Money can’t buy me self-realization, so why should I pay for yoga?

Baba Hari Dass, master yoga teacher

In our modern, capitalistic society, what we call “yoga” has now become a multimillion dollar industry in which yoga teachers brand themselves, compete with each other and earn money; instead of the real yoga: a sacred, ancient tradition designed to be passed down from a master teacher (guru) to sincere, eager students (disciples) who wish to be self-realized. An authentic wish for self-realization should not be motivated by the desire to earn money, fame or recognition. Yet, we have acquiesced to allow what was once the pure tradition of yoga to be made into something it was never meant to be.

Yoga master Baba Hari Dass during a satsang gathering on Halloween

Yoga was never designed to be made into a brand and offered for sale. The understanding of yoga is meant to be transmitted from teacher to student through a process of surrender and dedicated practice. My yoga guru, Baba Hari Dass, took a lifelong vow of silence and didn’t utter a word for most of his life. Yet, he has trained thousands of students in the ancient tradition of yoga. He is an extraordinary, living example of what yoga is really meant to be: a lifelong practice of requiring sincere focus, fiery dedication and relentless love for self and others.

Today, we see thousands of different brands of yoga invented by modern yoga teachers who have the hubris to think they’re creating something new under the sun. Maybe they are. But that doesn’t make it real yoga. It just makes it yet another product that must be sold and advertised.

This article is not meant to be a criticism of the thousands of yoga teachers who are out there teaching excellent classes and charging money for what they do; actually, the purpose of my writing is to suggest that maybe there might be a different way of learning and teaching yoga — a way that aligns more with the origin of yoga as an ancient tradition.

The modern age of yoga is replete with self-proclaimed experts shamelessly making grandiose marketing claims like “Transform your life!” … I’m not saying there’s no place for marketing. Obviously, there is. For products that need to be sold. I am suggesting that yoga should be taken as a lifestyle and not a product; therefore, it doesn’t need to be sold. Or bought. Yoga is kind of like love: It’s something I practice because I know it improves my qualify of life. It’s not like a pill I can buy over the counter. Yet that’s the way yoga is being treated all over the world today — like a consumable commodity.

If a teacher charges for her yoga class, then it’s probably because the yoga studio owner is charging her for rent. Or, if she’s the yoga studio owner, then she has to pay overhead costs like advertising, employees, insurance, business taxes; not to mention the cost of yoga teacher certification, which can be priced as high as $10,000 in the U.S., depending on the brand of yoga.

One could argue that if you have to pay thousands of dollars to earn a yoga teacher certification (as I once did), then you should be able to charge for your yoga class, especially once you feel confident and can attract a following of students. I think that’s the justification most modern yoga teachers use for why they charge to teach yoga (as I once did): “Hey, I paid for my yoga teacher certification, and I dedicated years of my life to studying yoga…”

Over 15 years ago, I earned my 200-hour yoga teacher certification in the Boston area. I have since taken countless hours of workshops, seminars and classes to hone my craft and learn from many different teachers. In the past, I myself have opened my own yoga studio, charged money for my yoga classes, and Ah, hell, why not? created my own brand of yoga that I call “Parama Yoga Method”. But the truth is, I did not invent anything new that I didn’t learn from my own teachers. Maybe I just changed around some sequences, sketched my own line drawings of some yoga postures and took some nice yoga selfie photos on the beach. Aside from that, I try to keep the ancient yoga tradition alive by doing what my teachers taught me, honoring the sacred lineages, and integrating any of my own realizations into what has always and will always be the one true yoga of self-realization. Only a dedicated practitioner learning from a master teacher can understand this.

Let’s consider for a moment what “yoga” actually means. “Yoga” is the ancient Sanskrit word meaning “union” — union of body, mind and spirit. While I can’t claim to have achieved perfect union of my body, my mind and my spirit, I can say that such a practice is a profoundly spiritual one that has nothing to do with buying and selling. Union of body, mind and spirit probably can’t be bought — or sold, for that matter. Union of body, mind and spirit is probably what the gurus call “self-realization”. Let me reiterate the point I made previously: An authentic wish for self-realization should not be motivated by the need or desire to earn — or spend — money. As one of my teachers once said, “The best things in life are free.”

I would like to see many more free yoga teacher training programs led by master teachers. I would like to see less certification and more authentic practice. I would like to see more eager students sincerely wishing to earn what can only be gained through dedicated practice: self-realization. There’s no price for that. Like the Beatles said, “Money can’t buy me love.”

