Sample from the Winter 2007 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

By Michael Rhadeya Plasha

Michael Plasha has spent nearly a decade refining his practice and teaching of Hatha Yoga while integrating Raja Yoga into the class. In this article he shares what inspired this approach and then gives an example of how we can take our Hatha practice to even deeper levels.Hatha Yoga is a great practice for reducing the stress we store in our bodies. It might not, however, root out the cause of stress which is the mind. Raja Yoga roots out the cause of stress. If we don’t include a Raja Yoga foundation in our Hatha, then doing Hatha is like taking a “Yoga pill.” For example, you go to Yoga class, and after the class your body feels good. You get in your car to drive home and you get behind a slow driver and road rage comes out. We have to ask: What is our Yoga really doing for us? What can we bring into our awareness that helps us to be free from the root cause of stress? Can I become free of impatience on the mat—like getting restless in a forward bend—so I can become more patient off the mat?

Sri Gurudev used to say, “Hatha Yoga is the calling card for Raja Yoga.” That’s what triggered it for me. A Hatha Yoga class, particularly in the Integral Yoga style, has a lot of covert Raja Yoga elements. I kept contemplating Gurudev’s words and asked myself, “How do I go deeper with this and how can I bring the yamas, niyamas, pratipaksha bhavana and other aspects of Raja Yoga to my practice and teaching of Hatha Yoga?” This is how my teaching style evolved.

The sample class I will share with you is for the experienced practitioner. With new students, I’m mainly focusing on safety, alignment and then I’ll briefly mention one yama or niyama per week. When I teach more experienced students, what I’m observing in the class will stimulate a connection with one or more of the sutras in Raja Yoga. I might ask the class to make a group intention such as dedicating our practice to svadhyaya: What can I learn about myself during this class? Or, we might select one of the yamas or niyamas to focus on throughout the class or a general virtue like acceptance, detachment or patience.

After the opening of the class, we begin the Sun Salutation:

“Let’s begin. Bring the palms together in anjali mudra as we take a moment to offer the fruit of our practice to something greater than ourselves. Remember that Hatha Yoga is not just about me, it’s about purifying my mind and body so that I can love and serve others better. This is the spirit of Bhakti and Karma Yoga. Today, to whom would you like to offer your practice?”

(I try to find a balance between talking to the class and having enough silence so that the students can go deeply into the practice).

“Come into virabadrasana (warrior pose). Feet are wide apart, turn right foot out parallel to mat, left foot rotates in 25 degrees. This is a strong pose. Feel your strength—inhale courage, exhale fear. Can a proud warrior practice ahimsa? Can we stand for what we believe in without harming others? Did Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Sri Gurudev do this? Can we do this? How do I practice ahimsa for myself on and off mat? Can I practice without strain, can not I not compromise the breath for the posture? Can I perhaps let go of the inner critic and not pay attention to any negative judgments about my practice. What can I let go of in order to be fearless?

Read the rest of this article in the Winter 2007 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine