A postcard from Suryavana, Bodhiyoga teacher training 2017

This year we are in Suryavana, which means “The Illuminated Forest”, the new retreat centre run by the Buddhist Centre in Valencia. Both Sadhita and I work through the Buddhist Centre most of the year we were both keen to make use of the new facilities to collaborate and support this new project.

This is our sixth edition of the 200 hour teacher training. Over the years we have practiced in many different places, now we feel like we arrived home! Suryavana proves to be spacious, comfortable and nurturing in our endeavours to deepen and explore our yoga and meditation practices and work as a group to understand what it means to teach Mindfulness yoga.

This is our sixth course, each year we refine the programme and content. I recollect Sadhita and I thoughtfully working it all out on big pieces of paper on the the floor in a friends flat in Valencia one Winter some eight years back. That seems like an eternity. Our own practice and understanding of the Mindfulness teaching and how to integrate this into a hatha yoga practice has deepened through many weeks and months of working intensively together with some great students.

We have trained now 62 yoga teachers and we know around 25 to 30 are out there teaching in many different arenas of engagement with the world. Working with children to Buddhist Centres, in many parts of the world from the US to Europe, from South Africa to New Zealand.

Intuitively I always felt that yoga posture work as a "psycho-physical" practice and training which so evidently promotes a sense of well-being, health and confidence complements and augments the effectiveness of the direct “mind-work" of meditation. In fact, since the beginnings of my own practice of yoga and meditation in the 1980’s, these two disciplines drawing from two distinct yet somehow related traditions always have complemented and augmented each other.

Our main aim on this teacher training is to initiate and establish our students in a technically skilful and safe yoga posture work practice (yoga asana) as well as some breath and kriya work. We also aim to introduce and develop our understanding of how Mindfulness as taught by the Buddha in the Satipatthana Sutta relates to hatha yoga. We pay nominative attention to the Hindu context of yoga. In the yoga tradition itself this context is usually associated with the meditative tradition of Raja yoga of Patanjali As Buddhist yogis, we attempt to re-align our yoga posture body-work with a genuine spiritual practice through Mindfulness rather than Patanjali.

This is no easy task, but a necessary one. Currently yoga has been largely reduced to an elaborate body-work system with little reference to how we can actually and practically work with our minds. Patanjali often is quoted erroneously as a spiritual backup to hatha yoga even though the Patanjali Yoga Sutras refer only to meditation posture and the meditation process and make no reference to the body-work and pranayama exercises we see in our yoga classes. Mindfulness and meditation training then provide that missing element and these practices can begin to perfume our approach to asana and kriya and life in general.

The intention is that our students build up sufficient critical momentum in their own practice and understanding to launch themselves out into the world to start sharing their love and inspiration of yoga and meditation. As part of the post-course assignments we ask our students to teach 16 hours of classes to friends, family and colleagues and report back to us. Lets see what they do.

For our yoga practice to go beyond a self-indulgent navel gazing exercise the obvious next step is to connect with others and share what we know. After three weeks of Teaching yoga is that obvious next step! Without that sense of other-regarding I see no point or even future in yoga, Minduflness, meditation or spiritual practice as a whole.

This is a hugely transformative process for our students and the course has the nature of a “giving birth” or “revealing” of something new. As students and practitioners of yoga we transform into teachers. We look beyond our our practice to others and we remember that the greatest gist that we can give the world is awareness. Our job then is to facilitate some degree of "Waking Up”. Yoga, kriya, pranayama and meditation can help us along this path.

Sudaka, Suryavana 11 July 2017