So you’ve been practicing yoga for some time now, and you have a nagging feeling that you could go deeper. You are right, there is more, much more. And what you are to embark on is one of the most meaningful and rewarding quests of your life.
My first teacher, a Tibetan Llama in Hawaii, told me that learning yoga is like digging for a pyramid buried in the sand. The deeper you go, the vaster it becomes.
Yes, yoga contains answers to many of life’s deepest, most pressing questions. Your health, your relationships, and your connection to spirit/god are all at stake. I can honestly say first hand that yoga has within it the answer to many of these questions. It’s been the greatest gift of my life. To discover it, however, will take a significant level of dedication. It’s like digging for water, you must dig a deep well. Most don’t find it because they only dig potholes.
If you are looking to move beyond tight-butt yoga and enter the world of yoga I am speaking of, as millions of others like you have, there are any diffrent paths each paved with its own challenges. Here is what I wish I knew back then which would have made my journey easier.
1. Find a teacher as close to the source as possible.
Many people will tell you that teachers trained in the west can be just as good. I strongly disagree with this. There are exceptions of course, but there’s an immediate feeling when practicing with someone from India, trained in the lineages of true spiritual masters, that you are stepping up to the majors. It’s night and day.
It’s extremely important to establish your foundation for deepening in the presence of someone like this. What I see is that many students who have their foundations laid in YogaWorks, CorePower, or other western-based teacher trainings learn many of the aspects that will help them be good teachers, but miss the true depth of the practice. Naturally, courses in the west are more physically focused, when this, in reality, is only a small part of the yogic system. Our trainings at the East West Institute are led by real, indian yoga masters who grew up in yoga ashrams.
The teachers I’ve had that have changed me the most are all the ones closest to the source, and it’s no coincidence. It’s simply the nature of energy. Yoga is not something you learn through books, it’s learned through sharing experiencing consciousness, and you have to get around someone who is experiencing the yogic consciousness to really get it.
The notable exception to this is people from the west who spent many many years training with true masters from India. It’s not a matter of their ethnicity, it’s a matter of how close they were to the energy of the consciousness of a true master.
2. Accept that you MUST begin practicing regularly.
“Understanding” yoga is the same things as living yoga. It’s very purpose is to improve our direct experience with life, and thus the only way to actually understand it is to experience it for yourself. Otherwise, you will be like a blind person describing light– you could describe all the details of its wavelength, it’s speed, it’s characteristics, but you wouldn’t be able to recognize it if you opened your eyes and look at the sun.
In the process of deepening your practice, there’s a moment when you realize there simply is no way around practicing daily. The results you get out of yoga will not be how well you understand it or how many books you read, but how dedicated you are to your practice. Your daily practice is your litmus test. There’s an energy that builds up in your body and it’s simply natural law that you must practice in order to build it up. This is the reason that every yoga master emphasizes regular practice.
How often is “regular?” It’s different for everyone. The key is consistent, slow improvement. Be easy on yourself and realistic. How much you are practicing is less important than that you are continually making improvement and deepening your commitment. If regular means 2-3 times a week, that’s fine, but to deepen you must set your sights on consistent, regular, slow improvement. Most teachers recommend a regular meditation practice, starting with just 10 minutes in the morning and at night, and slowly over the course of years add more minutes in a way that feels comfortable and inspiring to you.
3. Venture beyond Asana into the other forms of Yoga.
There are many forms of yoga practice outside of just the physical aspects. Yoga includes Karma or service yoga, Bhakti or devotional yoga, Tantra yoga (or yoga of relationships), and many, many more.
The truth is, yoga in the studio can get rather dry and uninspiring after a while. It’s only human nature to want to venture out and do other things, to express the other parts of your nature like singing, dancing, connecting, having sex, eating, creating. Yoga is not separate from these things. Having practiced all the major forms of yoga, I feel that I can now take it into everything I do and feel fulfilled.
For me, I had done yoga for 6 years previously, but feel that I wasn’t actually practicing until I first practiced Bhakti Yoga or Kirtan. It felt strange to me at first, but I see now that that feeling of strangeness is exactly what I needed to lean into. Once I learned to do this, the true benefits opened up to me.
4. Connect with a yoga community.
Perhaps you are naturally an independent person, who likes to believe you can do it all on your own. The spiritual narrative often glorifies stories of the Buddha, detachment, isolation, austerity, and this can have its value at times. However, having a strong community around you makes things so, so much easier. It’s a consistent form of inspiration and allows you to fulfill your natural desire to connect with others. It can be a little awkward to connect to a yoga community at first– people often look you in the eyes for just a little too long, they often say and do things that seem a little weird– but when you start to accept this community in your life, truly nothing feels better.
5. Do the yoga teacher training.
If there is one service I feel I could do for you, one gift I could share, it would be to inspire you to do a yoga teacher training.
Yoga teacher training is actually the wrong term for this. It’s more like “deepening your practice training.” Most people who do the teacher training don’t actually want to teach. The yoga teacher training for so many in the west is the foundation, the launch point for deepening the practice. It’s one of the greatest gifts you will ever receive, in which you will begin to experience all of the above.
I cannot even begin to explain to you the extent to which it changed my life, but what I will say is that it gave me the tools to combat that nagging feeling of dissatisfaction that followed me everywhere. I can honestly say now that I live with full satisfaction in most areas of life, and I trace it all back to the yoga teacher training. Before I did it, even though I was making good money, had lots of friends, and felt my life was good, I was experiencing anxiety, depression, and a lack of energy and inspiration. I don’t experience any of those things any longer, and it was my yoga training that removed me from those cycles.
I remember feeling reservations about doing the training because I wasn’t sure if I was ready. I thought I’d be pushed to do hard, weird poses and have to wake up at 5 am every morning. This isn’t the case. The yoga teacher trainings generally are for people who have been practicing at least for 1 year and have some sort of regular practice. I would actually recommend our trainings it to a total beginner, because they are the most open and would get the most out of it (I would definitely not recommend an ashtanga program to a beginner, which are typically very physically difficult).
Our trainings at the East West Institute were my vision for the perfect training to help people deepen their practice. We bring amazing, authentic teacher from India and pair them with popular western teachers in luxurious retreat centers in Bali, the most vibrant spiritual community in the world. If you are interested in joining for a training, you can apply here on our website, or contact me directly at email@example.com. We just released payment plans to make them only $500 a month.
Namaste, and happy deepening.