Introduction to Teaching Methods for Yogic Practices

  • By Shri M. L. Gharote & Shri S. K. Ganguly
  • May 2011

Tradition of teaching has a history of thousand years in  India. Established by Rishis and Munis the “Gurukulas” were abode of learning.  It is a noble job and ideal profession but requires a skill on the part of the  teacher. No doubt teachers are born and not made, but certain skill and good  methodology can change the whole teaching in a class room situation.  Therefore, it is our effort to bring about a  book on teaching methodology for yoga practices for it has come into the realm  of education. The role of a teacher is not merely teaching but effective  teaching so that the students learn the lesson effectively. 

Swami Kuvalyananda Ji, once said on Teacher in education,  “A teacher should have a motherly love for his students. One cannot win over  students either through creating a personal awe and fear or through creating an  aura of one’s knowledge and scholarly panache. Teachers should never insult and  use abrasive words to such students in any way. Such students should be treated  more affectionately and be encouraged. Give some more time to such students  even after the usual school hours. A teacher perceives, instantly, through  bodily cues as to whether a particular student has understood the subject  matter. He should see to it that the subject matter being taught is thoroughly  understood by such a student.

Every teacher should recognize his responsibility for  value education and physical education along with formal education. Be it any  subject, a teacher should emphasize on value inculcation and ethical values  while planning out teaching of his subject matter. It would not be pertinent to  leave the subject of Physical Education to the respective subject teacher only.  As well, this subject should not be treated as merely a part of sports  activities. In a class room situation, during a learning process, even the mode  of sitting, standing and conducting oneself properly, can be encompassed within  the ambit of physical education. From the view point of biological science all  these aspects of human endeavor have an intimate relationship with health and  hygiene. With due cognizance to this fact, the class teacher concerned should  guide students appropriately. A teacher will be able to perform his above  mentioned duties only when he has motherly love for his students”.

We have very little information about the ways and methods  resorted to by the teachers in ancient times for teaching various subjects.  However, according to Bhagwad Gita the methods of learning consisted of  persistent questioning, showing reverence and doing physical work for the  teacher. There were no fixed hours of teaching. There were no examinations and  no certificates. Being with the teacher was the best way to learn. The conversations  between teacher and students were free and frank. Often there were arguments  between teacher and student but this never led to any acrimony. Before any  lesson began, the teacher and student would both pray together that they might  derive the best results. The idea was to study together, not to compete with  each other. The teacher always knew more than the student but did not claim  that he knew everything. A good teacher always expected that his student should  prove his superiority. All learning took place in the residential situation.  All education was completely free. Most of the teaching was oral, so this  required recitation and cultivation of a good memory. The student not only  learned from the content of the lessons but through personal conduct, which was  expected to be above reproach.

Teaching of a practical subject involved observation,  demonstration and practice on the part of the student and correction of the  faults, giving positive suggestions by the teacher. There was also much use of  the trial and error method on the part of the student.

Teaching was not a profession but a mission to enlighten  innocent young children entrusted to the care of teachers.

Most of the teaching was individualised using  instructional method on a one-to-one basis or at the most in a small group.

Today the times have changed. Like other professions  teaching has also become a profession. However, the teaching of Yoga differs  from other forms of teaching. For the first time in history, Yoga has attracted  the attention of enormous numbers of people all round the world and we find it  necessary to devise different methods of instruction for class work in order to  fulfill the needs of so many interested students. From our experience we have  evolved some methods of teaching yogic practices to train the maximum number of  persons with minimum time, expenditure and effort.

Yoga and Yogic Practices
Yoga is a very ancient discipline. It is recognised as one  of the most important and valuable heritages of India. Today, the whole world  is looking to Yoga for answers to various problems faced by today’s people. At  no time in the past has Yoga attracted so much attention from people in so many  places in the world. In spite of this fact, no field is so grossly  misunderstood as Yoga, even in India. If we were to take a cross section of  society and make a general survey of the public’s opinion about Yoga, we would  find many mis-conceptions about Yoga, the most common of which are:
       i)   Yoga is not meant for the ordinary person, the house-holder but is  only for a select few.
       ii)  Yoga is associated with the idea of the supernatural or linked with  miracles.
       iii) Yoga is equated with mysticism, black magic or various types of  mortification.
       iv) Yoga is a system of therapy which can cure all diseases.
       v)  Yoga is a system of philosophy dealing with metaphysical theories  about the universe.
       vi) Yoga is just a system of exercise.

All these misconceptions  indicate that most people are unable to see Yoga as a whole concept, but are  only aware of a fragment of its potential.

The term “Yoga’’ is used in the  literature both as an end as well as means. As an end yoga signifies  ‘integration of personality’ at the highest level. One of the meanings of Yoga  derived from the root ‘yuj’ is SAMADHI. It is a comprehensive term really means  ‘integration’ and includes in it all other meanings. Samatva or harmony is  another word which suggests the same meaning. This is the meaning of Yoga as an  end.

In order to help the  development of such integration, various techniques are employed. These  techniques or practices are mentioned in yogic literature and are also referred  to collectively as Yoga’. Thus we find various individual practices coupled  with the term Yoga like Netiyoga, Laulikiyoga, Dhyanayoga and so on. When  various practices are systematised and formed into a discipline employing such  practices, these systems are known as ‘schools’ of Yoga like Bhaktiyoga,  Jnanayoga, Karmayoga, Hathayoga, Layayoga and so on.

