Continuing Education in Yoga — Building Sangha

It is truly amazing what people who come together with common purpose and understanding can achieve. This is also the case when we build community through Yoga, which is called sangha. Yoga community can be a nurturing and loving space for individuals to thrive and for a collective purpose to grow. With the right stewardship and care these communities can be models for what ails the world today – alienation, suspicion, anger, guilt and fear.  Not properly nurtured Yoga communities may become a breeding ground for ego and dysfunction.

The work of any community always starts with the individuals who comprise it. Yoga teaches us to discover who we truly are, to peel back the layers and work through our misapprehensions of self. As we do this work we begin to remember our true nature, Sva Rupa, and to move beyond the patterns of the mind, kleshas, that keep us stuck, bound, and unhappy. Many modern-day Yoga practitioners fail to do the work of abhyasa and vairagya prescribed in Yoga’s seminal text, Yoga Sutras. Abhyasa – the endeavour to be there — involves cultivating stillness of mind through meditation. Vairagya – often translated as dispassion or non-attachment – is the fruit of regular (and right) practice so that we are not plagued by the kleshas or the misapprehension of who we think we are.

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The philosophy and the science of Yoga should not be dismissed by modern practitioners as irrelevant to their lives. They do so at their own peril and arguably as an affront to the Sages of the Tradition.  There is so much to be learned about the self — and the Self —  through the teachings. Some can be digested by reading but it is a teacher who helps to unveil the teachings so that we can embody them.

Continuing study in the Tradition is also a prescription in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: Svadhyaya is one of the Niyamas, rules for how we are in the world, mentioned in the section on Ashtanga, the eight-fold path to Yoga, which directs us to study not only the texts and teachings of Yoga, but the study of Self. Find a teacher and study, there are life times of teachings to be explored.

Yoga helps us to move beyond the hyper-individualism of society, which even colours modern Yoga. Many teachers are driven by popularity and celebrity  on whatever level.  Absent  deep roots in the Tradition or grounding in sadhana (personal spiritual practice) this popularity affects us at the level of asmita (ego), which is one of the kleshas. When we identify as a great Yoga teacher we are misapprehending our true essence, for example. Arguably we are also modeling the very behaviour/attitude that Yoga is intended to move us away from.

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Sangha is an opportunity for healing. We live in such alienating times that the work of being in community becomes foreign, we may even be suspicious of it. Sadhana, while necessarily an individual pursuit, prepares us for connections in community. Sadhana get the mind clear and the heart open so that we can come together in a loving and caring way.  We are able to see past our differences recognizing that Divine spark that dwells within. Namaste is the greeting we use to acknowledge this Divine spark. Trustful surrender is the bavana or attitude we bring forward.

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