During the months of my pregnancy, as my baby grew bigger in size and movements, one of my favourite moments was laying down on my lazy day bed, putting both my palms on my belly to feel his movements and the entire existence inside me. I would whisper to him that “Mommy welcome you and just want you to be happy so that you
Back in 2007, as part of my assignment to complete my yoga teacher training course, I started to approach my first batch of yoga students to teach 3 yoga classes as my pre-graduation training. I could still remember quite clearly that during the interview session, the personnel in charge had specifically requested me to tell the group during their yoga session on “why they need to practice yoga? and where will the practice of yoga lead them?”.
When I was undergoing my yoga teacher training course, while most of the effort is spent on perfecting yoga postures, it never occurred to me that I have to get prepared to teach the spiritual aspect of yoga during my first time teaching experience. I was quick to revert to the origin of Yoga Sutra by Patanjali who taught that “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”.
All these while, I have been equipped with detailed training on how to work with my body but the part on the mind is certainly rather less focused. I’ve seen yogis who are so perfect with their ability to perform complex poses and after some time, I began to wonder “are they really happy with their life?” and “are that (complex postures) what the ultimate aim of yoga is all about”? While many yoga practitioners do have better health and younger complexion in comparison with the non practitioner, but their personal spiritual growth may be what I am more interested in.
How will the modern practice of yoga lead to the attainment of the highest state of Samadhi, the 8th limb in Yoga Sutra which I think is the permanent experience of “Oneness” with the nature? Instead of striving to perform perfect handstand, my dissatisfaction with modern yoga practice lead me to search for something more.
I could recall my experience during an intensive 10 days meditation course I attended before. At some moments, I was experiencing something that I never knew or understood, that’s the beauty and blissfulness of living in the present moment awareness. It doesn’t last very long for me but it was enough for me to have a glance of such beautiful insight.
It was during this retreat that I also had the glimpse of living outside from my own mind and became the witness of my own experience and what I could describe as “just knowing” experience. And because I was so still I could experience a glance of real peace. And I view this should very well be the essence of yoga practice when Patanjali says “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind” in the permanent sense.
For me, practicing yoga should be for the pursue of ultimate state of Oneness i.e. Enlightenment and the next challenge for me is “how?”. Just like any other goal in life, often the strongest obstacle comes from us, our state of mind which doesn’t accept that enlightenment is either possible or desirable. It may sound dramatic and unrealistic even in the yoga community nowadays.
However, given the fact that books such as “Power of Now” and “The New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle are listed most popular on the major bookshop in town and film such as “What the Bleep Do We Know” are so well viewed, why do people still think that enlightenment is impossible? Just like all great spiritual master claimed, enlightenment is accessible to all as it is only a journey towards our true nature. It only requires right method, effort and commitment.
Though there are many useful practices with the aim of familiarization of awareness, to me, I’ve found that the most efficient way is through awareness of body movements. The real spice to the practice of Yoga, for me, is through the moment of just feeling and noticing each and every flowing movement sequences of the body. A simple mode of paying attention to those movements in itself awaken the space of stillness within. Then slowly, as you becoming more familiar resting in awareness during your yoga practice, you are able to extend awareness to every bodily movement during your daily life as you walk and move throughout the days.
The truth is that we are all capable of becoming aware at any moment every time when we remember, as we have in essence the Enlightenment nature in us.
See that in that moment of pure awareness, you are not thinking. Thinking has no part in the mind with the present of awareness and during that unit of time of pure awareness, there is a moment of cessation of the fluctuating mind. Every time when we remember to rest in awareness, we bring ourselves one step closer to experiencing our permanent true nature.
Walking this path doesn’t mean that life has to be tasteless and boring. My daily practice towards cultivating awareness is always without effort and often very enjoyable. Joyful practice always comes with an attitude and behavior of harmlessness towards yourself in that you watch your movement or any other object of awareness with kindness. Making peace, be kind and be gentle in welcoming your every movement as they arise. When you are not forceful and not violent towards your mind, after a while, your mind naturally love to rest in awareness without much effort.
