Perception has recently shifted
The typical perception of Yoga has shifted a great deal in the past century, particularly the past couple decades. Most of this is due to changes made in the West, particularly in the United States.
- Traditional view of success with Yoga: To the ancients, Yoga is a complete system, of which the postures are a small, though quite useful part. The word “Yoga” referred to the whole, not merely one part, which is the postures, or Asanas. The entire purpose of Yoga is spiritual in nature, according to the ancient sages. According to the ancient view, the success of Yoga is evidenced by the degree to which one experiences realization of the eternal Self, which is beyond the physical body, its maladies, and its inevitable demise.
- True: Yoga is a spiritual system with a physical component.
- Modern view of success with Yoga: According to the modern view, the success of Yoga is evidenced by the state of the physical body and the reduction of physical disease. The relative position of the postures has been elevated, so as to lead people to believe that the word “Yoga” refers to physical postures or Asanas, and that the goal of these is physical fitness. The whole and the part have been reversed, terribly misleading and confusing people about the true nature of authentic Yoga. We now have millions of people who totally believe in the Big Lie that Yoga is a gymnastic, exercise or physical fitness program.
- False: Yoga is a physical system with a spiritual component.
Yoga is an inner experience of the union of the individual self and the universal Self, and thus “yoga studio” and “yoga class” are oxymorons. It is so unfortunate that the word “Yoga” has so often been used in place of the word “asana” or “posture” in recent years. The mere fact that one might do a few stretches with the physical body does not in itself mean that one is headed towards that high union referred to as Yoga. One may do postures for years and finally be ready for Yoga; to call it “Yoga” before that time is a misnomer. If we had “asana classes” and “asana studios” that would be a great service to people. Then the word “Yoga” could be appropriately used for the journey that one begins when truly understanding the history and nature of authentic, traditional Yoga.
Within the past few decades there has been a new invention, that of the yoga “mat”, which is made of some sort of synthetic rubber or plastic material. This has lead to the idea that “yoga” is practiced “on” such a mat. Since the mat is designed to be used for physical postures or asanas, its invention has even further led to the distortion of yoga. This is just one more example of setting aside the ancient tradition of authentic yoga for the sake of promoting the modern distorted yoga through all of the yoga business channels.
Yoga or something using the name “Yoga” has gotten so big and has had such great commercial success that there is now a business category known as the “Yoga Industry”. The last survey (2008) conducted by Yoga Journal magazine (USA) reports that it is a $5.8 billion per year industry, and that over 34 million people in US either practice yoga or are interested in it.
The Meaning and Purpose of Yoga
Like many arts and sciences that are profound, beautiful, and powerful, Yoga has suffered from the spiritual poverty of the modern world – it has been trivialized, watered down, or reduced to clichés. The deep and eternal essence of Yoga has been misrepresented and packaged for personal profit by clever people. At the hands of some, Yoga has been reduced to the status of just another exercise program available on videotape. In other contexts, Yoga has been presented as a cult religion, aimed at attracting “devotees.”
While modern Yoga teaching may have gone far off track in recent years, there is some movement towards providing training that focuses on the authentic. It seems that the pendulum has swung so far away that it might slowly be starting to swing back to the real goals of authentic Yoga.
200hryogattc, weekday – Riane Low