Is modern yoga practice inauthentic because it does not properly reflect Patañjali’s teachings?

Yoga today has come a long way from the original, classical teachings of yoga but ultimately, as in Indian philosophy and religion, this is an accepted progression on the path and understanding of how it is useful and still stays relevant today. Western philosophical thought and religion is canonical but Indian religion is functional and has changed through the centuries. There is no debate on legitimacy of an evolving process. Contemporary yoga is not inauthentic because it does not adhere to Patanjali’s yoga sutras precisely and is not completely distinct from it either. Our world today as we know it is primarily concerned with satisfying the five senses. Yoga, was born through Samkhya philosophy; the idea of realising the absolute truth of the distinction between soul and body, purusha and prakriti. Yoga has evolved but still purports that living by ones sense’s alone, cannot transform or free the soul from its restrictions. Authentic yoga is essentially a transforming way of living and this contemplation on what it actually means is forever refining itself, so more and more generations can imbibe it. Although it is apparent that Patanjali is delineating yoga of the mind, while Hatha yoga is more concerned with yoga of the body. The understanding is still classical in the sense that the lower limbs of ashtanga, namely yamas, niyamas, asanas, pranayama and pratyahara are part of the first five steps, of eight steps taken towards the latter three, collectively known as samyama, which is dharana, dhyana and Samadhi. The goal in Patanjali’s sutras is “chitta vritti nirodha” the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. In Hatha yoga the goal is conversion or divinisation of the material body, in order to transcend it. Patanjali wrote in pithy aphorisms and spoke of the way in which matter can be overcome to reach kaivalya- sattva purushayohshuddha-samye, a perfect balance between purusha and sattva, spirit and matter. Contemporary yoga endeavoured to flesh out the earlier limbs in order to be inclusive of all people as opposed to a small majority of renunciates.

Patañjali’s Yoga has experienced considerable alterations over the millennia and centuries. According to the needs of an age and its society, variable traditions of yoga have come into vogue.
Then, in light of the physical body, it might offer a means by which enlightenment is achieved, although it is nothing to do with the true self and the definitive realisation involves the complete separation of the atman from the body in which the cycle of karma compels it to exist in. Now as thought has moved on, we have an alternative view of the body in which the body is not so much to be transcended but rather empowered and transformed into a different kind of substance. The process by which this conversion is achieved is multifarious and esoteric, and is based on tantric rather than samkhya ideas on the nature of matter and the material body. In spite of the very different ideologies involved, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika maintains some contact and continuity with the earlier ideas on Yoga.