Perhaps you are doubtful, you do not need to believe, just try practicing and starting “here and now”.
If you are a Yoga Teacher, Yoga must have transformed you in one way or another. Yoga must mean “happiness” to you, the practice and the teaching. Yoga is often related to a form of science to the ultimate spiritual transformation and awakening. This is the ultimate goal of Yoga.
However, we see through the practice and teachings of the most devoted Yogis that their primary focus is only the physical practice of Yoga. Essentially, most well-known Yoga Teachers only want a few things, to improve their Yoga Asanas, to get more students, to be reputable, to be appreciated and respected by students and people around them.
But how many Yogis really take the pursuit of “Enlightenment”, “Oneness with Universe”, “Union with God” etc, so many ways to put it, as a serious life mission.
We all know about the most leading Yoga Master in the world today and clearly none of them are enlightened themselves. In fact, they are missing the full potential of the practice and detour completely from the essence of Yoga.
Is your Yoga Master teaching you true Yoga? These are few ways to find out.
1) Is your Teacher self-torturer?
First of all, Patanjali is not a gymnast. Your teacher may be addicted to force their human like body into perfect Trikonasana to resemble perfect “triangle shape”. They have endless sets of alignment rules applicable to all human being. Essentially, they missed the whole Yoga path and mislead others into the wrong path.
Many so-called Yoga master start their teachings with identifying students’ faults and be reminded at all times of the placement of your body part without regard to your personal need and comfort.
When you are reminded continuously of the body, you are most probably uncomfortable and hence, that is not what “posture” is, according to Patanjali. Your master are not able to bring out the most important teachings that the “posture should be steady and comfortable” as stated in Yoga Sutra.
2) Is your master’s only teaching is alignment principles with great details or ambitious to get you into more and more advance postures?
It’s a hard fact, it’s true that your Yoga Teacher, which should be more appropriately termed as “Asana Teacher” are not able to teach you more than posture and more posture.
Many created branded style of Yoga based on their own practice as something universal to be applicable to all. They hold as utmost important how you position your body parts according to their alignment rules establishing no co-relation towards the true path for spiritual growth.
At most, they are only expert in injury prevention and not expert in Yoga.
3) Your master is in the list of “Yogis who do not meditate or meditate in his/her own way”.
It is not difficult to understand why your Yoga Teacher doesn’t have a regular meditation practice. They simply don’t have the time. Either they are busy striving to perfect their alignments or advancing on their superhuman poses, they need time to practice. Average teachers devote 2 hours a day to personal Asana practice and at least another 2 to 4 hours to teaching.
Many Yogis don’t have problem taking efforts to attend endless workshops, teacher training courses on Asanas but are just too busy to invest similar effort in meditation practice for their own spiritual wellness.
Against the common beliefs, Yogis haven’t really learned how to meditate because their own Yoga Teachers simply don’t meditate or do it the wrong way.
Meditation is another profound teaching which need to be guided by a qualified instructor who specializes in meditation. Life is too short to be a master of both. If your master teaches Asanas in great details, chances are, they totally neglect the last 3 limbs of Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, namely, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
And if they could narrate impressive passage from the Yoga Sutra and hardly digested it for wisdom beyond Asanas, it means nothing more than creating only some nice quotes for the students to interpret it for themselves.
Often, students get a wrong impression from their teachers, either expressly or impliedly that if you don’t excel in various postures, you won’t be able to get into a meditative state and therefore won’t achieve enlightenment.
Well, it is always nice to hear when any teacher teaches you that you are in meditation when you are doing your Yoga postures. It’s a common misunderstanding and if both posture and meditation equal to the same thing, then most teachers that can perform advance postures must therefore be enlightened beings. But this is far from the truth and in fact they move further away from it.
