Finding our Foundations

by Jules Febre |
March, 2022
ॐ सत्यं ज्ञानम् आनन्दं ब्रह्मा ॥
Satyam Jñanam Ānandam Brahma

Truth, Knowledge, Bliss, Absolute

Yoga is a word that encompasses a very wide range. It can refer to practices as well as end results. There are yoga traditions that hail from the Himalayas and those that have been reimagined and brought west. The word yoga has become well known in many circles and you have probably even asked someone “What type of yoga do you practice/study?”. There is a level of understanding that there are different methodologies each with its own distinct interpretations, teachings, and beliefs. We live in a world replete with nama and rupa; name and form, differences. Differences are important especially if we find ourselves searching for a spiritual practice. Before we endeavor to truly immerse ourselves into any tradition or methodology we must first ask and investigate a very simple set of questions: What am I looking for and does this method/tradition align with my values.

At first glance, it may seem unnecessary to state that we are all different. Yet it is important and is reflected in the different traditions and lineages. Each may have subtle divergences on important issues, emphases on ritual or service. Depending on what those distinctions are, we may be drawn toward or pushed away from various methodologies. What draws us to a “spiritual practice” in the first place? What is it we hope to achieve, what are we looking for? A spiritual practice may call to us in part because we feel something is off or unrealized in ourselves. We may experience a deep questioning on the core concepts we have been taught about the world around us. This questioning in turn can cause us to experience an unsteadiness or unhappiness as we cycle through the hardships, suffering or transient nature of the world. We may find that what was once our foundational understanding of the world is no longer satisfying and so the spiritual journey “begins”. 

The differences in the various lineages and methodologies become important because if the foundations of them do not align with our core values, current or desired how could we ever have the longevity needed to maintain a practice. We may find charismatic teachers or other practitioners who we admire, but if the path is not right for us then we will not be able to give it the time required to make an impact. We may not find that desired steady and joyful connection through our association with it. Exploring the foundations of each lineage, investigating them deeply will in turn give us insight into our our foundational beliefs. Where does this method want to take me, and how will we get there are helpful questions to ask.

For example, the original word Jivanmuktih refers to “one who is liberated while living; One who is still operating in the world, still seen as an individual by others, but not having that separate self as the core of experience.” The aim is to find transcendental consciousness while we are alive instead of practicing for a time after the passing of this body or trying to use the practices to leave this body and world behind. We may not become enlightened in this lifetime, it is indeed a very high goal to set for oneself. However, we may find that along the way toward sovereignty or liberation we become incrementally more aware, kind, caring, and compassionate. 

Jivamukti is based on 5 tenets Ahiṃsā: Non-Harming, Bhakti: Devotion, Dhyāna: Meditation, Nāda: Sound, Śāstra: Studying the teaching of the masters. With these as the foundations, many practices can be used and artistic creativity brought forth on this journey. The one thing we are asked to do is remember the goal, Freedom or Liberation. Our mind will wander away and the foundation support us and bring us back. All we need to do is take a moment to check-in. Are our actions aligned with or coming from these foundations. Do we feel that steady and joyful nature more because of our association and practice? Do we still want what we used to from the yoga practice? What does yoga want from us?

Teaching Tips

  1. This is part 1 of 7 focuses of the month. The next 6 will go into āsana then each of the 5 tenets. Do not spend too much time on those topics as they will have their own month each.
  2. Keep the philosophy/dharma talk short and simple, don’t talk too much. Give time for people to practice and then sit in the results of that practice. Do not say much at the end of class either. Just let people maintain a sense of quiet as they leave the space.
  3. Encourage people to come up with their intention for the class and find when they have lost in during the practice.
  4. Free-writing – Encourage people to journal at the end of classes. Ask them beforehand to come with a journal and they can write in the last 5min of class or directly after. You can give some simple directions or topics: What did the practice bring up – Set a timer and write – Stop once the timer is done – Reflect on what you think of as personal core values – ETC
  5. Chant the Gayatri Mantra from the chant book. May the sun and all of its spiritual analogs inspire our hearts and minds.
  6. The outer search for a teacher or methodology is a reflection of the inner search. The seeds of sovereignty are only found within us. Foster independence in those who come to class by leading them through different surya namaskar variations then give them 3-5 minutes to do their own.
  7. Most of us are looking for a more complete truth, a more embodied wisdom, longer lasting bliss (or at least joy or contentment) and an experience of something beyond us. Is it possible to have any of that in an āsana based class? Only through practice will you know this for sure so practice before you teach.
  8. Do not skip meditation or śavāsana.