In the Gheranda Samhita, (roughly the earliest copy dates back to 1802, but was orally passed down for probably seven centuries before this time,) we are offered a saptanga-yoga, seven limbs. They are namely, shatkarmas (cleansing) asanas (strong and stable postures,) mudras with which the flow of prana inside the body can be regulated, pratyahara (control of the senses) pranayama using mantras to count the breath, dhyana (three types of meditation) and samadhi. Four out of the eight limbs are still employed to reach the latter two. The fact that this modern interpretation does not accurately delineate Patanjali’s eight- limbed path is to be seen as an improvement and not an omission of the classical path.
Yoga is still thought of as a means of ending the process of karma, and bringing the cycle of rebirth to an end. This is congruent with belief systems in India today and just because western minds may not believe in this philosophy it is unfair for us to simply dismiss it as something that should not be considered.
The Yoga Sutras should be looked upon as a text defining the philosophy of Yoga, explaining why it is essential, what it can attain, how it can be useful and the type of training that is to be undertaken.
It is not written to give a breakdown of how things can be achieved and Patañjali leaves this job to future generations of teachers. This has allowed teachers of different types of Yoga to refer to Patañjali as their basic authority even when the practices they promote have little to do with the precise content of the Yoga Sutras. Modern day teachers like myself still refer to the eight limbs of yoga as an addition to the teaching of asana, pranayama and the yamas and niyamas can always be worked into the theme of a class to shine light on the right attitude of a sadhaka. When training todays teachers to lead group classes it is important for them to understand and consider these restraints and observances in order to give their students an insight into what yoga actually aspires to. Without learning about ashtanga yoga and trying to apply the first 2 limbs, there is no inspiration to teach correctly or enhance a sadhaka’s practice fully. Ultimately they are the same practices one needs to achieve or aspire to in order to reap the full benefits of yoga.
Dhyana, in a classical understanding of the yoga sutras is stated as being- tatra pratyaya ekatananta dhyanam (3.2)- a steady, continuous flow of attention directed towards the same point or region is meditation. In the Gheranda Samhita, dhyana is of three types, bhairanga, antaranga and ekachitta, external, internal and one pointed. All these techniques both ultimately lead to self- realization, Samadhi. Both classical and modern interpretations still define it as control over the body, mental and emotional beliefs to ultimately lead to an unwavering feeling of peace.
The concise style of the Yoga Sutras disallows an elaborate from of discussion, but nevertheless there is a positively clear distinction between the Yoga philosophy supported by Patañjali and the forms of Yoga widely practised today, particularly in the Western world. Maybe as the story goes that Patanjali was a god who fell down to earth and had to relearn what it was like to be in human form, has probably influenced his writing or lack of technique of the fundamental, first limbs, whereas Sage Gheranda, Svatmarana and the editor of the Shiva Samhita were mere sages who had not reached the highest Samadhi yet. So were all too familiar on how the body could be cleansed physically and esoterically and then ultimately used as a vessel to reach enlightenment. This is all conjecture, but not unlikely in terms of Indian spiritual, religious belief. Being concerned with how the body can be moulded into a strong vessel for the realization of god to inhabit it, did not concern Patanjali. However this preoccupation with preparing the body for a higher purpose was definitely around in philosophical thought, years later around the medieval period. There are many restrictions and attitudes that are advised by this change in thought that are not dissimilar to what Patanjali advocates in his first two limbs. In the Shiva Samhita composed between 1300 and 1500 CE it advises against “People who are attached to the objects of the senses and seek pleasure from them are prevented from reaching nirvana.” (aparigraha)(3.52). In 3:34 -37, it states the great hindrances to yoga, “so that yogis can cross the ocean of the sorrows of samsara”, (karmic impressions). “Sour, astringent, pungent, salty, mustard, bitter flavours, too much walking in the early morning, burning oil, stealing, violence, hatred of others, pride, insincerity, fasting, untruthfulness, folly, cruelty to animals, the company of women, the use of fire, too much chatter – whether good natured or not – and overeating: the yogi should definitely give up these. The common thread that Patanjali and this hold are the avoidance of stealing (asteya), untruthfulness (asatya), the company of women (brahmacharya), violence and cruelty to animals (ahimsa). In verses 39 – 41 it states that milk, ghee, sweets, betel without lime, camphor, unhusked and ground food, a beautiful hermitage, fine cloth, listening to philosophical discourses (svadhyaya), constant dispassion (tapas), domestic duties, singing the name of vishnu, (Ishavara pranidhana), listening to harmonious music (samtosha), resolve (tapas), patience, austerity (tapas), purity (saucha), modesty, understanding, and attendance upon one’s guru (ishvara pranidhana): “the yogi should always practice these observances to the utmost.”
Indian thought, which leans towards the view that “the glass is always half full” or “something is always better than nothing”. So the more practical or modern way to regard the yamas and niyamas is as ideals towards which the aspirant should strive for, rather than absolute prerequisites.
Hatha-yoga should be viewed as a preparation for the higher spiritual practices that are Patañjali’s prime concern. Asana is taken up in detail in the first chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the second of Gheranda Samahita. The Shiva Samhita in its fourth chapter only states four asanas involving mudras mahamudra, mahabandha, jalandhara and mulabhanda and viparitakarani. The first two books go into great detail with the proper execution of various postures highlighting the sitting asanas, that are normally mastered first in order to make the spine straight in preparation for the kundalini to rise up the chakras, energy centres. Patanajali simply states in 2:46 of the yoga sutras, sthira-sukham asanam – a sitting posture should be steady and comfortable. He does not elaborate more, but this method is advised in order to bring the mental faculty under the volitional control of the practitioner so that the spiritual goal of liberation from rebirth can be attained. This is all that Patañjali is aiming to offer his students. It is not surprising that later practitioners would find the means through this one advice in offering a myriad of postures that help the body to achieve this goal. Patañjali is proposing that when a person achieves this high state of meditation their sitting posture naturally becomes steady and easy to hold. This would seem to be supported by 2:48, which indicates that when this is achieved dualities such as heat and cold, happiness and suffering no longer affect the yogin so that there is no difficulty in sustaining the desired asana.
It is clear that whilst the Yoga Sutras do include asana as a part of the practice it promotes, it is not central to the process in the way that it becomes later in the hatha-yoga teachings.

Pranayama is covered in the second chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the fifth chapter of the Gheranda Samhita. Again more depth is covered than in the yoga sutras as more people presumably start taking an interest in yoga. The modern take incorporates mudras and specific breathing, again all preparations of the body for enlightenment. In 2:2 of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, “When the breath is unsteady, the mental processes (chitta) are unsteady but when the breath is steady the chitta also becomes steady. In this way the yogin achieves an unmovable state and for this reason he should restrain the breath.”
It is curious to note here that Svatmarana seems to be making a direct reference to the Yoga Sutras when he talks of chalam and nishchalam chittam, the restless and restrained chitta and arguing that pranayama is a means of accomplishing nishchala-chitta, or in other words chitta-vritti-nirodha. Reiterating that Patañjali saw this as preparation for the higher limbs, a view that is fully sanctioned here.
In verses 39-43 it is evident that hatha-yoga brings freedom from the fear of death as perfecting this art gains the power to transcend both time and death. Svatmarama delineates that hatha-yoga practices can lead to ultimate success in the Patañjali Yoga too, for when the breath is directed into the main nadi, the sushumna, there is a profound effect upon the mind as well. Because of the regulation of the breath a state referred to as manah sthairyam is achieved; sthairyam means “steadiness” or “fixity” and hence this can be reasonably regarded as an equivalent for the chitta-vritti-nirodha, stilling the movements of the mind. Svatmarama is anxious to emphasise the link between the two. Stating, hatham vina raja-yogo raja-yogam vina hathah nasidhyati, that each is required if success is to be obtained in the other, thereby asserting a mutual dependence.
It is interesting when Patanjali also writes about pratyahara that he was aware of the concept of the nadi as a channel within the body, although it is not well defined whether this is a nerve, vein, or one of the subtle channels. The siddhis mentioned in the vibuthi pada are more frequently referred to in texts relating to tantric Yoga and Patañjali displays a familiarity with this, which hints that he may have had a greater knowledge of tantra than he chooses to reveal in the Yoga Sutras.