Come join me for sunrise yoga classes in my riverside bungalow at a charming jungle eco-lodge in southern Belize, where I offer daily classes (for free) in exchange for room and board. Over 5 years ago, I quit my full-time, high-paying job in the U.S. and moved to Central America. I bought an acre of land and built my own off grid homestead. Here, the cost of living is relatively low and I can enjoy a simple lifestyle, albeit without most modern conveniences. Overall, I’ve discovered more resourceful ways to meet my basic needs, thereby giving me more time to practice yoga. I’m not saying this makes me better than anybody else; it just makes me… unique. And different. Unlike most yoga teachers. But who cares?

Click here to buy one of my books on Amazon. It will transform your life! (That was a joke). Buying one of my books will support me as I continue to teach yoga for free. (That wasn’t a joke).

 

 

 

 

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Meditation in Lotus Pose for health and wellness

img_4231I value meditation on a daily basis as a form of contemplative practice to start and end my day. At 4:00 AM I sit in Lotus Pose (Sanskritपद्मासन, or Padmasana) and meditate for at least a half hour, then I fall back asleep until just before sunrise, when I get up to practice a vigorous, dynamic sequence of yoga postures (asanas).

At night, just before falling asleep, I again take Padmasana and meditate until I feel too sleepy to continue, then I lay back and drift off into a typically deep, refreshing sleep for the entire night. For about the past five years, this has been my preferred routine for personal health and wellness.

Padmasana is a cross-legged pose originating in meditative practices of ancient India, in which the feet are placed on the opposing thighs. It is an established asana, commonly used for meditation. The asana is said to resemble a lotus, to encourage breathing proper to associated meditative practice, and to foster physical stability.

img_4064Traditional texts say that Padmasana destroys all disease and awakens kundalini, the vital energy at the base of the spine.

Benefits of Padmasana:

  • Calms the brain
  • Stimulates the pelvis, spine, abdomen, and bladder
  • Stretches the ankles and knees
  • Eases menstrual discomfort and sciatica
  • Consistent practice of this pose throughout pregnancy is said to help ease childbirth

Important note about Padmasana:

Padmasana pose is the ideal sitting asana for meditation, but it’s not for everybody. Experienced students can use it as a seat for their daily pranayama or meditation, but beginners may need to use other suitable positions. In the beginning, only hold the pose for a few seconds and quickly release. Gradually add a few seconds each week to your pose until you can sit comfortably for a minute or so. Ideally you should work with a teacher to monitor your progress.

Parama K. Williams is a published author with a Master of Arts in Education and fifteen years of international experience as a U.S. Licensed, Certified Massage Therapist and Yoga Teacher. Five years ago, she left her career in the U.S. to purchase land in Belize, Central America, where she currently lives in an off grid, thatch roof hut. She offers yoga classes, therapeutic massage and retreats internationally. Check out her latest published books here.

Discovering the fusion of Christianity and Buddhism

mirror braid

This morning in deep meditation, I discovered a bright, clear landscape in which my understanding of Christianity and Buddhism were reconciled in my mind, for the first time in my life.

My liberating mental reconciliation has inspired me to write this blog today: I want to share what I’ve discovered with my friends and family. I want to know if other people have discovered this, too. Or maybe I’m just crazy from eating too much chocolate and doing too much yoga. Or maybe….

Mom and Dad sitting together copy

If I had to label myself as a “follower” of any religious tradition (which I prefer not to do), I would say, “I am a Christian,” because I believe in Jesus Christ as my savior. But this doesn’t mean that I cannot study and practice Buddhism, too. I have always been very open-minded and willing to try new things. My parents taught me to make my own decisions and were careful not to impose their beliefs onto me or expect me to do things their way (thanks, Mom and Dad!). So, over the course of my life as a Christian, I have experimented and delved deeply into eastern religious traditions, especially Buddhism.

I became a certified yoga teacher and massage therapist in my early 20s, because I found the philosophy and practice of yoga to be helpful for deepening my understanding of God and the universe. I found many wonderful teachers in Massachusetts, where I grew up; and for years after I continued to deepen my studies and practice with various teachers in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and California. It has truly been an amazing journey, and I am grateful to many friends who have joined me along the way. (Thanks, everybody!)

Five years ago I moved to Central America, where I was introduced to shamanism by some wonderful teachers and friends in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. I now own an acre of land and a thatch-roof hut in Belize; where I write, travel, and offer ongoing classes and therapeutic massage. Come on a jungle adventure retreat!

Krista and Jill

My sister Jill and I at home in Massachusetts (never forget the Princess Bride! I love you, Jill!)