4) Your Master is not able to work harmony himself/herself and with others
If your teachers are not in harmony with themselves, practicing under their teachings only means no jokes, no smiles, no funs and no enjoyments because you must be “serious”. Everything else not taught by them (including teachings on meditation) will be rejected as not “yoga”.
Yoga is a science and it is not a religion. For Yoga, no belief is needed, only experience. You can doubt as much as you can, no faith is needed, only courage to experience it. If your Yoga teacher present Yoga in a very cult-like manner and needs you to devote only to his teachings and no one else, then he/she will rob you from direct experiment and realization of Yoga in open-minded manner and in following him/her, you are most likely as lost as your teacher.
5) Your master is a self-proclaimed Enlightened Master and promised you to Nirvana
This is a highest form of self-deception and a form of self-worshiping of the ego to the fullest. If you still believe in the myth of the totally enlightened Yoga guru, and trust that your guru is the one, ask him his enlightenment experiences.
If the experiences presented in the form of flashes of light that occur during concentration meditation practice, which last scarcely longer than a yawn, then it is not total enlightenment. If he has the capacity to induce ordinary clairvoyance, it is not real liberation in Yoga sense. It means nothing besides making students confused that they should be attaining similar experiences.
If your teacher could perceive God’s existence and have some form of direct connections with Lord Patanjali, your teacher is drown in the deepest level of self-illusion and perhaps is under serious neurotic hallucination most of the time. As such medical help may be needed.
Yoga promises full-blown enlightenment, the kind that Buddha supposedly achieved. On the path, we will understand that all experience is empty and unreal and that contemplation in that can accomplish the release wherein there is no longer ego-clinging. Here, the cause of suffering is eliminated at its very root and nature of mind and emptiness is fully realized.
To clear all doubt about the purpose of asanas practice. All the Yoga postures are not really concerned only with the body placement, they are concerned with the capacity to be in the presence. Only when you accumulate certain level of strength and flexibility through Asanas practice, you can start to move within yourself and enter the reality in meditation practice. What you want is only the body’s ability to remain in one posture for meditation practice without any pain or discomfort in the body. To achieve that, truly, you need not spend so much effort perfecting your Yoga Asanas.
It is the “blind leading the blind” Yoga industry today. Ultimately, the “whole world will be blind”.
All these while, if you have been equipped with detailed training on how to work with the body and after some time, you began to wonder “am I really happy with my life?” and “are the complex postures the ultimate aim of yoga is all about”?, “am I wasting time in Yoga?”, then you know you owe to yourselves and your students a moral obligation not only a feel good one hour class but something more meaningful which affect the way they walk and leave the Earth.
Then, you are not a crowd practicing the same thing but are wise to invest time and effort to become a “free” individual in your spiritual growth.
“Tuck your tailbone”, “Pull your belly in”, “Lift your chest”, “Pull your shoulders back”. All Sound familiar?
For as long as I am in Yoga practice, I understood the above to be the alignment principles that are commonly heard in every Yoga classes. Such instructions immediately put people in harden and tensed up body condition. I hold such “tuck and pull” principles to be the “must be right” alignment pri‧nciple before I came upon a body education and movement technique developed by Gert Van Leeuwen, called Critical Alignment Therapy (CAT) and Critical Alignment Yoga (CAY).
The main emphasis of CAT/CAY is on relearning how to align our bones and activate our deepest core of support. When I first met Gert, I was a Yoga teacher with a regular practice and I will look for the feel good feeling each time I practice. In spite of the fact that for a number of years I had taught students how to relax in yoga postures, I held on to certain amount of tension in my body myself. I was generally unaware at the fact that my practice does accumulate muscles tension and cause strain to my body yet changes nothing in term of my skeleton structure. I started with a little hunch back habit and I was still seen as a hunch-back person after years of practice. To be practical, it’s a wasting time activity, not only mine but my students’ too.
