Yoga is a word that describes the "joining" or "uniting" of forces, similar to how several horses or oxen would be "joined" or "united" to bring their combined force to pull a chariot or plow. However, the sanskrit word also describes the kind of "contact" required for work, in the sense of how a rope "contacts" with a pulley, or a tool makes "contact" with the hand holding it, or "contact" with what it is being used to manipulate. Yes, sanskrit is a very complicated language. But so is English: one can string someone along, string things together, be high-strung, roll a ball of string - a safe can be anything from a lockbox to a play in baseball.
However, suffice it to say that Yoga is a tool - one by which contact may be made with what is real and true, what is noble or divine.
One of the ways that sankrit conveys thoughts that is similar to how English does is by metaphorical imagery. Just as the word "safe" could mean (in English) anything from a lockbox to a play in baseball, but both connote the same concept and have the same origin, the image of a rope in sanskrit carries with it the concepts of perception and sensation, the basic instincts (pain/pleasure response, reproductive response, self-preservation response, etc.) which result in aversion, desire, hatred - and ultimately in suffering. These "ropes" or "cords" or "strings" in terms of Yoga conveys the process by which we yoke what is bringing us suffering for work to end our suffering.
The concept of a yoked horse or oxen has been also expounded upon at length because such animals must be tamed if they will bear the yoke. The Buddha Gotama was described as a "tamer" of humans: in the Yogic philosophy, there is very little difference between humans and other animals. So, just like in animals, this process of "taming" is typically undertaken simultaneous to the "training." A horse trainer both tames and trains a wild animal for work - just as a Yogi simultaneously studies and practices Yoga.
Yogic taming occurs in one of three ways, typically: person may naturally, by the haphazard course of their life's events and their experiences become tame enough to practice and train in Yoga. Or, a person may be tamed by a tame person, a Teacher, or a community of tame people, a Sangha. Or, a person may by extraordinary strength of body, mind and heart come to tame themselves.
No matter how they come to be tamed, when a tame person is ready to train in Yoga, they follow eight paths toward the freedom of suffering. To follow these paths, they use a "vehicle" (in a metaphorical sense). It is similar to how a horse may be harnessed to a war chariot, a taxi carriage, or simply ridden as a vehicle - there is a concept that there exist three vehicles by which a person may attain their freedom from suffering. Some vehicles are intended to go back and forth over long distances, others for a one-way trip, while still others are meant to carry a lot of passengers. Hopefully without confusing you, a different example could be made using the ox instead of the horse: an ox might pull a plow through a field or a cart from market or even be put to pasture: there are numerous paths by which the profit of practice can be obtained. It is the job of a Teacher at Loka Hatha Yoga to guide the student along the path which coincides with their goals and abilities, and make sure a student knows better than to hitch their "ox" to a "war chariot."
Succinctly, the training and study we provide is both gradual and progressive, beginning from where you are today, with one concept building upon another. It is difficult, but possible, to become free from suffering - and a thoroughly enjoyable adventure at every stage of the journey.
Just as courage is not fearlessness, just as there is no limit to how strong a person can become or how fast an athlete might run, enlightenment is not an emotionless and cold state, but one of ever-growing, persistent, athletic pursuit of love. Competence in Yoga is only the beginning of the adventure, and freedom from suffering is not the end. For those students who persevere and free themselves from suffering there exists an endless world to explore. What will you find when you venture forth? What would you do if you were truly free? What will you do upon achieving Nirvana? The Dharma we teach prepares you for that very moment.
Is Yoga a form of Religious Worship?
We get asked this question because some religions preclude the worship of different gods. Rest assured, you may practice Yoga without contradiction, as it is non-theistic.
Because of the many benefits of Yoga, even to Atheists not pursuing spiritual development, we offer Yoga to the community: no matter your own personal spiritual practice, or lack thereof, you will likely find that your personal spiritual practice benefits from the athletic development of your body, mind and heart - no matter what those practices are. You will benefit by freeing yourself from suffering.