Veda and tantra are the twin pillars of Hindu belief and practice and have been interconnected from the earliest period of time, so today it is often impossible to draw a clear cut distinction. Therefore it is quite normal to expect that Yoga tradition will draw on both the Vedic revelation, expressed primarily through the writing of Patañjali and a range of tantric sources that are utilised for teachings on Hatha Yoga.

Written for Oxford University, Hindu Studies online, where she received an A for this assignment.

Copyright Sonja Appel © Sushumna Yoga ™

How to speak yoga


As if head balances, shoulder stands and standing splits aren’t intimidating enough, your yoga instructor then goes and spits out some seven-syllable Sanskrit term and you just about lose your dog-down mind. The nerve!

Sanskrit, meaning “refined speech,” is an ancient language of India and often used during most yoga classes to describe poses and postures. It is the primary liturgical language of Hinduism and is a scholarly and literary language in Buddhism and Jainism, as well as a historical Indo-Aryan language. Sanskrit dates back more than 6,000 years, making it as old as or even older than yoga, hence why it’s been used in the practice since it first began.

“Sanskrit is considered to be the language of the gods, as it is made up of primordial sounds,” says Sonja Appel, founder of Sushumna Yoga, the oldest yoga school in Goa, India. “It was developed systematically to include the natural progressions of sounds as created in the human mouth.”

In total, the language has 49 letters including vowels, consonants and semivowels, and each letter has a particular vibration.

“Each consonant has included the vowel sound ‘a’ (pronounced as uh), and when the nasal sound of ‘m’ is added to any of the letters, it creates a bija or seed mantra (chant), which corresponds to a specific vibration of the Absolute or Creator,” she says.

Bet you didn’t know your oms were that powerful, did you? And it doesn’t just stop there. Research shows that the phonetics of Sanskrit, which is the only language that uses all the nerves of the tongue, trigger various energy points in the body, which causes blood circulation to improve and raises the chakras (energy levels), resulting in deep relaxation of the mind, resistance against illnesses and reduction of stress. This, coupled with enhanced brain functioning, ensures better health and helps control diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure, according to a study by the American Hindu University.

Now, knowing the background and benefits of speaking Sanskrit may not help us pronounce the terms any better during yoga class, but it certainly gives us some incentive to try! So go ahead, yogis, whip out a pen and paper, and improve your yogabulary with Sonja’s top 10 Sanskrit terms to know below!


Om [awm]

A unifying chant done at the beginning or ending of class. Equal length of sound should be given to each syllable. It brings the mind, body and soul into unison, which is the ultimate goal of yoga. It also activates the chakra system (energy centers) in the subtle body, located from the anal sphincter, up the spine, and to the top of the head.


Namaste [nuhm-uh-stey]

Typically used at the beginning or end of class as an acknowledgement greeting, meaning “I honor the light in you, which is the same as the light in me.” Hands are placed together in prayer position at the heart and head is slightly bowed.


Savasana [shah-VAH-sah-nah]

The final relaxation or “corpse pose” to end class. The aim of savasana is to bring all the benefits of the postures together in a relaxing, meditative ending, giving the body a well-deserved rest.


Surya namaskara [SOOR-yah nah-mahs-KAHrah]

Sun salutations, a combination of various postures which welcome the Hindu solar deity, normally performed at the beginning of class.


Tadasana [tah-DAHS-anna]

Mountain pose, which is the foundation of all postures, and a place to begin and end the linking of asanas. This is a command to full attention, standing in steady, equal and centered stillness. It improves circulation, digestion and respiration, and should motivate and invigorate you, as it helps to create space within the body.


Trikonasana [TRIH-koh-NAH-sana]

Triangle pose, which mobilizes the hips and strengthens the legs, as well as opens up the chest for deeper breathing and stretching of the torso, groin, hamstrings and calves. This pose also unlocks tension in the spine, legs, knees, ankles and hips. It relieves backache, indigestion, gastritis and acidity, improves digestion, circulation and the appetite, alleviates depression, strengthens the pelvic area and tones the reproductive organs.