I also did not realise that I was addicted to the feel good feeling out of the stretching and working out in a full blown yoga Asana practice. After all, what is wrong with doing what other people is doing, practicing Asanas to stay fit. Stretching and sweating body tension away makes me and my students feels so good and energized that it keeps me happy when students were addicted to such a tension relief routine that they kept coming to my class for more of that stretching and sweating affairs on daily basis in order to keep the feel good feeling.
Today, a increasingly growing numbers of yoga teachers are teaching Yoga to enhance that “feel good” feeling that I was talking about and what Gert refers to as “Yoga practice based on your body preference and it changes nothing, even you practice for years”. Meaning, like me, I carried my rounded back position to my headstand or I am likely to hide it or compensate it by raising my ribs up in backbends, thus creating tension by compressing my lower back. And when I look in the yoga instruction books which are popular all over the world I see the same. It made me realize that modern yoga doesn’t originate from a “true” tradition but is developed through the opinon of a few people in the past century. They had their preferences and we are all copying them.
Gert’s technique is a rare field of study or a body of research that has grown out of the principle of the body original natural alignment. We have probably forgotten how to live our bodies in a natural aligned way, the way children are. Children are naturally able to teach themselves how to turn over, push the head up, sit up, crawl, stand and walk by applying the most basic principle of body’s instinctive engineering. While maintaining balance, children never hold muscular tension in their bodies because their spine is in balance.
Although first inspired by the teaching of B.K.S Iyengar with whom he discovered the basic category of Yoga Asanas, the techniques of alignment in CAY are aiming at totally different purpose. Gert’s techniques provide a real valuable insight into how our natural body is designed to stay aligned for comfort and for ease of movement in our daily activities and not to perform superhuman Yoga postures even though that is also possible after the body structures are originally aligned.
CAT and CAY, different from all other Yoga techniques that I know, solidly based on the natural human alignments whereas all over the world as far as I know the actual emphasis on how to align our skeleton is overlooked and misunderstood and that is why for many people practicing Yoga can lead to pain and injury. This is almost always the case when people are having misaligned bones when doing postures that are based on techniques attaching rather more importance in achieving the end pose.
Some years ago, I had a conversation with a senior yoga teacher who decided to go for Atlas Profilax treatment, a treatment that involve a doctor using a thrusting instrument on the upper neck area in an attempt to move a person’s atlas into its original anatomical position. The treatment often guarantees that atlas will stay in its correct position for as long as the person’s life. So, it’s a short cut solution to pain free living.
He had suffered from years of tremendous pain in the shoulders and he reluctantly revealed that it was undoubtedly due to “overstretched during Yoga practice”. He has been looking for a solution to his injury for a long time but could not find a healing tool in Yoga practice. Yoga, to him Yoga Asana is not meant to cure, it can only harm.
His true story is just one of the many cases of injury occurred out of the practice of yoga Asana which supposedly seems to portray an image of health and not harm. He is not the only one who has lost faith in Yoga as a means to heal.
Yoga has become tremendously popular in the recent years due to large publicity and trend because of the benefits that many yoga teachers claim to offer. Many have created schools of thought in the name of yoga but the ground of which the styles of such Yoga are created have actually got nothing to do with Yoga as a way of health. The state of Yoga industry today is in full blown crisis because many people practice Yoga with “disconnected” bodies, aiming to achieve advance superhuman end positions. Therefore, I often hear people said, “Whoever can do handstand and perform beautiful Asana is the king and queen of Yoga” and in most cases they too become the “king and queen of yoga injury”.
The good news now is that there is a perfect way to practice Yoga in a way that conforms to the most natural human skeleton design. By unlearning the body preferences and relearning new habits that allow flexibility and strength to manifest itself by creating condition that encourage relaxation. To quote Gert’s words “Do not create strength, based on willpower. You receive strength through the release and transformation of the preferences of your spine, especially the upper back, which can be called the source of all our tensions. Only when the shape of the spine is structurally changed, relaxation exists and strength comes in a natural effortless way”. This can occur when underlying structural support is in order place and Asanas practice can start from there. From this, a more authentic and lasting strength and flexibility result from such a practice. It becomes effortless and feels absolutely natural.
