ANCIENT INDIAN CUSTOMS
Various traditional practices of Yoga are maintained but most are modified or adapted to suit western culture. However, one should be aware of the Indian customs as they are generally regarded as the basis of Yoga teaching courtesies everywhere.
In India, generally after a period as householder and applying the general health practices and ethical discipline, it is accepted as natural for a mature person who wishes to advance his spiritual life and follow a life of renunciation and philosophic studies, to leave family life and seek a spiritual Guru.
Although many young people are encouraged to take interest in spiritual life, there are few who of their own volition, choose the way of austerity and are willing to renounce all the experiences of material life. However, in India these rare souls are respected and sometimes commence intense meditation and studies as children and grow to tutor others, but these are the exceptional ones.
Centres of general teaching, established for the purpose of spiritual training and meditation, are known as Ashrams. As with the monasteries of the west, part of their function is concerned in healing and they remain open to everyone in need.
As the practices of Yoga, both physical and ethical, are usually integral in the daily life of the householder from childhood, as is the acceptance of reincarnation, the idea of going off to a group gathering ‘to practise Yoga’, as in the west, is a foreign one. There were no formal yoga classes nor was Yoga taught in the schools in India until comparatively recently. The general philosophy was that parents serve as initial guides in ethics and morals as well as the spiritual principles until the child matures to seek his or her ideal personal spiritual Guru. The Gurus were considered supremely wise aesthetics living as recluses and were sustained by tributes and offerings of flowers, fruit and other foods.
A string of beads known as a mala provides a type of rosary used in prayer and mantra and held in the hands for meditation. The Guru magnetizes or impregnates the beads with his influence when initiating the chela, to provide a psychic link, but afterwards, no one but the chela touches it. We respect this observance that applies to any sacred symbol.
WESTERN PRACTICE OF YOGA
Practising Hatha Yoga has few material requirements. Some of the simple traditions are retained in western teaching according to custom when individuals are comfortable when adopting them. However, the basic preparations and guiding rules for the physical health practices are adhered to universally before any Yoga practice and particularly classwork in Hatha Yoga.
Firstly a natural environment is chosen in the fresh air, preferably near water – or in a studio free of air conditioning but where an attractive atmosphere can be created by flowers, incense and natural influences.
Prior attention ensures that bowels, kidneys and stomach are empty
Clothing as light as possible and of natural fibre – avoid synthetics
A personal mat made of natural fibres placed upon the earth or floor establishes hygienic personal area in group work
When entering an ashram or teaching studio – taking off footwear is symbolic of a temporary shedding of the contact with worldly activities. This rule is insisted upon.
A teacher is an Acharya. A spiritual teacher who inspires and is responsible for spiritual guidance of a Chela is known as his or her Guru. Casual western use of the term is therefore offensive to those who understand its significance.
Courteous greeting and acknowledgement of the teacher or Acharya is natural. Generally in Indian society, greetings are not by touch and handshake but by the customary gesture of placing the two palms of the hands in the prayer position and slight bow of the head in sign of mutual respect and acknowledgement of the goodness within the other.
The traditional spiritual Asana of devotion to the Guru is modified when at the conclusion of practice the Yoga Mudra position may be taken as a ‘thank you’ to the teacher or as an impersonal acknowledgement of God and the great Universal Consciousness.
The position facing East or North is chosen for practising meditation.
North/South polarity is used for placement of the body for relaxation.
Best Yoga practice times are recommended as dawn, midday, sunset, midnight or 6am, noon, 6p.m and midnight
Vegetarian diet is obligatory in India and followed by all serious students of Yoga who practise the ethic of non-violence
Fasting at special times for physical purification to cure disease and also it is advised universally prior to spiritual festivals.
If suffering illness, herbs and foods and water are taken as medicines as advised in Ayurvedic system or as now aligned to naturopathic practices.
A serious student seeking spiritual truths is called a Sadhaka and encouraged in study of all wisdom teachings and sacred writings of the world.