ISKCON yoga teachers will gather at the Simhachalam farm in Germany’s Bavarian Forest from August 13th to 17th to develop an ISKCON-wide system for presenting Mantra Yoga through their professional yoga studios.
Fifteen teachers will attend the “Strategic Planning Meeting,” including Jiva-Maya Dasi and Ranga Devi from the UK; Matsya Avatar Das of Centro Studi Bhaktivedanta in Italy; and Krishna Kripa Das, who teaches yoga and meditation to prison inmates in Spain.
The event will be hosted by German devotee Dhira Nitai Das, who offers regular yoga retreats at Simhachalam, and will be held under the guidance of Yadunandana Swami, former principal of Belgium’s Bhaktivedanta College.
“Last year Yadunandana Swami gave a well-received seminar on yoga in the Bhagavata school at the first European Yoga Congress in Germany,” says Dhira Nitai. “He invited a few ISKCON yoga teachers to participate, and we were discussing amongst ourselves, ‘Why do we have to teach Sivananda yoga? Why don’t we have our own yoga system?”
Yadunandana Swami speaks at the first European Yoga Congress
This year’s Strategic Planning Meeting was organized to further that discussion and to establish a network of ISKCON devotee yoga teachers around the world.
Participants will begin by discussing the development of the modern yoga scene and ISKCON’s participation in events such as International Yoga Day.
They’ll also discuss how ISKCON can best host the second European Yoga Congress, a meeting of representatives from the biggest yoga schools in Europe which will be held at Bhaktivedanta College next May – an exciting and historic development according to Dhira Nitai.
Devotees will then talk about what traditions today’s Hatha-yoga schools come from, how ISKCON is seen by other yoga schools, and what ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada said about using Hatha-yoga in ISKCON.
“We’ll also discuss ‘ISKCON Mantra Yoga’ and ask ‘Is there a need for it? And if so, what would it look like?’” says Dhira Nitai. “Other yoga schools are recognized for their particular yoga systems, such as TM, Sudarshan Kriya, and Atma Kriya. So would we like to be recognized for a particular yoga system too, like Mantra Yoga?”
Dhira Nitai Das teaches an Atma Yoga Class
If so, plans would be put into place to offer yoga teacher training and certification for an ISKCON Mantra Yoga system for not only ISKCON devotees but any yoga teachers interested in the field.
The system would teach yogic asanas but incorporate different Bhakti elements, further building on atma-yoga, a system already developed by Bhakti Tirtha Swami disciple Atmananda Das and taught by Dhira Nitai.
“In atma-yoga, for example, we start the class by chanting ‘om namo bhagavate vasudevaya,’” says Dhira Nitai. “We then give a small introduction on the basics of bhakti philosophy, how we are not the body but the soul; and how we can connect to the body through asanas, to the mind through pranayamas, but only through mantra can we connect to the soul. Then we teach some asanas. And then as people are relaxing in yoga nidra afterwards, we tell some stories from the Srimad-Bhagavatam, chant the Prema Dvani prayers, which we call ‘Calls of Love” and then feed them prasadam.”
At the Strategic Planning Meeting, devotees will also talk about copyrighting terms such as Bhakti-yoga, mantra-yoga, and kirtan-yoga.
Meanwhile the different yoga teachers attending will make presentations about their various projects.
Finally dates will be set for follow-up ISKCON Yoga teacher conferences in Italy and Spain to build on the ideas discussed.
“This is important because yoga practioners like our kirtans and prasadam, but they don’t really see us as yogis with an established school,” Dhira Nitai says. “Yet I think that we can offer something which could be interesting for them, especially in the field of Mantra yoga.”
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