The Tenets of The Kaivalya Yoga Method
The groundwork for this method is a compilation of elements that have proven to be the most important tools and teachings over more than a decade of study. Read more below to learn about each Tenet!
The Kaivalya Yoga Method
Tenet #1: Compassion – Yoga Sutra 1.33
Words from Alanna
As I was compiling what would become the foundations of The Kaivalya Yoga Method, I had to sit and carefully consider the pillars of my teaching technique. What do I bring to every class? What groundwork have I laid to prepare myself to show up to every class as an open conduit for the teachings of yoga? These were tough questions, but finally, I distilled the method to my madness down to 5 key points.
These tenets lay the foundation for what and how I teach The Kaivalya Yoga Method teacher training. My goal is to use these foundational principles to inspire and fortify students with the body of knowledge that we cover in the training. Along the way, they may also feel the powerful effects of these tenets and choose to embody them as well.
The first tenet is Compassion, and stems from Yoga Sutra 1.33 (featured and translated above). Compassion is the ability to relate to others on a level that you begin to connect with the humanness inside them. Sometimes, in the daily grind, it can be easy to forget that we are in this circle of life together, and that each of us has our own challenges and struggles. It’s imperative that we never forget this point as we show up to teach students.
The student in front of us may be going through a divorce. They may have lost a loved one recently. They may have an injury they haven’t mentioned. They may be the person who left your class early last week for some unknown reason. All of these unknown factors make it critical that we are able to gaze up on our students as a body of equals, all there to share an uplifted experience. To do this, we can use Patanjali’s recipe to help lock our mind in an uplifted state, which is not only the best place to pursue our practice, but also the best stance from which to teach.
The key to the entire recipe is based on our perceptions. How we interact with a person depends entirely on how we perceive them. So, if we determine a person to be happy, we’re asked to be happy for them. If a person is sad, we cultivate compassion. If a person is seen to be lucky (virtuous), then we can be delighted for them. And, finally, if a person reveals themselves to be wicked, we act with indifference.
Once we determine how we see someone, then our practice becomes how we treat them, based on these four recommendations. What doesn’t happen is an inquisition or a judgement regarding the reason behind the persons actions or affect. This may feel counterintuitive to many, as we’re so used to basing our own reactions on our swift judgements rather than forgoing the inquiry for compassion.
You see, if we disagree with the source of someone’s happiness, then we may try to argue or quash their happiness, which diminishes our relationship and takes away their elation. Bummer for both sides. When we engage in retribution or revenge against the wicked, we actually add fuel to their fire, whereas if we focus on the opposite of their actions, we could actually turn the flame into something positive. One good example would be to work for causes that support sobriety if you’ve been enraged by a drunk driver. There are many opportunities to be creative about how to live this well-intentioned recipe from Patanjali, but let me leave you with one important point.
Compassion drives this whole train. If we have compassion inside our hearts, then following this sutra will be a cinch…more than that, these will become our natural, inspired reactions, rather than forced dictates that feel like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. The original meaning of the word compassion is “to suffer with.” If we can connect with the suffering or the pain inside our own heart and the hearts of those we relate to, then we not only understand their behavior, we understand the human being behind them, and the actions matter less than our relationship to these people.
I heard a buddhist saying once that “in order to truly love, we must carry a little pain inside of our hearts.” Another favorite quote is from Hazrat Inayat Khan, “God breaks the heart again and again, until it remains open.” Both of these sayings remind us that an open heart is the only way to live and be absorbed in the full participation of life. It’s good stuff. Through compassion, we walk in to teach our yoga classes and no matter the type of being we have before us (happy, sad, lucky or angry), we have the ability to connect with them. It is through this connection that we may be able to transform their day… or their life. More importantly, through this connection, they will be able to transform ours.
The Kaivalya Yoga Method
Tenet #2: Personal Responsibility – Yoga Sutra 1.12
Words from Alanna
Pattabhi Jois was credited as saying, “Do your practice, and all is coming.”