And from there, people experience a more efficient moving pattern and reinforce it in the body when performing daily activities such as standing, walking, sitting etc. This is totally different from practicing with the body’s current habitual preferences which only temporarily provide ease through repetitive stretching at the surface over and over again.
CAT/CAY aimed at achieving natural strength and flexibility and is enhanced with a strong internal core that stabilises an elongated spine. Gert once joked “I am a spine man”. He indeed is because CAT/CAY is about your spine. Remarkably, there is no research or study that I am aware of in the field of yoga Asanas practice examining aspect of Yoga that is based on such specific detailed, thorough and profound of natural skeleton alignment of the spine. This shows a serious oversight in the world’s most leading schools of thought on Yoga today and unavoidably causing the whole list of issues of pain and injury among many yoga practitioners.
Nobody understands that most common cause of tension that leads to pain in the body is a practice based on postural misalignment. It turns out that our widely accepted beliefs about what constitutes a good yoga practice is based on wrong information that lead to many of the pain yoga practitioners experienced today. So, it is not surprising that my course mates from Japan said that “CAT is a Yoga revolution”.
In short, our belief about good Yoga practice is being able to travel from point B to C.
B : Where we are now, with our current tensed preferences
C : the end posture, headstand, handstand etc
No one is at the fault for this. This mistaken view is so widespread in our yoga society and our belief is so thoroughly entrenched in our bodies that it pervades almost every leading school of Yoga practice nowadays. Such is the way of Yoga culture. That is why Yoga excludes many people who are not interested to travel the journey from B to C especially when the relationship between C and health have only little or no correlation at all. Not everyone is interested in performing final yoga postures. Many just want to practice for health purposes but most Yoga schools are not trained that way.
May be people would come to Yoga with a promise to have “a body you have always wanted” but soon found out that through building muscular strength and the six pack abs, coming along is another set of pain and injury.
CAT /CAY recognised that for practical people, Yoga is practiced for health. CAT/CAY is about the journey to A.
A : Original Human Structure
B :Where we are now, with our current habitual preferences
C : normal yoga end postures
Gert said, “my theory is a practice of health” and what postures you do is not important. It makes perfect sense that alignment for the whole spine and a solid deep core are necessary ingredients for being truly healthy. That’s really “True Fitness” for everyone.
To journey from B to A, Gert has so intelligently designed what he called “exercises” or “connections” (he did not mention “Yoga”) by using specific props designed for that purpose. Having completed training with Gert, I had been privileged to work with a few people who have really chronic pains who have tried a long list of other solutions in the world before (some has even travelled to China, US…). Then by using specific CAT skills and techniques and the required props many of them experience recovery from long standing problems.
In Gert’s word, “teaching people to do a pose is easy but teaching them to break their habits while doing the postures is the most difficult part”. That’s what CAY aims to achieve in Yoga practice. That is the journey from A to C. It learns you, on an anatomical level, how to reconnect your body which is pulled apart by strain. It also learns you to reconnect yourself to your emotional self which is pulled apart by the demands of the societies we life in. Universal feelings which need a free body structure to experience them from inside. Feelings like rest, relief, lightness and ease which are the opposite of willpower and ambition. Words which can only be used to direct your movement once the body is free of its tensed preferences. Like Gert said “true meditation for me must be related to body activity, otherwise – when our preferences keep dominating our actions – it is not possible to integrate the experience in our daily life activities.
People are living in different cultures, areas, religions but not physical. People speak different languages and have different traditions. We eat different food and have different religious beliefs and practices but in body, we are designed the same way, we have the same spine, same bones regardless of where we are, we inherently meant to sit, walk, stand, bend and move in a way that match the human design.
Critical Alignment is about unlearning what make us lost and relearning how to be a natural human for as long as we live and then truly feel connected as a whole human.