There are many ancient traditions, many of which are retained in the classical teachings even today. However, in western application most are modified and adapted to suit the current lifestyle but the principles are adhered to nevertheless.
In India it is seen as natural to seek a spiritual Guru at some stage following maturity, usually after a period as a householder and adherence to the general cultural practices and values required for daily living. It is not a foreign concept for the spiritual aspirant to look forward to commencement of a new stage of life as a renunciate or to devote time to philosophic studies and cultural refinement. In the classical eras the spiritual stage of life was perceived as a fine reward after practical effort.
It is common for Indian parents to encourage a child’s early memories of previous incarnations. This is in stark contrast with western parents who will often chastise any child who speaks of ‘imaginary’ or ‘make-believe’ events unrelated to the present.
Occasionally an exceptional soul instinctively attracted to the spiritual life will initiate a spontaneously programme of intense meditation as a child. Such an inspired child requires exceptional care and tutoring.
In conjunction with spiritual care and teaching in the home, centres of spiritual teaching called Ashrams were established for the purpose of spiritual training and meditation and this continues. As with the monasteries of the west, part of their function was concerned in healing through herbs, food as well as and yogic health practices. No doubt much of the classical training is incorporated into the national health education system today.
Until comparatively recently there were no formal yoga classes nor was Yoga taught in the schools in India. Parents are seen serve as the initial spiritual guides for children in a training that begins with learning ethical and moral principles.
Practising the physical disciples of Hatha Yoga has certain formal simple preparations and traditions including the following ….
Prior preparation includes attention to hygiene that bowels, kidneys and stomach are empty. Clothing must be as light as possible. Barefoot when entering the ashram or place of practice is symbolic of shedding contact with worldly activities.
Firstly a natural environment in the fresh air if possible with Incense, flowers, natural water, lakes, gardens etc all assists.
A personal mat made of natural fibres placed directly upon the earth or floor serves as a personal space.
North/South polarity is used for Relaxation in prone position.
East or North facing positing is used for practising meditation.
Mala – A string of beads or mala is usually encouraged as a personal sacred rosary for prayer and mantra – this held in the hands for meditation. The Guru will usually magnetize or impregnate the beads with his influence to assist the chelae, but after this, only the chela touches the mala.
Yoga Practice is recommended at dawn, midday, sunset, midnight or 6, noon, 6, midnight
Vegetarian diet is obligatory in India and with all serious students of Yoga.
Fasting at special times and prior to spiritual festivals is universal.
If suffering illness – herbs and foods and water are taken as medicines.
Reading and studying the wisdom teachings and sacred writings is imperative for personal understanding and in the classical tradition the beautiful Upanishads are used as a focus for the mind.
Included here is a beautiful quotation for contemplation upon life and the values we place upon our own experiences of the soul through its many successive incarnations
And thus shall ye think of all this fleeting world
A star at night, a bubble in a stream
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud
A flickering lamp, a phantom – and a dream. Katha Upanishad
In a relationship as a chela or student of a Guru, the aspirant is expected to demonstrate to his teacher and mentor, loyalty and devotion. In turn the chela is to dedicate his talents to helping serve mankind. In the system there are many other strong traditions and customs that still prevail but are unfamiliar to those outside.
Generally in society, as when greeting the Guru or Acharya, greetings in India are not by touch, 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 respect for the god or higher self within the other person. This gesture is usually assumed to indicate appreciation at the conclusion of teaching or in private practice as a sign of devotion to one’s higher self, one’s teacher, to Nature itself or to God.
Understanding some of the customs allows respect for the age old traditions that have reason and design. Westerners should ensure that they comprehend the purpose before adopting any custom that is not in tune with their personal inclination or their own birth culture.