Integral Yoga Magazine (IYM): You’ve been training Yoga teachers for fifty years now. What type of evolution have you seen over the years?
Rama Jyoti Vernon (RJV): Many years ago, Nancy Ford-Kohne, Nischala Devi, and I met with Swami Satchidananda (Gurudev) to talk to him about our concern that Yoga was moving in the fitness direction and becoming more like an exercise. Gurudev told us not to worry—that people come into Yoga wherever they are, that they’ll get a little and it will lead them eventually to the center of Yoga. He told us to, “Trust Yoga.” I say that all the time because I see that happening. In Yoga classes, students are breathing more and getting more into the philosophy. In the past year, I really feel something happening and it’s wonderful. I was recently on a teaching trip in Chicago, and all the spiritual aspects of Yoga were represented. It left me feeling like maybe the work is on its way. Yoga is now taught in community centers, in prisons. It’s taught to military veterans, to inner city gangs. I feel this is the blossoming of seeds planted, of the dream I had in 1967 that Ayurveda would become our system of medicine in America and Yoga would be used in hospitals as therapy, that it would be part of the curriculum in school systems and it would be used to help people to get off drugs—it could be utilized in every element of our society.
IYM: Do you have concerns about Yoga getting more integrated into Western medicine?
RJV: I’ve been concerned about making Yoga adaptable to fit into the allopathic system. I see Yoga teachers and therapists adapting the language to make it more palatable for those in the medical system rather than expecting the medical system to adapt to Yoga. We have to be careful, because sometimes, in trying to adapt ourselves to the criteria of what is already acceptable, we can lose our own spiritual essence and vision. I think it’s okay to bring Yoga into the mainstream and make it acceptable and then, later, come back and pick up the deeper essence of the spiritual practice. I believe what Gurudev said, that we have to trust in Yoga and its essence will have a way of coming forth.
IYM: Do you have that trust in the young people coming forward to be trained as the next generation of Yoga teachers?
RJV: I used to feel that the young people needed more experience, but they actually are brilliant. In the 1960s, we didn’t have the access to all the Yoga resources that abound today. Yoga is everywhere, which is great, but it also takes greater discrimination because so much is available. Young people need to see what their svadharma is—what’s right for them, for their own practice, for their teaching. In the past two years, I’ve seen an exponential evolution in the field of Yoga. The information technology and sharing Yoga through social media is incredible. I’ve been awestruck at how it is evolving. I used to believe we needed teachers of Yoga everywhere—now we have them and maybe too many (laughs)! I wonder what Gurudev would say? I’m sure he would say to have trust in Yoga, the integrity of the people it will be passed on to and that it will be passed on with that same integrity of spirit.
IYM: What concerns do you specifically have about how Yoga is transmitted via the Internet and social media?
RJV: Well, the written word doesn’t always carry the inflection of the spoken word. Even with Skype and telecommunication, it’s not like sitting with a person in a room to get that darshan. When I would sit in a satsang with Gurudev, with Santji (Sant Keshavadas) and other of the great Masters, there was an amazing transmission of the energy of the room that went right through my heart. I don’t think one quite gets that through the new media. The darshan from those Masters was just so powerful. Still, I think that people can still receive darshan. But, now they have to glean it from here and there. They can go to satsangs, to workshops. The female masters (like Amma, Mother Maya) are coming out and people get darshan there or they hear about it from someone and get indirect darshan. The new wave involves how to integrate it into the center of one’s being and to not get confused by the vast amount of information out there.
IYM: Are you concerned about the tendency today to have many teachers rather than one main teacher?
RJV: I think young people today need to find the place from which to draw teaching, to do their own practice and to see if it works before ever giving it out as teachers. They must find that mastery from within because they don’t have the same availability of the traditional Yoga Masters as we once did. Maybe young people can seek out the swamis in Yogaville and others who are carrying forth a lineage passed on to them by their teachers so that now they are that source of transmission. It’s up to the individuals to find that point of integration within the center of their own being. They need to find the teachers that resonate with them. They might start with Bikram Yoga, and then they may want more philosophy so they will go to Ashtanga and then go to Integral Yoga for more spirituality and a deeper meditative practice.
However, if they simply go from one teacher to another, they won’t get steeped in a tradition; they can’t go deep. Everything moves so fast in our world and young people can get caught up in the frenetic pace. A more pitta-oriented person will be drawn to hot Yoga—exactly what they don’t need! They need a slower Yoga style that incorporates lots of breathing. It’s ironic how it works and what we need to balance our systems. Who is there to guide them if they are new to Yoga? So, that’s one challenge. But there’s another challenge and that’s following a teacher who is more invested in building an empire or franchises, which we’ve seen. But now some of the empires are crumbling. This can turn off people to Yoga for the rest of their lives. So, ultimately, it’s about the teaching rather than just the teacher. The teacher inspires us to dive into the teaching and then we have to find the connection to the source, the divine within our own being. Then we find that teacher from within. Yogi Bhajan used to say that the Guru is like the finger that points to the beauty of the moon. Sometimes people cling to the finger.