Thus, it will be seen that the  word ‘Yoga’ is traditionally used to convey the meaning of an ‘end’ as well as  a ‘means’. Lack of discrimination between these two meanings is one of the  causes of confusion about Yoga.

The discipline of Yoga passed  through several stages and in the course of time different schools emerged  which had evolved a variety of techniques and practices. Every school of Yoga emphasized  specific practices, but their aim always remained the same: the highest level  of integration through the control of the modifications of mind. Some schools  use practices that deal with the mind directly and some use indirect means  through the body to tackle mental processes.

All the yogic practices may be  classified as (i) Asanas, (ii) Pranayamas, (iii) Bandhas and Mudras, (iv)  Kriyas, (v) Meditation and (vii) Attitude training practices. Each one of these  classifications consists of a group of several practices. Let us now get  acquainted with these groups.

These are special patterns of  postures that stabilise the mind and the body through static stretching’s.  Their aim is to establish proper rhythm in the neuromuscular tonic impulses and  improve the general muscle tone.

The two basic principles  governing the performance of Asanas are stability and comfort. This suggests  that the nature of Asanas is psychophysical and not only physical. Although  they are practised by the body the effect on the mind is also felt.

Every Asana should be performed  effortlessly and maintained for a comfortable time. There should be no jerks  and the performances of Asanas should not lead to undue fatigue.

Asanas may be classified as (1)  Meditative, (2) Cultural and (3) Relaxative.

1) Meditative Asanas are sitting postures which maintain the  body in a steady and comfortable condition. By various arrangements of the legs  and hands different Meditative Asanas are formed. The characteristics feature  of the Meditative Asanas is, however, keeping the head, neck and trunk erect.
2) Cultural Asanas involve static stretchings which bring  about proper tone of the muscles. They contribute to the flexibility of the  spine and render back and spinal muscles stronger. They also stimulate proper  working of the vital organs in the thoracic and abdominal cavities. There are  innumerable varieties of cultural asanas which are performed in sitting, lying  and standing positions.
3) Relaxative Asanas are few in number. They are performed  in the lying position and are meant for giving rest to the body and mind.
Asanas in general form the  basis of other yogic practices by preparing an adequate background.

These practices bring control  over the respiratory impulses which form one of the channels of the flow of  autonomic nerve impulses. Holding of the breath for a prolonged and comfortable  time is an essential technique of Pranayama. However, in the initial practice  the breath holding phase is completely avoided and emphasis is put on the  controlled inspiration and expiration with a time ratio of 1:2 between them.  The expiratory phase is so controlled that the following inspiratory phase is  not affected in its slow and controlled inspiration.

There are many varieties of  Pranayama which use different permutations and combinations of breathing  techniques through one or two nostrils or sometimes inspiration through the  mouth.

The three phases of Pranayama,  namely controlled inspiration, controlled retention and controlled expiration  are technically known as Puraka, Kumbhaka and Rechaka respectively.

The main purpose of Pranayama  is to gain control over the autonomic nervous system and through it influence  the mental function. It is useful in higher yogic practices like meditation.

Bandhas and Mudras:
These are locks and holds of  the semi-voluntary and involuntary muscles in the body. They decongest the  vital organs, improve circulation and nutrition by pressure manipulations and  contribute to general health and emotional stability. A difference is made  between the Bandhas and Mudras on the basis of their use in Pranayama. Mudras  that are used in Pranayama are usually called Bandhas because they bind and channelize  a particular nervous activity in a particular place or direction. Jalandhara,  Uddiyana and Mula are important Bandhas. Some Asanas are called Mudras because  of their specific and channels through which the effects are brought about.

These are purification  processes usually classified into six divisions and therefore they are often  called Shatkriyas. These are Dhauti, Basti, Neti, Trataka, Nauli and  Kapalabhati, each one of which consists of many subsections. They increase the  range of adaptability of the tissues forming various organs and systems and  raise the threshold of their reactivity. Kriyas bring control on different  reflexes and establish psychophysiological balance. The modes of purification  in the kriyas are air, water, friction and manipulating movements. The regions  of cleansing involved in various kriyas are nasopharyngeal, orocranial, gastro  esophageal, anorectal and intestinal.

This is the practice involving  control of the mental functions which start from the initial withdrawal of the  senses from external objects to the complete oblivion of the external  environment. There are innumerable techniques of meditation. It is a process of  absorption in which the individual tries to turn his attention to dwell upon a  single object, sound, concept or experience.

Meditation is a great tranquillizer.  However, it is not always safe to start one’s practice in Meditation without  preparing adequately through Asanas and Pranayama. In the hierarchy of yogic  practices Meditation occupies a higher position. The basic principle of  Meditation is to develop internal awareness.

Attitude Training Practices:
These are technically called  Yamas and Niyamas. These are self-imposed restrictions to govern one’s behavior  to form a particular attitudinal pattern. These form the basis of all the yogic  practices.

The nature of all yogic practices is psychophysical. All  yogic practices are complementary to each other and each practice contributes  to similar effects on a greater or lesser scale using different channels.

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