I live and teach in a small rural town of about 5,000 people. So of necessity, my classes are very mixed: prior exposure to yoga ranges from zero to people who have pursued it with enthusiasm for many years. Spiritual backgrounds range from none to Christianity to New Age.
While organizing my first class, I pondered a lot about how to include the spiritual and philosophical underpinnings of yoga. I wanted to talk about subtle energies, attitude and use of the mind in ways that would be accessible and nonthreatening, even to the 70- year-old, Roman Catholic, rancher’s wife in the back row. What I came up with was “The Quote of the Week.” Each week I write a quote on a sheet of newsprint and post it on the wall. (You can get an “end roll” from your local newspaper — it’s cheap.) I pull from Eastern and Western sources, poets, philosophers, artists, humorists — and yogis, of course — to illustrate some facet of yoga.
The students love it. Many write down the quote each week, some request copies of all the quotes, and some even stay after class to discuss them. All in all, it adds a lot of life to the class — and gets students thinking about what’s really going on here.
I introduce the quote at the beginning of the class to pull them all into focus, then I expand on it via a short talk (3 – 5 minutes). In addition, I often refer back to the quote during class as appropriate. For example, one quote I’ve used is Patanjali’s second sutra: “Yoga is the neutralization of the vortices of feeling.” I explain who Patanjali was, expound a bit on “vortices” as attachments, judgments, stuck energy, etc., and then begin the asanas. At some point, perhaps on “thread the needle” (supine gluteal stretch), I suggest that they hold the posture for an extra couple of breaths and “breathe into the vortices of feeling that are stuck in your butt.” They all chuckle, and they all “get it.”
Good sources for quotes include all of Paramhansa Yogananda’s and Swami Kriyananda’s books (particularly quotable are The Essence of Self-Realization, Awaken to Superconsciousness, 14 Steps, and all the Secrets of … books), as well as spiritual writers from other traditions. Julia Cameron’s books (The Artist’s Way and others) have lots of quotes. I often glean a good quote from yoga magazines. And now that I’ve established the tradition, my students often bring quotes to me!