Everyone’s heard of ‘yoga’ these days -there are classes popping up in gyms, schools and recreation centres all over the Western world. Programs have been designed for beginners, fitness fanatics, expectant mothers, babies, stand-up paddle boarders and even dogs!
You can buy trendy yoga pants for $150, wear t-shirts emblazoned with quasi-spiritual quotes and try to obtain the elusive “yoga bottom” made fashionable some years ago by celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston.
You can “get your sweat on” in hot yoga, and try to master difficult poses so you can look cool on Instagram.
Urrrrgh… all the things I can’t stand about the modern, Western yoga scene.
Ultimately, this deep, spiritual philosophy that is yoga, has been usurped in such a classically Western way – it has become a commodity; not something spiritual, but something very physical and yet another goal to strive for, another way to try to be the best, to get results, to get somewhere.
If you thought yoga was a just a bendy form of exercise you could be forgiven, as most classes focus the majority of their time on doing bendy exercises.
But did you know that the physical poses of yoga (asana) were originally designed to help the practitioner sit more comfortably in meditation for extended periods – and that there were only a few simple poses to begin with?
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Yoga, while not a religion, has been called by Paramahansa Yogananda as the ‘science of religion’, as it is actually a practical path for spiritual liberation. Sound deep? It is!
So just what is this liberation all about? The essence of the word yoga means to “yoke” or to bring together, and essentially yoga is about finding real and lasting happiness by bringing our everyday, thinking mind (the ego) into harmony with a deeper, more expansive state of awareness within us (known as the atman in Sanskrit).
You see, one of the fundamental philosophies of yoga is a concept called non-dualism. This is the notion that although our mind perceives ourselves as disconnected individuals living in a disconnected, material world, in fact everything is connected. Everything is made of the same stuff, the same energy…it is all one.
Yoga is a system of practices that helps us to transcend this limited worldview and see life as it really is. And in this expanded view we find a deep peace that is not dependent on any outer circumstances in our life. Essentially at our core, we are peace – it is our true nature.
To give you an idea about just how much more there is to yoga than poses, let’s take a look at Patanjali’s 8 limb path, which is one of the most well known classical systems of yoga.
As well as asana, Patanjali includes the cultivation of certain internal attitudes and codes of conduct in relationships and everyday life (the yamas and niyamas), the harnessing of the vital life force in the body (pranayama), the ability to draw the senses inwards and not be distracted by pleasure, pain, desire and aversion (pratyahara), and the cultivation of single-pointed concentration and meditation (dharana and dhyana). This holistic style of practice can help to bring us into the expanded state of non-dualism through the dissolution of individualised, egoic consciousness (samadhi).
Yoga is rich, deep and ancient, originating in India more than 7000 years ago. It’s teachings have informed 3 of the great religions of India, Nepal and Tibet: Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. There have been many great masters and scriptures carrying on this living tradition over the millennia.
So needless to say, yeah, I do get just a little peeved when I see yoga being reduced to a handstand on a paddle board.
What do you think about modern versus traditional yoga? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.
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