IYM: Are there pitfalls that today’s Yoga teachers can avoid?
RJV: It’s important for a teacher to not parrot their teachers. They need to take what’s given and practice, and practice, in order to take it deep within and to deeply integrate it so that, when they teach, it comes from their experience. Teaching is essentially sharing our own experience—we can’t do more or less. The deeper we go, the deeper we can bring the students into the process we call Yoga. Teachers must find their own voices or they’ll get bored and dry out if they just parrot their own teachers. As our practice evolves, new awareness comes and teaching should evolve from within us. As we share the outgrowth of our own experiences with students this helps them find out within themselves. This is the mark of a true teacher. The other end of that is that we must honor the teachers we’ve learned from. Today’s teachers need to acknowledge the tradition and their own teachers by sharing quotations from their teachers and by transmitting the love and guidance they themselves received.
In my fifty years of training teachers, I always advise my trainees to be balanced in how many classes they teach each week. If you teach too much, you will go dry. You need to practice. Mr. Iyengar said that we need to practice twice as much as we teach. So, I tell my students that sometimes they need to curtail their teaching because they need to develop a very deep reservoir within themselves to draw upon. When they do that, there’s another presence that enters the room when they go to teach—it’s like the ancestral lineage, presence of the masters, comes in, and that’s what people feel in Yoga that is different than other forms of exercise. Exercise means to project outwards. But Yoga is more of innercise. Then students start to feel that darshan, that illumination of spirit manifesting through their Yoga teachers.
IYM: What’s your advice to the next generation of Yoga teachers?
RJV: The role of modern Yoga teachers is to go as deep into themselves and into the traditional studies of Yoga as they can so they can integrate that into their teaching. It’s critical that teachers bring the breath back to Yoga. Breath is spirit. When we use the breath it’s like surgery: We open ourselves to align with our inner being. Then, when we do the asana it becomes meditation in movement. The Gita says, “inaction within action.” Sri Krishna was preparing Arjuna to go into the battlefield of life. We need to learn this through asana. Breathing and an infusion of meditation must flow into every aspect of our lives, so we don’t put more stress into the atmosphere and so we emanate that peace into the world. That’s what Gurudev and the other Masters did. They, in their very being, are the example of the teaching.
Those of us who’ve been teaching for many years are springboards for the next generation. The younger teachers today, who haven’t been steeped in Hinduism and classical Yoga, can get competitive with other teachers because they aren’t secure in their inner beings. They can’t feel the joy in being a springboard for the next generation and they even get competitive with their own students who become teachers. Instead of seeing it as competition, they could see it as joyful. The mark of a great teacher is one whose students surpass him or her. Through teacher training, we give our students the platform to take this quantum leap, and I’m sure this went on for thousands of years, with teachers mentoring their students like Sri Ramakrishna with Swami Vivekananda, like Gurudev, who groomed all the teachers who carry forth his teachings. This is how a lineage continues. As Yoga teachers, it’s not what we say that matters as much as the presence we share. I would like to see teachers become the presence of that spirit manifesting on earth.
IYM: There is a lot of competition today between Yoga studios that are trying to stay afloat financially. What is your advice in that regard?
RJV: I know that for marketing you need a name, you need to distinguish yourself from the next Yoga teacher or studio by your name or style or what have you. But let’s not create too many separations in the name of Yoga. We have enough separation. Yoga can bring us to the place where there’s no separation. Yoga is not going anywhere. There’s nothing to do in Yoga, but we are undoing, as Gurudev always said—we’re releasing all the impediments that keep us from seeing we are already one. It’s not like we need to yoke between the individual and the universal—but we need to release that which keeps us from seeing the One. We can’t join what hasn’t been separated.
There’s the old saying, that “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I turn it around. I found that when the teacher is ready, the students appear. It’s a natural process. If it’s your dharma to teach, people will come. If we try to put things out and market to what’s popular, we lose. We can accrue karma vs. working our karma out, so one has to be very careful. If you are to teach, the situations will occur, people will come and ask you to teach, different doorways will open. I once told Mr. Iyengar that I wanted to retire and asked him how many more years I still had to travel the globe teaching. He replied: “Go into your class and if there’s someone there say, ‘thank God I have someone to teach.’ One day if you go into the class and there is no one there, say, ‘thank God, I am free.’”
About Rama Jyoti Vernon:
Rama Jyoti Vernon’s interest in metaphysics and mysticism began in her childhood. Her parents were pioneers in holistic health. Ultimately, she became one of America’s first Yoga teachers, and was instrumental in bringing many great teachers from India to the USA, co-founding Yoga Journal and developing organizations such as Unity in Yoga, to unite all lineages of Yoga. As a housewife, mother and Yoga teacher, Rama began applying Yoga philosophy in a whole new arena, international peacemaking. During the 1980s she made dozens of trips to the USSR and founded the Center for International Dialogue, based on the idea that people can join together to initiate solutions for political, economic, ecological, humanitarian and cultural conflicts. For more information about her programs and books, please visit: www.rama.yoga.
Source: Integral Yoga Magazine, Summer 2012