The 2018-2019 training

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Principles and Aims

There is a certain effortlessness to our ability to select words and produce sentences whenever we have something to say. We also immediately know how to produce the sounds required. For example, the ‘e’ sound at the end of the word ‘the’ in ‘the bed’ when spoken by a native speaker is very different from the ‘e’ sound at the end of the same word in ‘the apple’. In Sanskrit this principle is known as sandhi. Yet without knowing that such a thing as sandhi exists, and also without knowing anything about the rules by which it operates, we can freely produce the appropriate sound in the appropriate context. This comes from a deep familiarity with our language—something which seems to go beyond instinct. A principal aim of this yoga teachers’ training course is to create that same kind of easy familiarity with the principles, effects, and methodology of yoga, and more specifically with the asanas and pranayama of hatha yoga.

Overall structure

According to Indian thought, any complete society and person should be well-grounded in eight subject areas. These are broadly divided in two major themes, which are explored across six modules. Modules I–III make up Part I; while Modules IV-VI make up Part II. The broad subject areas are “A. The Eight Subdivisions” and “B. Western anatomical/physiological systems”. Since yoga means "union", each topic features in all modules, but each module nevertheless concentrates a specialized area. Each modules in its turn has two principal themes, and a variety of subthemes. In this way, course participants are encouraged to "see" their yoga and practice from both the Western scientific and the yoga-ayurvedic perspectives.

Two parts: West and East

Part I, Modules I to III, will concentrate slightly more on using the more Western-analytical, atomistic view-point to address common concerns, while Part II will concentrate slightly more on the Eastern-metaphysical and holistic one. Some issues and concerns studied in detail in Part I from a more Western viewpoint are revisiited in Part II from a more Eastern perspective, and vice versa, so the differences can be more easily appreciated.

The two principal themes

The complete individual and society should have a thorough and practical understanding of: ethics, religion, cosmology, psychology, the nature of being (ontology), the nature of reality (metaphysics), the nature of knowledge (epistemology), and the reason for existence (teleology). Yoga contains all these. Each of the six modules will take one (sometimes two) of these branches as its principal guiding theme. Students will then be encouraged to place yoga in both its social and individual psychological context with respect to both its ancient and traditional practice in India, and its setting in modern society. This will be done by juxtaposing such works as Machiavelli’s "The Prince" and Kautilya’s "Arthashastra", by comparing the lives of such people as Asoka and Gandhi to various Western luminaries; and by reviewing some of the world’s great epics and spiritual literature such as "Gilgamesh".

Western anatomy and physiology divide the body up into a variety of systems such as “the nervous system”, “the glandular system”, “the skeletal system”, etc. Although the more holistic perspective of yoga prefers not to divide the human being up in this way, the Western approach nevertheless provides a most useful—and indeed a necessary—framework. Each module will therefore take, as its second principal theme, the study of one or more of these accepted Western systems. Every such system will always, however, be related to all the others, and always bearing in mind that they cannot really be isolated. This Western scientific tradition will be presented from a largely historical perspective so that its aims and principles can be the more easily grasped thus greatly simplifying attempts to apply yoga therapeutically.

The subthemes

Each modules will take, as one of the subthemes, some particular “condition” or “ailment” that yoga teachers often meet in their work. Those conditions will be either directly or indirectly related to the particular Western anatomical system being reviewed. Common conditions such as asthma, lupus, sciatica, “infertility”, carpal tunnel syndrome etc. will be reviewed. However, some conditions yoga teachers meet are quite serious. They may well be genetic and may not, from the Western perspective, have any known cure. The purpose of the review is not, in fact, to learn a “cure”. It is to learn to "see" all conditions from both a yoga and a Western scientific point of view, and so that the aims and the possibilities of yoga and ayurveda's approaches to healing can be more clearly explicated. The maladies and conditions are selected with the broader aims of the course in mind, and do not necessarily “fit” with the Western anatomical system under which they are being reviewed. For example, Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the central nervous system, caused by a degeneration in the pigmented neurons of the substantia nigra. However, yoga teachers usually meet sufferers because those sufferers want assistance with the trembling that frequently accompanies the condition—a symptom that not all sufferers in fact exhibit. With that context, it can be very helpful to approach the condition more proprioceptively, and thus as a manifestation of a difficulty with the sensory system—which is in itself an integrated and vital part of the nervous system. For this reason, Parkinson’s is included in Module II … which also reviews the Sankhya philosophy, and the role played by perception and the senses in the construction of the manifest and perceived universe. Similarly, respiratory difficulties such as asthma are often best approached from the perspective of pranayama or the theory of breath. This is a part of antaranga sadhana, the “outer quest” of the astanga yoga presented by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. This same module compares and contrasts other cosmological and religious approaches on the same basis.

The aim of the subthemes will be to show how the knowledge embedded in yoga can be used to design a beneficial programme not only for the particular condition being considered, but also for other related “maladies”, and more broadly for the person with the condition. Course participants will be able to understand not only what the knowledge gained by West and East is, but also how and why it was derived. They will thus understand more clearly what its underlying principles are; will be able to make a more informed judgement of what its likely helpfulness is; and so will be able to apply it more fruitfully.

The other subthemes to be studied in each module will be selected from the remaining seven subject areas. Each module will contain an overview of traditional, and essential, concepts from yoga and Indian philosophy. There will be an abundance of knowledge dispensed regarding the practice, philosophy, psychology, mythology and ancient texts and such like of yoga. The four Vedas, the ten principal (and many minor) Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika—and of course the Yoga Sutras—will all be covered. There will be a review of the essentials of Ayurveda. Also introduced will be the essentials of Sanskrit, its pronunciation, its grammar and so forth. Several important Vedic chants will be taught and their meanings and significance elucidated. The primary darsanas or schools of Indian thought will also be presented.

Building a personal vision

Whilst studying these various themes and subthemes, course participants will be encouraged to learn how to “see” their yoga, their practice, and their students from both the Western scientific and the yoga-ayurvedic perspectives and to build up their own integrated understanding, using their own personal interests as a foundation. Students on the course will additionally be encouraged to place yoga in both its social and its individual psychological context both with respect to its ancient and traditional practice in India, but also with respect to an appreciation of its setting in modern day.