they use for their personal and professional benefit. For others, what we teach challenges everything they know.
It is up to each person to determine how to integrate teachings from various teachers into a personally meaningful practice. But in nearly three decades of studying and teaching, I have seen students advance much more quickly when they stick with one consistent approach. Those who are constantly trying new ways struggle to reach the depth they desire. To paraphrase Eknath Easwaran, you will reach water faster by digging deep wells than from many shallow holes.
The traditional versus modern way of working with a teacher
The traditional way of learning both Yoga and Ayurveda was characterized by intensive, small group practice (ideally one-on-one). Students studied closely with one teacher over many years, staying with them to gain instruction and experience and then returned home to integrate all they had learned.
The modern model is one in which Yoga students and teachers rarely know each other’s names. Students are drawn to studios where teachers offer different styles and have varying levels of experience. Each teacher offers his or her own approach, which can cause confusion in the bodies and minds of the students. Sometimes, techniques can clash and cause injury.
As I was learning to practice and teach Yoga, I followed the more traditional approach (it’s my preferred way to teach, too). I first studied with Betty Eiler, who showed me grace and commitment in her practice, teaching and all of life. Richard Freeman showed me the beauty of teaching, the philosophy and how to breathe. And finally, Sandra Kozak, who challenged everything I thought I knew and showed me how much more there was to Yoga and life. I am grateful for the teachings that I received and for the ability to concentrate my studentship and go deeper, faster.
As you are searching for new ways to expand your understanding of the depths of Yoga, do it with consciousness. Rather than moving from one style or teacher to the next, focus your attention on someone whose teaching makes your heart soar. Stick with that person long enough, and the teachings will bear fruit in your life.
A one-pointed Yoga practice
One of the great benefits of a traditional approach to studying with one teacher at a time is that it brings about one-pointedness. When you focus your attention on one path, the distractions fall away. Less is so much more.
As you focus your practice, you will also calm vata dosha, which is aggravated by movement in body and mind. When your attention is scattered among multiple teachers and modes of practice, your grasp on Yoga is groundless. But when you are clear about how and with whom you want to experience these powerful teachings, you build a strong foundation. When vata is calm and you have clarity, it is much easier to experience the connection to the divine within and around you.
The power of the spoken word
One of the reasons that working with one teacher versus many is so powerful is because of the concept of shruti, or that which is heard. This oral tradition defines the way that both Yoga and Ayurveda were taught for centuries. Shruti creates a connection between student and teacher, a necessary component of any genuine course of study. It opens up the buddhi, or higher intellect, because it requires the student to be fully present in order to hear what they are being taught. It is not just a matter of learning the facts or reading a book, but an experience of guidance from spirit to spirit.
Shruti goes beyond what you hear with your ears. Developing a relationship with a teacher opens up the lines of transmission, what you might think of as telepathic communication between teacher and student. After a student has been in our Yoga teacher training for a couple of weeks, I’ll find that all I need to do is think about telling them to adjust their back leg in virbhadrasana A and they will make the adjustment themselves. Developing this type of communication is how progress happens quickly.
How to choose a teacher
Any teacher will shape you, for better or worse. Before you commit to working with someone long-term, become familiar with the teacher and find out how they behave in their personal and professional life. Do they represent where you would like to be in 10 years? Will they offer you continued growth, always guiding you to go deeper in your practice and understanding? If the answer is “yes,” this is someone you should invest your time in working with.
If you think that you will become bored with such a focused approach, I challenge you to work with one teacher for six months and see the deep openings that come. This might mean attending a couple group classes with one person each week, then implementing what you’ve learned in a daily home practice. Or it could mean working with someone for one-on-one mentoring or private study. Keep a journal throughout this time. At the end of the six months, go back and read some of your entries. How has this focus of attention shifted you? What changes have come in your body and mind? Do you feel more connected to your inner world?
Whether you commit to this course of study with me or with another teacher, I bet that you will find it much more rewarding to focus on one course of studentship, rather than jumping from one place to the next. The joy of Yoga and Ayurveda is in the depth of the teachings. Stop scratching the surface and you will dig a well deeper than you thought possible.