My spiritual path has been somewhat… labyrinthine. You could say… meandering. But interesting, too. I was raised Catholic – baptized as a baby, received my first communion, and attended catechism. Then, my parents decided we’d convert to Protestantism, so I was re-baptized at the age of 11. Throughout high school, I went to a Protestant church, joined the youth group, and studied the bible (I kept my grandmother’s leather-bound copy by my bedside and read it before bed each night).

My college boyfriend and I on my graduation day

My college boyfriend and I on my graduation day

As a young adult, I struggled with my religious identity. I had been fond of Protestantism, but I also felt a strong kinship with Catholicism: I was called back to it. So, I attended a Catholic college in Massachusetts and took most of my courses with retired priests and nuns. I don’t know; maybe it was seeing bloody Jesus on a cross in all my lecture halls, or perhaps something else that disturbed me, but I quickly developed a distaste for Catholicism during college, so I experimented with being an atheist for several years. Actually, for many years – until I went to graduate school in New Mexico, where I joined a Zen Buddhist community and began attending monthly meditation retreats in the mountains. I continued to study and practice yoga.

Years later, I met a guru from India who “initiated” me into the yogic tradition by gifting me a Sanskrit spiritual name (“Parama”). Soon after that, I discovered a Tibetan Buddhist master whose teachings and lectures answered (finally!) many of the questions I still struggled with about God, the world, and how to be happy. Over the past decade, I have studied yoga, meditation, and Buddhist philosophy with many different teachers.

Recently I was baptized (again!) in the name of Jesus with a Pentecostal minister in a beautiful river in the deep tropical rainforest of southern Belize, where I currently live. (I am just trying to cover all my bases, to make sure I get to Heaven!) My baptism happened at the juncture of many life-changing events and transitions: career, relationships, finances, and spirituality. I feel a renewed connection to my understanding of Jesus as my Lord, my teacher, my guru, and my savior. Emphasis on Jesus as my guru.

full lotus copy 2I have since been inspired to turn my focus back to studying the bible, with the guidance of experienced missionaries – lifelong Christians – who have dedicated their lives to building churches and teaching bible school classes in Belize and Guatemala. I have deepened my respect for the Christian way of life and the dedication required to truly follow the teachings of Jesus in the bible.

As I discover a fusion of Christianity and Buddhism, I still practice yoga and meditation avidly, every day, twice a day. I regularly read the bible as well as other texts from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. I keep a bible by my bedside, as well as every yogini’s bible: a copy of Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga” and Paramahansa Yogananda’s “Autobiography of Yogi”. I find that all of these teachings are not only compatible; they are almost exactly the same, when you strip away language barriers and cultural/historical distinctions. I travel a lot: For the most part, I’ve found that humans are all fundamentally the same on the inside. We all just want to be happy.

IMG_7117 copyMy parents taught me to keep an open mind, to make my own decisions, not to follow somebody else’s rules arbitrarily. I think children understand this: They are not restricted (yet) by rigid thought patterns or strong opinions about how the world should be. Children just want to play together. Similarly, I see no conflict between Christian and Buddhist teachings. I see only beautiful connections. I have had the opportunity to “put it all to the test”: to apply the teachings from both the bible and ancient Buddhist texts into practice in my everyday life. I am convinced that there is no difference between the two traditions.

12072015020 copyA person dedicated to the Buddhist philosophy – a boddhisattva – seeks to perfect herself so that she can help others become enlightened (reach boddhichitta): to see and realize God directly, by having a personal relationship with a living teacher (guru)…. How?… By helping others perfect themselves, by living an ethical life, by deepening one’s meditation, by treating others as oneself, by focusing on helping others…. Sounds familiar, right (you Christians out there)?

Buddhism: a daily, disciplined practice, a way of life

sunrise yoga copyA Christian dedicates herself to evangelism (being a “soulwinner” for Jesus) – helping everybody become one with Christ: to see and realize God directly, by having a personal relationship with Jesus…. How?… By sharing personal testimony, being a living example and inspiration on the spiritual path, by helping others become more “like Christ” by living according to the teachings of Jesus, becoming closer and closer to God, every day. Hmmm…

Christianity: a practical path, a daily discipline, a way of life

Both Christianity and Buddhism are about making a commitment to personal, spiritual growth and helping others do the same by being a living example, an inspiration, a testimony, a guide, and a friend. Like Jesus. Like Buddha.

Thank you to all of my teachers—my friends.

krista photos_0035 copy