This often quoted thread of wisdom warrants being tattooed on the front of every yoga mat these days. For the yoga practitioner, nothing is more important than a dedicated, diligent personal practice…because it just takes time.
Whether we like it or not, our growth as human beings requires consistent, steady effort in order to yield results. Malcom Gladwell tells us in the book, Outliers, that it takes about 10,000 hours or 10 years of consistent, steady effort.
Nothing happens overnight.
This concept is particularly important for yoga teachers, as our work is never quite done. Even after an initial teacher training, and a stint as a yoga teacher for a year or two, without steady, consistent time running yoga through our system as students, our expertise as a yoga instructor will always elude us.
It is up to us to harness the personal responsibility required to gain what Gladwell would refer to as “mastery.” Ten thousand hours is no joke—it is apparently the time required for something to rewrite itself into the hardwired coding of our bodies. Until then, we are not embodying the practice.
“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you woe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.” —Joseph Campbell
I’m not saying we can’t do a kick-ass job until then. We certainly can. But, on our road to the 10,000 hour mark, it’s up to us to continuously run yoga practice through our bodies, hearts and minds; not only through our daily practice, but also through our continued learning and education in all the diverse aspects of knowledge required of us as modern day yoga instructors—which includes anatomy, physiology, psychology, philosophy, mythology, kinesiology, subtle anatomy and a whole heap of other things. Wherever our area of expertise is lacking, that is a potential area for growth.
Until such time as we cross this threshold (which is not just in Outliers, but also in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika) we are basically cover artists. We learn to play the tune of others that we fancy until we can write our own songs. This is a valid form of practice—in fact, it’s how The Beatles gained their own mastery in music. We do it as yoga teachers, too. We quote the teachers we admire, we repeat the sequence of our favorite classes, we copy the playlists that get us rocking, and we can do it well, so long as at the heart of it, we are putting in the time to practice, practice, practice.
Until one day it comes not through us, but from us. It becomes our own. At that point, we have authenticated the practice. We have practiced in such a way that it has become a personal experience and we understand not only that yoga works, but how it works, and more importantly, how it works on us. Krishnamacharya said, “When you have learned something very well, then the way you express it is different than the way you learned it.”
Because it is now yours.
The twelfth sutra of the first chapter of the yoga sutras talks about this principle of personal responsibility and mastery by highlighting the fact that two things can effectively bring us to a calm state of mind (what Patanjali defines as yoga). The first is practice—which is done consistently over a long period of time (see above). The second is a relinquishment of all attachment to what the practice brings. Because this opens us up to limitless possibilities.
“For everything there is a time, so there comes a time for the unfoldment of the soul – but the period of that development depends upon the speed of the progress man makes through life.”—Hazrat Inayat Khan
When we don’t have expectations, anything is possible. When we show up to our mat or our teacher training with an empty cup, it can be filled to the brim with something revolutionary and epic. If we think we already know it all, how can we possibly have a revelatory moment on the mat, in the cadaver lab or reading a mythology book? Open-mindedness is not just cliche, it’s essential to this kind of dedication in our work.
So, start today.
Because 10,000 hours doesn’t tick it’s own box, and every moment counts. Never get comfortable, because until we know something inside and out it can never live inside of us. And, when yoga lives inside of us—not outside in the hands of other books or teachers—that’s when the real teachings can begin.
The Kaivalya Yoga Method
Tenet #3: Equality – Bhagavad Gita 6.8
Words from Jessica Patterson (April 2012 Grad)
Jnanavijnanantrptatma/ kutasho vijitendriyah/ yukta ityuchyate yogi/ samaloshtashmakanchanah
A true yogi has equanimity of mind and is able to perceive a lump of clay, stone, or gold nugget as the same.
