An Interview with Swami Ramananda
The focus of an Integral Yoga Hatha class isn’t on obtaining a buff body, but in some ways it can be a harder workout. Integral Yoga teachers aren’t interested in their students working up a sweat, but instead create an environment in which students can disengage from their habitual storylines and delve deep within—into a meditative experience. Swami Ramananda explains the Integral Yoga approach to teaching Yoga and how teachers serve as humble instruments in this process.
Integral Yoga Magazine (IYM): If you had to write a mission statement for an Integral Yoga teacher what would it be?
Swami Ramananda (SR): To create an atmosphere that allows the students to have an experience of Yoga and to include the elements that lead a student deeper and deeper into more subtle levels so that they can ultimately experience something that’s difficult for the mind to grasp under normal circumstances. This involves setting the right intention: to enable students to transition from their regular, worldly attention to a more subtle, refined and attention.
IYM: Would you give us an example of how you do that?
SR: Well, it’s exactly what we do in a typical Integral Yoga class. The teacher creates the environment, the setting, foundation and guidance—utilizing all the limbs of Yoga—that enables the students to move more subtly into the experience of stillness. Yama and niyama are the foundations of the practice. Students discipline themselves and, at the same time, focus their energy and effort in a direction, but balanced by santosha, the idea of being at peace with where you are in your practice.
We set an intention through the chanting of the opening slokas that invokes the grace and guidance of the Guru and Cosmic Consciousness. We work from the grosser level—with easy simple practices like eye movements and the asanas, which engage the mind in a comprehensive way. Everything we do involves the breath. It’s one thing to be aware of the breath and another to be aware of the rhythm, the smoothness, the length of the inhale and exhale—it can get more detailed as you focus your sensory capacity on the internal vs. external world. This combination of things is a beautiful foundation on which to practice.
IYM: Would you say more about practicing Yoga with santosha?
SR: Because our normal, waking energy tends to be so scattered, we need to do something that engages the mind in multiple levels—paying attention to the body and breath in a refined way, assessing your energy level in an asana. So you learn to come out of the asana when you need to—not when the teacher says or when others are coming out of the asana. Gurudev trained us to establish this noncompetitive environment where we creatively describe, encourage and support students to hold this intention of santosha—to let go of ideas about what should be, what others look like, what pictures they’ve seen on a Yoga magazine cover. It’s so ingrained that most students will compete against some idea they have of what’s “good.” This is where a Yoga class becomes less about conditioning the body and more about deconditioning the mind. We try to get the students interested in discerning the capacity of their bodies in this moment—not before, not later, but in this moment.
This way you create a practice that brings benefit and no harm. A practice grounded in this way not only brings the physical benefits of Yoga but also requires the refined attention that enables your Yoga to become a meditative practice. In order to really focus in class, you begin to embrace the process of letting go of patterned ways of thinking, letting go of normal thought forms that occupy the mind. So, the whole ego identity is suspended and you can escape that identity through the meditative focus of the practice. That’s the beauty of an Integral Yoga class.
As I said, it has the yamas and niyamas as a foundation, asana and pranayama to move from the gross to the more subtle and pratyahara to engage the senses inwardly so that there’s little or no sensory stimuli—all of which leads to dharana, the beginning stage of meditation. Before we do silent meditation, we chant, leading into meditation, which further engages the senses on a subtle vibratory level. When there’s this comprehensive approach that engages the students sufficiently on the physical and pranic levels, this all leads up to the moment of stillness when you are free of your samskaras and subconscious thought patterns. This enables students to get a taste of a part of themselves that they don’t normally experience…
Read the rest of this article in the Summer 2012 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.