Vrkasana [vrik-SHAHS-anna]

In tree pose, the legs and feet give support so the upper body can stand with grace and strength. The focus during this pose is essential to maintain a stable balance. Benefits include steadiness, awareness and concentration. It also helps to revitalize the spine, body and mind, while strengthening the entire leg, ankle and foot, and increasing flexibility in the hips and thighs.


Virabhadrasana [veer-ah-bah-DRAHS-anna]

Warrior postures honor heroic qualities that exist in each of us. This posture strengthens and reinforces the msucles of the feet and knees, also fortifying the shoulders, arms and back. These poses also stretch the calf muscles and hip flexors, as well as improve concentration and balance.


Sukhasana [soo-KAH-sah-nah]

This easy seated pose is a cross-legged position that opens the abductor muscles and hips. It is used for the seating position in pranayama (controlled breathing) and meditation. It strengthens the back and stretches the knees and ankles, while also helping calm the brain.


Balasana [bah-LAHS-anna]

Child’s pose is a restful position always done after challenging poses during class. It restores harmony and balance to the body and places the mind in a receptive and open state. Child’s pose releases tension in the back, chest and shoulders, and is recommended if you feel dizziness or fatigue, as it alleviates stress and anxiety. This pose massages the body’s internal organs and keeps them supple, while gently stretching the ankles, hips and thighs, regulating circulation throughout the body.

More fun facts about Sanskrit

Ninety-seven percent of all the world’s languages have been directly or indirectly influenced by Sanskrit.

Sanskrit has the highest number of words than any other language in the world.

NASA declared the language of Sanskrit to be the “only unambiguous spoken language on the planet.”

Article has been posted on Dec 18th 2013 on by Maggie Guiffrida

10 Reasons to Eat Raw During Your Yoga Teacher Training

Yoga teacher training is a life-changing experience that will require you to find focus, strength and energy if you want to learn, achieve, feel, experience and become your higher self. Being your true self means being devoid of the need to be egotistical, small-minded and petty. Remember that you are part of a much bigger picture that is inextricably connected to all life forms, including nature. Only then do you have the ability to share your knowledge through teaching.

Teaching is the absolute best way to continue this lifelong discovery at an extensive level of depth. It is a natural and likely consequence of a teacher training. In this way, sincere students learn yoga for the correct reasons and become great teachers for the correct reasons.

During a teacher training, help is needed from your teachers, fellow students, inner self, mind and body. One of the strongest tools for helping your body to function well, is eating the correct diet. Raw food has the nourishment and components that supply you with all the necessary energy, vitality and optimal cell reproduction. It helps you to keep going.

Good food has to be pure in order to keep your body healthy and alert, strong and light. Raw food helps your body and mind cope with the intense schedule and inner exploration that the best yoga teacher trainings provide. This also correlates with the first yama: Ahimsa (nonviolence in thought, word and action to yourself and others). This promise to yourself is taken from the Yoga Sutra’s (2.35), the definitive description of yoga recorded and inspired through experiential research. I look at ahimsa as an enlightened commandment.

How Raw Food Will Help You Keep Up With the High Demands of a Yoga Teacher Training

1. Raw food leads your body towards natural health. By eating raw you are on your way to a state of self-fixing. As the human body has the ability to regenerate cells continuously, having a raw food diet will enable your body to become pure and renewed through the intake of uncooked food.

2. Your body performs better when eating raw. Eating in this way allows your body to feel agile and manageable. Your digestion uses less energy therefore giving you more vitality for your yoga practice. When you only practice a few times a week this might not be so important for you, but during four or more weeks of intensive training you will need your body in order to keep up with this experience.2909-10-reasons-to-eat-raw-during-your-yoga-teacher-training

3. Your body needs vitamins and minerals. Raw food is rich in natural vitamins and minerals that are easily digested and absorbed by your body.

4. Raw food increases your awarenessmentally, physically and spiritually. This is important if you want to have the capacity to collect and process all the information given to you.

5. Raw food boosts your natural energy levels in abundance, so you can rely on it to function at a top level during this extended time.

6. During a life changing experience, changes need to happen in your body too. The body purifies itself from toxins with a raw food diet. Being clean and unpolluted allows you to reconnect with your true inner self.

7. Eating raw food puts you in a harmony with nature. Mens sana in corpore sano (“a healthy mind in a healthy body”). To become a more hale and hearty, happy and sensitive person you need to have a coherent, high functioning body.

8. According to the Bhagavad Gita (xsll.8), saatvic (pure) food promotes longevity, wellbeing, strength, goodness, happiness and pleasure. They are also rich, juicy, agreeable and nourishing.

9. Raw food prepared with an attitude of love increases our prana (life-force energy), which is essential if we want to sustain and utilize our maximum amount of effort wisely.