Among the most essential seeds for any yogi to cultivate is equanimity, the ability to be at peace with all things and recognize the innate and inherent value in everything we encounter. In this passage from the Bhagavad Gita, we are reminded that it is our perception of an object (not the thing itself) that determines how we will value something. A stone is precious for the strength and durability needed to build a home, while a lump of clay can be molded into the mortar one needs. The gold may provide a means to purchase a door for the home. Each plays a pivotal part that the others could not; and so we remember that every experience is perfect and valuable. The trick is shifting our perception so we can recognize the value in all things. It’s hard to think of an injured wrist as equal in value to a functioning wrist. Yet, the injury can give rise to insight, direction, and transformation. The difference is in perception.
We live in a culture that conditions and reinforces the ping-pong experience of preference and aversion; we want what we want, and we push away what we don’t want. We hanker, excessively at times, for things and experiences we believe will make us happier, more complete. And, at the same time, we develop any number of techniques to avoid discomfort, challenges, or change itself. In our drive to categorize and classify everything, from our own body parts to political parties, we assign arbitrary values that often cloud our ability to meet all beings and all circumstances with a clear perspective, an open mind, or a receptive heart. So ingrained is this behavior, we mistake it for our “nature,” and assume, often unconsciously, that our preferences are somehow neutral and instructive. Thus we so frequently end up disappointed, distracted, or otherwise unhappy when we don’t get the thing we wanted.
As soon as we draw a line in the proverbial sand, be it to designate separation from “I” and “you,” or “Us” and “them” or “good pose” and “bad pose,” we create the conditions for hierarchy, wherein certain things (people, experiences) are valued over others. This could mean avoiding the poses you don’t like, obsessing about the job you don’t have, or maligning the hamstrings you perceive of as “bad” because they aren’t as flexible as you would prefer.
As teachers, and as a Kaivalya Yoga Method Tenet, equanimity means skillful discernment to recognize and respond to all beings and circumstances equally. We treat all students equally, while attending to them individually through appropriate, compassionate, and relevant instruction. In other words, the lump of clay, the stone, and the gold nugget are not interchangeable; they are each unique forms whose value, strength, and beauty will be revealed through different perspectives and conditions. Thus, we are reminded by this sutra not to approach our own yoga or the teaching of yoga as a one-size-fits-all method that imposes abstractions onto people or turns a blind eye to the actual circumstances before us.
Each student is a whole and perfect expression of the divine—and as such, each student has special needs we can and must attend (be attentive) to. Through our own discernment, we cultivate the ability to see and respond to individuals in a way that best serves them, not our egos, pocketbooks, or schedules. I think of this sutra as a reminder that all things are the teacher, and we must be humble, receptive, and present to our teachers so we might respond in a relevant and meaningful way. Preferential treatment for those who flatter or feed the ego is antithetical to yoga, as is humiliating or otherwise demeaning a student. In either case, a hierarchy is created, wherein certain students are praised/uplifted and others are made to feel less than.
All hierarchies inevitably create separation that can lead to suffering and exploitation. Yet yoga is a unifying method; yoga dissolves difference and reminds us that it is all one. Through the practices of yoga, we remember how to yoke together the seemingly disparate and oppositional forces we encounter in our lives. The realized yogi can appreciate the unique and beautifully special expression of each being s/he encounters without assigning arbitrary or subjective values to those differences. Instead, the yogi learns to see all things—all beings, all experiences, all emotions, all sensations—as equally valuable. The inherent value is equal; what changes is our perception of any given thing, be it an asana or a financial situation, and the conditions in which we find ourselves relating to it.
The differences among the stone, the nugget of gold, and the lump of clay are not differences of value, though that is the way in which we are trained to perceive them. A tight hamstring is no less valuable than a flexible one. A new student is no less or more valuable than a long-time student. A poor student is no less or more valuable than a rich one. Depending on the circumstances, and the skillful means of the teacher, the value of each can and will be called forth.