It can be compared to how some religions have sacred books which can only be read in ancient and or obscure languages like Hebrew, Latin or Arabic; their religious organizations will instruct adherents in these languages so that their spiritual practice may be learned - but in those cases, the study of language is not a spiritual practice. Certainly, Latin is both a language of science and Catholicism, as much as Arabic is a language of mathematics and Islam. Latin was used long before Christ by Romans for very unChristian purposes. Similarly, Yoga is a language too.
Quite simply, "belief" is a word which cannot be easily applied to a practice which moves a person beyond belief:
Ananda said, "We believe that the ignorance of truth creates a desire for belief, and this causes a hatred of what is contrary to that belief. We believe that beliefs cause suffering. But we also believe that beliefs can be let go and uprooted." - Anguttara Nikaya 10.96
Terms like atheism and theism do not apply to Yoga, either. Our practice is non-theistic. Yoga is the means by which body, mind and heart can become strong enough to pursue freedom from suffering. But even the pursuit of suffering is not a religious practice: only once a person is free from suffering, they may more easily pursue their spiritual development. We do teach this spiritual development, but only in our most advanced classes - in those classes, students are required to take vows and their spiritual practice is cultivated upon the skills that they have learned by practicing Yoga.
About our Shrine
The Buddha Gotama said, "if you understood the Dharma as I have, you would truly honor all the innumerable Buddhas."
At our Ashram, you will see many religions represented at our Shrine, and it is easy to mistake that each one is being worshiped. However, we do not discriminate between the icons, gods, and objects of venerated through the diversity of human experience - because it is the act of veneration which we are venerating.
Part of our Yogic training is to pay homage to those who exhibit that pure athleticism of heart we would ourselves obtain by emulating them, and by loving with them, so we may come to love Love better. Hence, we also venerate with holydays those greatest heroes and teachers among our community and world, human and otherwise, who, by athletic achievements of body, mind and heart, have earned our emulation. This is a form of Bhakti Yoga, and just as in the practice of Jnana Yoga a seat is used as a tool for practice, or a mat is used as a tool for the practice of Hatha Yoga, this shrine is a tool for the practice of Bhakti Yoga. Venerating the veneration of these heroes, gods, icons and sacred objects strengthens our hearts and helps us see what is truly worth veneration.
For advanced students of Bhakti Yoga, a part of their training requires that they venerate the various different images at the shrine, but go so far as to join their neighbors of different religious faiths, and in that very different place of worship, to worship alongside their neighbors with a genuine heart. Just as we may strengthen an atrophied limb by bending it in ways we are unaccustomed to, when we, for even a moment, worship in a different way than we are accustomed to, we grow strong enough spiritually to comprehend something simply beyond belief.
About our Teachers
"Don't let anyone know me." - Theragatha 6.10
When humility is one of the goals of training, there is a certain contradiction in promoting individual teachers - especially when it is the entire community of Teachers, Instructors, Apprentices and Students who are working together.
Our Apprentices subscribe to our lower vows while they study and practice Yoga. When they are competent in at least one path of Yoga, they are permitted to become Instructors. Our Instructors take more vows, and continue their studies and practice until they are competent in at least two paths of Yoga so that they may become Masters of Yoga. Our Masters then continue their training and studying until they are competent in three paths of Yoga so that they may become Teachers of Yoga. Our Teachers continue training and studying until they are competent in Yoga.
Like athletes, our teachers know there is always perfecting - not perfected. Like a nature trail, traveling the path over and over again, with new companions and at new seasons, our Teachers always discover something new to see, something new to experience and learn from. Yoga can always be better practiced, wisdom may always be better perfected. Hence, our Teachers, Masters, Instructors, Apprentices and Students all study and learn together collaboratively and cooperatively. And, as a student, you participate in this community of learning.
The Buddha Gotama said to Ananda, even for someone who understands the Dharma, it is not easy to teach the Dharma to others. The Dharma should only be taught when a person is able to. The Teacher must teach with the thought,
I will explain how all effects have causes, and how to observe both effect and cause, for this is essential to understanding the Dharma.
I will explain those causes and effects step by step.
I will teach, motivated by compassion, not by reward.
I will teach without exalting myself, or disparaging others.
- Anguttara Nikaya 5.159