Finally, after many years of going back and forth, I decided to offer a Teacher’s Training Course (TTC) in the BARPS Method of asana practice that I devised a few years ago. You may ask two questions, a) what took me so long and b) why BARPS?
The time when I was a student of yoga with TKV Desikachar, or “Sir” as we called him, at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM) in Madras, in the early 80’s, there used to be no teacher training programs. We kept learning, studying and practicing and somewhere along the way we became teachers. In fact, Sir used to say that one should start to teach as soon as one has something to share; that way the learning begins to come from the teaching because as a teacher you are compelled to breakdown the practice in order to transmit it effectively. But things have changed quite dramatically over the last three decades, yoga has emerged from the margins to become a lucrative billion-dollar industry thereby making it a career option.
I opened Studio Abhyas in 2000, I think it was one of the first yoga studios to open in the capital, but I could not bring myself to offering a TTC till 2022. For one, I am still of the opinion that we don’t need TTCs because becoming a yoga teacher is an after-thought, one first becomes a yoga practitioner by learning through guided training, study and mostly osmosis, and then inadvertently grows into becoming a teacher quite often by trial-and-error. One becomes a “teacher” quite unselfconsciously, almost oblivious of the aspiration to become a teacher which only emerges in time as the love of the practice grows.
The BARPS Method
BARPS involves the practice of asana but with a revised approach to prompt the body to move from the inside. An insideness which I strongly feel gets illegitimated due to moralist, idealist and perfectionist ideas that have come to overpower the body and its related practices. And it does so by privileging text, “tradition” and idea over the body. Resulting in the idea of “correctness” gaining paramount importance rendering the practitioner unsure, even anxious of “wrong-doing”. In effect, it necessarily becomes a conformist practice that disempowers the practitioner by outsourcing the body’s legitimacy to an external source. The BARPS Method is designed to reinvest legitimacy into the body by allowing it the space and permission to hone its innate appetites, intelligence and sensitivity. And it most particularly aims to steer the focus of yoga practice from “doing” to “seeing”. Yoga to me is not a practice of producing, performing or mastering asana, rather, it is an opportunity for seeing and following the involuntary sensory prompts, shifts and murmurings of the body as it readies and subsequently eases into realizing the asana for the inside, fulsomely embodying it! and such a realizing of asana is a matter of permission. A permission that a pedagogy might choose to grant or withhold. Most modernist pedagogies are deeply moralist and are loath to grant permission. In my experience, the promise of ownership lies in permission, and it is a permission that may be subconsciously granted on day-one of the learning. Teaching yoga most necessarily requires the generosity and trust to grant this permission; which in turn emerges as a result of gaining confidence in one’s own innateness. An asana that is not resting in the ease of its own innateness is no asana at all, no matter how picture-perfect it might be. And BARPS aims to generate such a permission-granting confidence from the insideness of one’s own practice.
BARPS is basically an acronym for five progressive stages leading to an embodied asana, these being: bracing, alignment, rotation, poise and stretch. However, the five words have now generated into many more sub-words, each integral to the practice. The year-long TTC is divided into two twenty-week modules and the practice of each week is respectively inspired by one of these key-words. Each word offers a different perspective or lens to suggestively see, calibrate and tune the body both intuitively and autonomously. The sequence of key-words to be followed during the first module are as follows: breath, bracing, balance, buoyancy; alignment, availability, appetite, agency; rotation, reciprocity, rigor; preparation, pause, poise; suggestion, stretching, sound, sukha and space.
The Method thus, aims to variously and repeatedly reorienting the body from the inside, thereby breaking the fixity of one-style-fits-all as well as the rigidity of correctness, offering it a variety of vantage points to view and “re-become” the body, a sensory body, that is, alive, alert, pleasured, and reposeful. A methodical practice where body and prompt (be it word or imagery) begin to work reciprocatively to arrive at a middle-ground of absorption.
What took me so long to offer this TTC?
“Calling” plays a very important role when it comes to the creative arts; you get “called” to become a poet, a dancer, a musician or an artist. Similarly, yoga too is a creative practice. Like one cannot plan to be a poet, yoga too is something that you grow into; i.e. it cannot be a planned career option. You may start off casually but for some the engagement becomes deeper in time as the body begins to yield in mysterious ways that exceed expectations. However, the body does not open up to all, in fact, there are many who are totally closed to the body and its autonomy. And “planners” may often fall into that category, as the calling of the body is perhaps mutually exclusive with the pragmatism of planned career-making. Similarly, the body might also seem closed to votaries of correctness, which is an external value. So, one of the reasons that kept deterring me from offering a TTC was my deep discomfort in offering a certified course that might cater to such “wannabe” yoga teachers. A TTC in yoga makes sense if it is viewed and accepted as an advanced study to deepen and refine engagement. And it took me this long to devise a method that would focus on complexing engagement with the body and making practice an inner-exploration and an absorptive affair. Furthermore, a slow, detailed and a subtle practice for which there might not be too many quick-takers.
My yoga teacher, TKV Desikachar, was a self-admitted non-believer; and that gave me a lot of freedom to choose my position anywhere between no-God to a God-of-my-choice. But yoga over the last century has been progressively becoming more and more religious and Hindu; and in fact, is being moored to a religious orthodoxy that is primarily dismissive and disdainful of the body. Therefore, I was also keen to re-position yoga in the materialist philosophy of its origin, namely Samkhya. The Yoga Sutras are completely founded in this philosophy; in fact, the Yoga of Patanjali has historically been termed as Samkhya Yoga. Interestingly, Samkhya is a dualist philosophy, that remains silent on the question of God and fully relies upon the innateness of matter, its intelligence, sensitivity, appetites and proclivities. In short, it does not entertain the idea of any superior, external factor; lies on the laws of causation that are inherent in matter; and moreover consider both body and mind as matter.
The TTC has close to thirty students, many practitioners from various disciplines inducing a fair number of scholars engaged in philosophy, aesthetics, psychology and the arts. We meet three times a week for one lecture (Samkhya during the first five-month module, and Yoga Sutras along with History of Modern Yoga in the second module); one workshop and then one practice session inspired by the respective keyword of the week. In addition, our calendar consists of weekend workshops covering topics such as purpose-of-pranayama, asana-adaptation, visualization, anatomy and the like; including two five-day retreats at the end of each module. All classes are so far being taught online and their recordings are made available to participants to practice on their own over the week.