Yoga sutras of Patanjali: application to theory of teaching subjects

In the Yoga sutras Patanjali details both what he knows about the process of human development and learning and explains the practices involved in coming to this understanding. Practice based knowledge has certainty and accuracy. Patanjali’s work is therefore not a set of theories, as theories relate to ideas or conceptions that have not been confirmed. Patanjali is sharing his knowledge from experience and explaining his practices so that others can also undertake them and find out the truth of what he is saying. In this sense, the sutras contain details, proven by practice, about the way people learn and evolve.

We teach Patanjali’s Yoga Practices, and in this process of teaching we rely on the accuracy of his findings – knowledge he has accumulated about human evolution. From this we mould our methods and approaches to teaching. For example, we know that people have different inclinations – either more devotional or intellectual; that people are more or less intense in their commitment to conscious living; that people are either held in desire of external outcomes from their practice or committed to spiritual evolution; and that people are blind to themselves and deluded about their capacity to be clear of mind and present in the moment. It is because of this knowledge that methods such as technique, timings, sequence and repetition are developed and used in our teaching. We aim to apply and evaluate our methods of teaching so we can more effectively teach the Yoga Practices and the disciplines as detailed by Patanjali.

In summary, Patanjali in the Yoga sutras outlines the pains and obstacles that arise in our lives and how these pains and obstacles are created and maintained. He describes how people are inclined to follow certain paths in life and that some people approach life with intensity, others earnestly and others with a mild degree of interest. He explains human evolution so that fundamental characteristics seen in our behaviours and thoughts can be understood and changed. The Yoga Practices are given so that we can address obstacles and pains in our life, and recognise our tendencies and the way they influence our choices and behaviours. The Yoga Practices are categorised and advice is given as to the Yoga Practices that will be most effective for different types of people. Details are given about the types of disciplines that must be applied within the Yoga Practices and the impact of the disciplines and the Yoga Practices upon human development. Patanjali shares his understanding of the way people learn and evolve and provides guidance on how to live peaceful and contented lives.

Through the theory-teaching subjects we learn to read ourselves and how we align with what Patanjali discovered and also how to work with the different presentations we see in student groups. For example, in T-T06 when we consider the great paths, we can consider how a teacher who themselves is inclined towards a karma marga – a path of action – will teach and respond to a student who perhaps is more inclined towards a jnana marga – a path of knowledge. And in T-T04, where correcting and adjusting of asana is studied and we refer to Patanjali’s understanding about stages of human evolution, we can consider what a strong physical adjustment means for a student of medium intensity who is learning to link the physical sheath to the physiological sheath.

In calling our subject category theory-teaching, a distinction is made between theory and practice. What we have are ideas (developing theories) about how to teach. Patanjali tells us that the Yoga Practices are assured, they are proven. However, how to teach the Yoga Practices is what comes into question. The Yoga Practices, in effect, are the teachers – but how effectively are we teaching the Yoga Practices?

It is interesting to consider that Sri Krishnamacharya, who is BKS Iyengar’s guru, also trained TKV Desikachar and Pattabhi Jois and that each of these great teachers has applied themselves to the Yoga Practices as detailed by Patanjali. Whilst each had the same teacher, each evolved their own way of teaching the Yoga Practices: Desikachar, the Viniyoga method; Pattabhi Jois, the Ashtanga Vinyasa method; and BKS Iyengar, the Iyengar Yoga method.

BKS Iyengar himself has never presented his teaching as other than traditional Yoga and has fully aligned his work with Patanjali’s sutras. How he has chosen to teach the Yoga Practices has over years been described and explained. In the article “Exploring Iyengar Yoga through technique, timings, sequence and repetition”, I have attempted to define more clearly the approach that BKS has taken to teaching Yoga. Specifically, I have identified technique, timings, sequence and repetition as methods of teaching Yoga as applied by Iyengar teachers.

As teachers of Iyengar Yoga we apply these methods in teaching such that our students become competent in the Yoga Practices and in doing so can begin the study of Yoga.