10. Raw food helps to turn your body into a temple for your mind and soul. According to Patanjali, who wrote the most classical text on yoga, “the purpose of yoga is to lead to a silence of the mind” (yoga sutra 1.2). Through yoga, commitment, patience and compassion for yourself, you can achieve the silence of the mind, the freedom of the soul and joyfulness in your life.

This article was published by and retrived from My Yoga Online on November 26, 2013. Find more interesting yoga articles here.

What to expect from a yoga teacher training in India

“India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.” – Mark Twain.

Saraswati_final with borderIt is commonly known that yoga originated in India. The origin of yoga can be traced back over 5,000 years to the very foundation of the Indian civilization; however, we have now reached the 21st century and we might ask ourselves if this heritage is still topical.

After being dedicated to yoga for five years, in which time I studied and learned with some great western teachers, I decided to go to India to study Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore with my Guruji, the late Shi K Pattabhi Jois. Afterwards I felt that I wanted to make India my permanent home. I moved there in 2005 and am glad that I did it. India is a very vibrant and diverse country and doing your teacher training there will be a truly unique experience. It’s an incredible opportunity to learn both about yourself and this vast country.

Indian weather will allow you to practice outside from early morning till evening surrounded by palm trees, clear blue skies and a pleasant breeze. You will feel wonderful energies that you would never find anywhere else in the world, and you will be able to detach yourself from the rest of the world and focus on your inner self through their whole teacher trainings.

Having a full “mind, body and spirit” experience will change you, strengthen you and encourage you to find harmony through all three factors. You will learn what it means to be in synch in your life as you move you closer to your true inner S.E.L.F. (your Serene, Elevated, Luminous Force).

India is a very spiritual country. There are temples and spiritual areas everywhere. Yoga is not only about asana practice, there are also the eight limbs of yoga. Being in India will enable you to explore each of them deeply and fully while feeling a connection to the place where yoga was born. 
Being in India will help you to detach yourself from the material world and will allow you to work on your ego, which is a hothouse of discontentment. Even though the country is evolving very fast, problems such as hot water and power cuts happen regularly and being in India will teach you patience and acceptance with a myriad of things, just the way they come. It is very important to let go sometimes and stop stressing about so many details, comforts and unnecessary needs.

Choosing India for your teacher training is also a great opportunity to take your training further and travel. You will get more out of the experience by combining travelling and learning.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – The Way of Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher (604 BC – 531 BC)

Meeting local people, discovering a new and varied culture and learning about your inner self will make you grow more than you think, and these experiences will enable you to become a brilliant teacher for all the right reasons.

So what are you waiting for? Come to India and become a yoga teacher, Indian style! ”

The article was published by My Yoga Online (click  here for the article) on the 21st of October 2013. Read more on My Yoga Online

5 tips to prepare yourself for a yoga teacher training

When summer comes to a close, kids get ready for their first day of school. This first day of school requires careful preparation and it’s a moment of great excitement, not only for the little ones starting their first grade, but also for the “big” ones starting their first teacher training in a school, in a Yoga school.

How do you know when you are ready?

You know that kids go to school when they turn 6 or 7. However, when you decide if you are ready for a Yoga teacher training or not, age is not a criterion at all, not even the “age” of your practice. Young or experienced, yoga beginner or super-advanced, you will find a Yoga teacher training that suits you as soon as you feel you are prepared for such a course.

How do you know precisely when you are ready for a yoga teacher training? I believe a student knows s/he is ready for Yoga Teacher training by looking at the burning desire to dive into the eight limbs of yoga. One needs to have a burning passion (rajas) and true desire to embrace all eight limbs of yoga, not just the asana practice which is only one of them. This should be considered before embarking on any Yoga Teacher Training. I think that it is more important to have a daily practice or start doing one than the ability to do advanced asana, although a certain level should have been attained, at least a level two in classes. However the ability to have an open mind, strong body and a great desire to learn and good knowledge of how your body feels when practicing asana is a great starting point too.

Preparation tips for Yoga Teacher Training 

There are a couple of tips for you to prepare for the wonderful learning journey of Yoga teacher training. The following tips will help you prepare not only for the first day of the teacher training programme but will set up the basis for your entire yoga journey.Sonja Appel at Sushumna Teacher Training

