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Teacher of October 2006 ─ Russ Case

Why do I teach? What is it about teaching? It's an interesting question with many threads to follow. If I could just say first, how humbling it was for me to be given a blessing to teach. My teacher Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois and his grandson Sharath allowed me to teach their method earlier this year. I was sitting in the back office at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute with Sharath and I looked down at this piece of paper and was very moved , really. To look up at Sharath and see a protegee of this method, a Brahmin who has inherited 6 , 000 years of Vedic thought and philosophy is quite intimidating. And then, to see him look across the table at me and suggest I go teach my people this yoga is quite astounding. I mean I'm just this schmuck from a farm town in Illinois. I've inherited a Greco- R oman philosophical tradition , sure, but this Aryan system is incredibly esoteric and extreme in its world view. We have a philosophical tradition that begs us to search for truth or at best a better definition of truth. For the Vedic s cholars and the Samkya school of thought , even knowledge is suffering and a block between you and liberation.

This is a basic tenet in yoga that asana is a path towards liberation, but ultimately a block as well—or a distraction. So why teach? Why should I wake up at 3:30 am every day and start a practice that ends at 7:00 , immediately stand up (which is difficult) , and spend the next two hours hungry and pulling my back out so others can get their legs behind their head , i.e. suffer ? It sounds like a Mahayana practice , doesn't it? Just when you are nearing the point of liberation , you turn around ignoring your own safety and help others along the path with complete mindfulness towards compassion.

This is entirely altruistic. I'm not sure I'm there yet. Teaching gets me out of bed. If I have to get up and practice , I will. If not , I'll sleep in until it is too late and too hungry to move the body.

And why not practice later? Why complain when I have all afternoon. But, I'm too tired after teaching (and too hungry). Is it for entirely selfish reasons then that I teach? Perhaps. What I like about Ashtanga yoga is that it very neatly combines all of the practices that I personally enjoy. It is an opportunity for Bhakti to my teacher, Kriya for my body , and a distraction for my mind. There is so much to pay attention to. There is the consistency of the ujjayi breath. It regulates the mind. And it gives it a soothing, rhythm to listen to.

There is the constant seat of MulaBanda, which takes all concentration and buries it in our lotus seat. So like a Brachiosaur , we have two brains and when we rest in our bottom we use a different kind of intelligence. Like a snake brain. (This is actually our medulla and controls our physical actions and nervous system. It does actually sit in the base of our brain, but I prefer to think of it as seated at the base of the spine.)

Then of course asana is a very surprising position to find yourself in. Postures counterposing themselves as they dynamically rewire our nervous system. So much suffering is there and so many emotional blocks to unwire and rewrite. That in itself, is a lot to listen to. Not to mention because we all have individual bodies we must teach ourselves every new position. Literally reinvent the wheel. And, most importantly there is the dristi, or the gaze that directs all of our attention on an object like a thumb or a nose. And then there is the opportunity to immerse ourselves in that object. So all limbs of Patantjali's classical A shtanga yoga are present in this A shtanga vinyasa system. Especially if you are practicing non-violence on your body !

When teaching , it's a bit like being Ginger Rogers to Fred Astaire. You are doing all the postures backwards in time. Running a Mysore room is an opportunity for all parts of the brain and consciousness and body to be completely absorbed by prakriti-or matter or the universe. So the Purusha or self watches its own absorbtion. When I walk around the room I am doing maths. When does this student need this posture? Does she need it now, or tomorrow , or next month? I am thinking in a multitude of different time zones at once for a dozen different students. And also thinking in spatial time as well. Am I about to be kicked in the face? Is this student falling over? Can I feel their Bandha or notice their commitment? So there is an emotional awareness as well. I notice the rage, lust, and fear that are all present in the students , and I notice the restraint of these Gunas or tendencies. This is love. So emotionally, physically, intellectually, psychologically, I am completely engaged in the activity of the room. And that becomes its own opportunity for yoga to happen. The Purusha becomes absorbed by the tantric cosmic dance of Prakriti.

It ' s great fun. I feel for my students. They are very earnest and very much want to change their essential condition (suffering) by doing yoga (more suffering). I do as well, but I have already endured what they are struggling with and so I feel compassion for them. I want to help them through this time.

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