Kripalu Yoga: A path of transformation
by Shobhan Richard Faulds
People come to yoga for different reasons. Some are looking for a practical method to enhance health. Others are interested in ways to manage stress and foster relaxation. Still others seek personal and spiritual growth. Kripalu Yoga offers all these things, and, as teachers, it is vitally important for us to reach out to students wherever they are and help them to fulfill the individual needs that drew them to yoga.
But with a heritage of 5,000 years in India and 30 years of rapid evolution in America, isn't Kripalu Yoga something more than an effective tool for reaping a long list of benefits? How can we, as its representatives, hold the Kripalu tradition in our own minds and convey its depth to our students?
As the contemporary expression of an authentic spiritual tradition, Kripalu Yoga is a path of transformation. At the core of this path is an intention to use the tools of yoga to bring our whole self fully present to the moment-to-moment experience of being alive. That intention is what makes practice "yoga." While everyone may come to yoga for different reasons, practice becomes a stepping stone to something more than good health, personal growth, or even deep meditative states. Kripalu Yoga awakens the inborn evolutionary urge to realize our full potential. It removes physical, emotional and mental blocks that stand in the way of freely expressing who and what we are. It gives us the balance of self-acceptance and inner strength required to become intimate with our inner experience. It helps us to do the simplest and most difficult thing of all: to let life itself touch, teach and transform us.
It is crucial that we, as teachers, understand the nature of the transformative process Kripalu Yoga was designed to initiate. The role of a yoga teacher these days is complex. It includes elements of being a personal trainer grounded in anatomy, a therapist schooled in the fine points of mental health, and a minister skilled in revealing the sacred. Given this job description, it's easy for us to feel inadequate.
Yet at the core of the Kripalu Yoga approach is something unique and solid. It's a radical stance that all is well, the realization that we do not have to do anything other than remove the obstacles to the flow of an intelligent life force that knows how to restore balance. It's a profound trust in the techniques of yoga despite the purification, catharsis, confusion and doubt that inevitably arise when they are practiced. It is the realization that yoga is not a quest to achieve some kind of perfection, but rather a gradual process of learning how to be fully present with whatever life brings.
As Kripalu Yoga teachers, we are first and foremost catalysts for this type of personal transformation. A necessary initial step is to embody it ourselves, remaining grounded in self-acceptance as we grow through practice, teaching and life experience. The next step is to allow each student to explore yoga in his or her own way, offering skilled instruction, heartfelt encouragement and inspiration. Experienced teachers remember that purification is always part of the transformative process, holding a compassionate space that does not minimize students' difficulties but affirms their potential to move through them. Swami Kripalu described yoga as a journey from the known to the unknown. Teachers who aspires to facilitate this journey, even if they offer only gentle stretching and breath awareness, are teaching the depth of Kripalu Yoga.
Applied in this context, the techniques of Kripalu Yoga become potent and powerful. The fundamental technique is the practice of being present: breathe, relax, feel, watch and allow. Next come the essentials of hatha yoga, including the capacity to sustain a flowing breath, understanding the principles of body alignment, and knowing how to assemble a balanced series of warm-ups and yoga postures. As practice deepens, the focusing techniques of Riding the Wave of Sensation and Witness Consciousness facilitate introversion and introspection. The final technique is a non-doing: releasing the mind's control over prana and allowing the experience of meditation-in-motion to happen. The relationship of these techniques is summarized in the following chart:
Stage One Practice
Stage Two Practice
Stage Three Practice
(All schools of yoga utilize the same basic yoga postures and breathing exercises. Kripalu Yoga also employs the awareness-focusing and energy-awakening techniques outlined above.)
Some traditions speak of the spiritual life as an arduous journey to enlightenment. Others say there is nowhere to go and nothing to do, that ?it's a moment-to-moment process of letting go of anything and everything that blocks you from being fully present here and now. Still others talk of spiritual maturity and a gradual growth process that culminates in wisdom. What kind of transformation does Kripalu Yoga aim to produce?
Kripalu Yoga helps you develop a healthy and strong body, an open and caring heart, and a clear and peaceful mind. Along the way, Kripalu Yoga recognizes that you were born divine and innately capable of accessing spirit. More than the momentary glimpse of a rarified state, Kripalu Yoga is designed to lead to the consistent experience of being spiritually awake and mentally present in a relaxed body. Coming back to this state through regular practice, you forge a living relationship with spirit and your life becomes a continual experience of growth and awakening.
As you recognize spirit in yourself, you naturally see it shining in others and reflected in the world around you. Swami Kripalu expressed this result of depth yoga practice in the maxim: The whole world is one family. Most of the world's problems stem from the inability of different races, nationalities and religions to perceive the sisterhood and brotherhood of humanity. Yoga has a part to play in addressing this core issue of humankind's current dilemma. It has a great power to bring down the walls that separate people from themselves, others and the world at large. As separation drops away, the heart opens and is filled with love for everyone and all of life. One heart at a time is the only way the world will transform.
As a Kripalu Yoga teacher, you are the current expression of a living spiritual tradition that has been passed down from teacher to student for thousands of years. Its purpose is nothing less than to bring individuals into direct contact with spirit, awakening them to their inborn divinity and ultimately transforming the world. Although this series on the evolution of Kripalu Yoga has come to an end, you can be sure that Kripalu Yoga will continue to evolve in ways that meet people's changing lifestyles and needs now and in the future. In fact, you are personally familiar with the leading edge of Kripalu Yoga. It is alive in your practice and in your yoga classes. You are Kripalu Yoga, conveying its essence in your unique way. As a fellow teacher, I salute your efforts to practice deeply and share your experience freely with the world.
Shobhan Richard Faulds, M.A., J.D., chairs Kripalu's Board of Trustees and is the author of Kripalu Yoga: A Guide to Practice On and Off the Mat, coming from Bantam in 2004. He will co-direct the 2003 KYTA Conference, Oct. 23 to 26, at Kripalu and also lead the conference workshop How Kripalu Yoga Works. Shobhan and his wife, Danna, live in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, where they host individuals and small groups interested in practicing and passing on the teachings of the Kripalu tradition.