  1. Read through some Yoga literature in order to get familiar with the key concepts. Ask if there is a reading list recommended by the Yoga school where your teacher training takes place and try as much as possible to go through it before the course. During the course, you would be so busy with the practice and the study of the textbooks that there will be no time left for extra curriculum readings
  2. Get in touch with recent graduates to know what to expect from your Yoga school: how is the place like, what should you bring with you, daily schedule, classes structure, teaching methods, teachers, is there a “silent day”, what kind of food will be served for meals. Ask your Yoga school if it can provide you with alumni contacts who could be a valuable insightful support in preparing your trip and setting up your expectations for the teacher training course. Furthermore, talking to alumni, other yogis or yoga teachers will boost your motivation and inspire you to get the best out of the course.
  3. Spend some time working on the asana. As soon as your application is successful, this is the time when you really start to prepare. In my opinion, one can only teach to the level of his/her own daily practice. So, what I recommend before embarking on a teacher training course is asana practice 6 days a week, one day of rest and if you do Mysore self –practice; rest is taken on the moon days too, which is twice a month. No inversions at that certain ‘time of the month’ for women. Practicing with full mind/body awareness will not tire you out as you should never push your body in yoga. I encourage you to always practice ahimsa – non violence, in thought, word and action.
  4. Give yourself time for the learning process. Learning occurs differently for each of us and in different time spans. Reflecting on your learning process would help you understand how you function as a learner (what is the most helpful for your understanding – to see it, hear it or try it?) and then enhance your learning based on what you know about yourself.
  5. You may want to buy a notebook more than the ones counted on the list received from your kid’s teacher. You will need a notebook and some pencils just for yourself. Prepare your notebook for taking notes during the classes and for journaling. Inspiration, thoughts and reflections may pop up and it’s good to have a space to gather them all.


Reading the recommended literature of your yoga school before the course, getting in touch with other yogis, graduates of the yoga school, their teachers or staff, dedicate some of your time to the regular conscious practice of asana and reflect on your learning process in order to improve it, should support you in the endeavor of becoming a great yoga teacher. This will allow you to enjoy the experience with all your senses. But at the same time, realizing that the five senses can be limiting, if we cannot move beyond them into a more expansive realm, which is the true journey of the yogi.

For all the little ones, and the big ones starting their school this fall, an open mind, a big heart, a strong body and a burning desire to learn will keep up your excitement for the courses. Not only for the first day of school, but for the entire learning journey.

This article, signed by our Executive Director, Gita Sahni, was published on YogiTimes based on an interview with Sonja Appel

We are all beyond time

We usually know time from changes in nature. We observe that the earth circles around the sun, and we call it “a year”. Then we have the seasons that can be such a subtle reminder that time flies. The earth turns around its axis and we call it “one day”. To get more precise with the time measurements, we invented hours, minutes, seconds, as subdivisions of the day. sun

But there are particular moments in life when we know time from changes in people. If for some reason, the earth lost contact with the sun and our nature-related time units would become meaningless, then I imagine we would be able to measure time by looking at the changes in people around us.

These particular moments when we get the time awareness by looking at the changes in people, are the moments of return, return to our childhood land. You see “years” in the white hair of a primary school colleague who used to have crow-black hair; or in the news that the neighboring house is now empty since the neighbor is no longer alive; you see “seasons” in the big belly of a pregnant friend who you haven’t met for a long time; you see all the days, hours, minutes, and seconds that you have been away from home when you hug your dad and feel the weakness of his growing-old body.

In these moments of return, in order to cope with all these changes in people, I become in the daily life as “yogi” as I am on the mat. I salute the Indian logic as serene as I salute the sun in a Sun Salutation: what is not real in the beginning or at the end, is not real in the middle either. You know time was not real prior to the Big Bang when all the matter was condensed in one spot. There was no observer to acknowledge time then! And you know time will cease as well fifteen billion years from now when the universe will come to its end. Then too, no human mind will be there to observe the end of time. As we know from Einstein’s relativity, time is depended on the observer: no observer to witness it, no time. Therefore, according to the Indian logic, time is not real, it does not exist. Time did not exist at the beginning, will not exist in the end, therefore it cannot be real in the middle either. It is a construct. Time is the child of our minds.

That’s why, beyond an open heart, I would say yogis have another super-power: to dissolve time. Once you dissolve your mind on the mat, time will also vanish with it. At least for a while until your mind returns.

This summer, returning to my hometown, I have tried to see the people I love beyond all their transformations, beyond the passage of time: Geo, the pregnant woman, she will always be my friend although her body and status are changing; my love for my neighbor is still there in my heart although she is not there in her house anymore; my dad will always remain the person who gave me life and taught me the good, the bad and the ugly in this life, regardless the wrinkles, weight loss or illnesses.

My friend, my neighbor, my dad, your dad, the crow-black haired colleague, you, me, we are all so real while time is not. Let’s enjoy the seasons changing, keep an eye on the watch to be punctual, make the best thing out of our time. But always remember: we are all beyond time.

Sonja’s article about Yoga and Time was published by Yogi Times on the 18th of September, 2013. For more personal stories from Yogi Times, visit their website at:

Have you ever felt the rain? 3 reasons to do it

We rush inside whenever it starts. We get into cars, under roofs; we desperately look for shelters the very first moment it starts. We arm ourselves with long sad raincoats, sharp umbrellas and cover our bodies as much as we can, as if rain will not simply “fall” but it will angrily “attack” us. Looking at how well people cover up their skin when it rains, one could easily imagine the rain drops aren’t just a natural phenomenon, but an epidemic: God forbidden to touch you! And if it had touched you, you better go and change your clothes immediately, have a cup of hot tea, a hot shower and a Paracetamol or any other “rainkiller”.

With this apocalyptic “run-rain-comes!” attitude, have you ever taken the time to actually feel the rain? Have you taken the time to simply watch the rain, and just let it be?

“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.” Henry Wadsw1175455_10151821430387567_38432289_north Longfellow.

Let it be, as you let your breath be when you are in Savasana. Just notice it without wanting to change anything about it.

There are good reasons to do it, both to feel the rain and to notice it without having to run, to hide or wish it stopped immediately.

It’s romantic!
First of all, the touch of rain can be wonderfully romantic.The soft touch of rain is the first reason why you should take a moment and deep dive into the feeling of “being rained.”In Goa, the monsoon’s rain sometimes comes in perfect liquid soft beads – like the sky is inhabited by milliards elegant beings wearing transparent beads who decided to tear the threads from their beads and let them all drop down to humans. They surely wear loads of beads up there, in the Goan sky, because this July, for days in a raw, the beads kept on coming to the ground. When they touchthe ground, they transform in muddy bubbles and thick flows. But when they fall on your body, the beads are always soft, warm and clean. You just need a steady yoga mind to enjoy the drops and the running playful flows on your body. Keep your awareness alive and feel the rain. If you only think about how wet you’ll get, you will not be able to simply walk in the rain. Feel the dropson your face; feel themwith your forehead, with your eyebrows, your hair, your shoulders, your neck, your chest, your back, your feet. Feel the raindrops.

It’s healthy!
Maybe being rained sounds foolishly romantic to you. I bet the most rational of you are already thinking about the effects of rain, translated into the terrible cold you’d get afterwards. You would be surprised to find out that rain is actually healthy for your body. As incredible as this may sound, it has been scientifically proven that when water moves, a release of negative ions occurs – electrically charged particles that attach themselves to damaging free radicals. These ions alkalize your body and an alkalized body means stronger bones. Therefore, a good summer rain is not only romantic, but it has also positive effects for your bones.

It’s relaxing!
Furthermore, it’s more than our bones that enjoy the rain drops. The sound of the rain, the touch of water and the fresh air brought by the rain will revitalize your entire body at once. You must have heard the rain in healing or relaxation music. It sounds beautifully; it relaxes your body, your mind and brings some moments of quietness to your soul. Then why not trying some natural live musical rain? If you don’t get enough of it there, pay us a visit in Goa. We have plenty of musical rain in here!

For the sake of the romanticism, of your bones or for the relaxation effect, next time it rains you need to rush. Grab your raincoat, take your umbrella and your rubber boots and put them all into the cabinet.You are going to embrace the rain and not fight against it. Take off your socks and the fears that rain is bad for you.Rush from inside to outside: bare feet, wearing a light T-shirt and an open heart. Bring your awareness with you; you will definitely need it to feel the pure rain effect.

It’s time to feel the rain!

Sonja’s article, “Have you ever felt the rain” was published by Yoga Curious Blog on the 3rd of September, 2013. Dig for more Yoga-related articles here.  Happy reading!

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Death is nothing at all

Poem by Henry Scott Holland


Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.

Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.

All is well.

Don’t take my breath away

There are these lyrics that I often hear on the radio lately:

You don’t know what you’ve got till you’re missing it a lot.

These simple lyrics meant to be sung to the beloved one are very suitable to describe also the relationship we have with our own breath. Breath is with us from the very first till the very last moment of our life. We don’t have to do anything to achieve it. It’s just there for us to nourish life in our bodies. Like a fish who takes water as a given, we take breathing for granted. We realize how much we miss our breath only when we are facing moments that take our breath away, when we lose our breath in intense physical exercises, when we are taking the stairs till the fifth floor after a five-course Christmas dinner or when we sit next to the dearest one giving out his/her last breath.pranayama-breathing

One essential thing Yoga does for the relationship with our breath is to bring in awareness. To put it again in the words of the lyrics, by practicing yoga, one becomes aware what s/he got before missing it a lot. A yogi will not wait to lose his/her breath to notice it. In the practice of Yoga, sometimes we simply notice our breath without changing anything about it; other times, we consciously stretch the inhalation, the exhalation and the time in between them; or maybe we take “victorious breaths” (Ujjayi Pranayama) by stretching the breath and practicing a slight constriction of the glottis which produces a gentle hissing sound.

Listening to the sound of our own breath has several implications.

First and foremost it is pratyahara, the fifth limb of Yoga. Pratyahara means “to withdraw the senses from the outer world.” Instead of looking outside, for instance at the neighbor’s mat and start comparing your posture with his/hers, pratyahara takes your attention inwardly, away from external stimuli. This is a valuable meditation aid. We need to truly ask ourselves who we really are without our 5 senses, surely there is more to us than just our bodies and minds? What is truly living? What really happens when we die? Is happiness restricted to our 5 senses only?

Second, listening to our breath informs us about our attitude in the posture or in that particular situation. Have you ever paid attention to your breath when you were furious? Did you like the sound of your breath then? I guess not. At times when the breath sounds short, aggressive, heavy, we know there is something in the posture or in the situation that we need to correct to avoid unhelpful attitudes.

Furthermore, adjusting our breathing by increasing our inhalation, we increase the amount of oxygen supplied to our bodies. Then, by increasing exhalation, we exhale more toxins of all kind, from the physical and environmental toxins (lead, nicotine, sulfur dioxide) to mental and emotional (“Does he still love me?”).

I started by quoting from one song. Now I will end by making slight modifications to another famous refrain: “Don’t take my breath away.” From all the life processes taking place in our wonderful complex body, breath is actually the only one we can purposefully adjust or change. You may often feel breathtaking experiences, but don’t let anybody or anything take your breath away. You need it to practice Yoga, to practice life.

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by Sonja

Sonja’s article “Don’t take my breath away” was published by on July, 15th, 2013, and retrieved by our blog. To dive into more reading on Yoga Curious, click here.

Ishvara Pranidhana

Ishvara Pranidhana means love and surrender to the divinity within the individual.

In Sanskrit Ishvara is the creative source, purusha, (the authentic self which is eternal) pure consciousness, God, Goddess or Supreme Guru. Pranidhana means “with sincerity, dedication and devotion, practicing the presence, surrendering to the fruits of practice.”

I like to interpret it as deep platonic love for the creative, source of pure consciousness that is bigger and more powerful than us. Why should we have a problem with surrendering to our own serene, innate, luminous force that lives inside us? Our true S.E.L.F.

For a western mind, caught up with these words that have become redundant for us. We feel that this is almost impossible. We can’t fully surrender to our loved ones or partners, how do we surrender to a higher, knowing, loving force?

Keely came to me in a state, at 45 she felt that she had gone through a mid-life crisis and was at a loss as to what to do. She had conducted a year, long affair with a man other than her husband, but it all had to come to an end once her spouse found out. Keely had been given an ultimatum and couldn’t break up with her partner especially after 15 years and initially, she selfishly wanted to keep the two relationships going. However presented with a fait accompli like this she was in a quandary.

I suggested the fifth niyama (observances for ourselves on the eight limbed–path of Patanjali’s yoga sutras, (Chapter II, verse 32) – Ishvara Pranidhana or I.P. as I would like to call it. The groundwork has to be done through the other four niyamas first of purification, contentment, burning through obstructions and cultivating self-study and study in order for I.P. to innately arise. Keely knew about the niyamas as a long time student of mine and this is why she was so upset that she had allowed herself to ignore them, as she knew she could not have carried on this affair if she had tried to observe them.

The Samkhya system of Indian Vedic philosophy defines the language of yoga. Patanjali accepts the theory that it is the clarification of advancement. How can we advance out of the ‘me’ syndrome into the wider and bigger picture of a life lived virtuously and well? I suggested to Keely to surrender to a better nature, a better life, a song of true and platonic love, to a soul, which has no boundaries, pride or stipulations, to a source/Goddess within her. Surrender yourself to a higher purpose. This was the only way to deal with the stress and tension she had unleashed on herself.

Fighting against feelings of despair and guilt and hatred of herself she felt that this was a last resort.  But Patanjali believes that this crisis response, can be an essential ongoing practice. As B. K. S. Iyengar wrote in Light on the Yoga Sutras, “Through surrender the aspirant’s ego is effaced, and . . . grace . . . pours down upon him like a torrential rain.”

How was Keely going to put I.P. into practice? A start is visualizing and bringing up an image of a specific goddess or god, representing powers, attributes, qualities and virtues of the Supreme Being, or the Divine nature within. Since I.P. focuses not on our ego but on the inviolable ground of being, it reunites us with our true Self – S.E.L.F.  Ishvara Pranidhana then is a pathway through the obstacles of our ego toward our divine nature, which is freedom, peace, grace, clarity and unconditional love.

As I live and teach in India, where worship of the divine is part of everyday life. I pointed out to her why I prostrate in front of my Devi (consecrated, living energy) before starting every class. Through this devotion to her qualities of absolute love, kindness, forgiveness, fortitude, grace and positivity, I am able to carry this through my teaching and use an asana class into transforming people’s lives off the mat. Anand an inspiring yoga philosophy teacher who works with me always asks western students to cultivate some form of bhakti (devotion) or surrender to the Divine. This is the way of the path to enlightenment – Samadhi.

There is no obstacle, emotion or inner state, which is beyond the influence of I.P. Even if you are a natural bhakti yogi or yogini or a complete cynic, whether you are performing a straightforward task like cleaning your house or a daunting task like a tough conversation, whether you feeling confused or guilty, the whole breadth of life is in the orbit of I.P. When we listen to our true intuition or heart and become aware how each action and emotion is a constant connection to our higher Selves, our hearts become aware of the divine in everything.


This article was published in The Global Yogi magazine on the 9th of July, 2013.