For more than four decades I have enjoyed witnessing yoga’s growing popularity. But as yoga has become a regular exercise program for many, it has started to lose the true essence of what yoga is. When yoga is practised solely as stretching and breathing exercises, we fail to experience true yoga and engage our own preconceptions instead. Those who embrace postural asanas (postures) without incorporating the yoga philosophies that accomplish higher purpose, will not be embracing yoga but simply undertaking an ‘exercise class’.
The Western yoga movement, by and large, has chosen parts of both the dualist (Classical yoga and Samkhya) and non-dualist (Vedunta) philosophies—a chalk and cheese approach to yoga. It has adopted the obvious, but less significant part of yoga, the postures (āsanas), and skips the practices of moral discipline (yama) and self-development/restraint (niyama). To get the most out of yoga, we must consider its true purpose.
The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root ‘yuj’ to join. In a practical understanding, the application of yoga techniques has been likened to ‘a horse joining with a cart, in order to accomplish something’. On a physical level this means the conscious mind joining with the non-conscious mind, to make the most appropriate decisions for the person’s quality and predictability of survival throughout life. On a metaphysical level, yoga means uniting the individual’s mind with the soul and with all that which composes the divine universe.
Yoga seeks to align the ‘observed’ with the ‘observer’ in us, so that we can free ourselves from limiting thoughts and behaviors. We are often driven by selfish behaviors which are an expression of the ego (ahamkāra), which from a yoga perspective, is linked to an inability to understand our true identity. The expression of ego is where we identify with the ‘observed’ rather than the ‘observer’ (purusha). The essence of classical yoga is to unite the observer with the observed and in doing, create the utmost character possible—known as the shower of virtue (dharma-meghah).
Identifying as the ego is an intellectual process of the conscious mind focusing on perceptions, thoughts, desires, volitions, wants, needs, goals, etc. Our language reflects this: “I’m hungry” instead of “My body needs feeding”. When we have self-centered thoughts, actions, comparisons, and sentiments, we are creating a reality which is more likely to elicit emotional instability, and cause us to oscillate in how we value ourselves. The world of the ego is the terrain of suffering. If we can free our focus from the centredness of our conscious ego, and redirect our self-centered thoughts, actions, comparisons, and sentiments, we become open to redefining ourselves through higher purpose. It is then that we are open to a passionate driving urge from within to express more peace, contentment, compassionate, love, caring, contribution, patience, tolerance, and other higher purpose character traits.
In the classic Indian spiritual text known as the Bhagavadgita, the concept of yoga means not just doing certain mental or physical exercises, but extends these to the processes of uniting the thoughts and actions of an individual’s life with a divine purpose-to live every moment not for selfish or egoistic goals and desires, but as an alignment with Godliness.
Our knowledge of yoga is known to us mostly through the Indian philosophical text known as the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. Patañjali lived sometime during the early Christian era. He was not the ‘originator’ of yoga. Yoga had been practiced centuries before the time of Patañjali. Rather than being the ‘originator’ of yoga, he is regarded as the compiler of a precisely encoded viewpoint of the inherited practices of yoga.
It is thought that the evolution of yoga in the Indian traditions probably occurred from adapting community and family physical rituals used for group alignment, to the internal mind world of individuals-so they could also experience mental alignment within themselves. A Hindu philosophy known as Samkhya, was probably the earliest of the Indian traditions to use yoga for spiritual alignment, while later philosophies, such as Buddhism, remodeled the earlier traditions and emphasised a ‘middle path’ to yoga practice, which was not as extreme in its rituals, and provided a simpler approach to mental alignment mostly using breathing exercises (pranyama) and techniques (pratyahara) to cultivate mindfulness.
While the ancient purpose of yoga had been inner transformation to liberate the soul, in modern times it is increasingly used for physical and intellectual purposes rather than spiritual alignment. Most yoga classes practice exercises, breathing and relaxation for better health and inner peace. Few yoga classes practice spiritual yoga, to build higher purpose character traits and become one with the divine.
To get the most out of yoga, search for a yoga teacher that can disseminate and demonstrate living yoga. Seek a practice that can develop your whole self—mind and body. Remember the physical side of yoga is only one element, and truly embracing yoga can open doors and lead you down the sweetest path in your life.
In February 2016, I will be running a one-off comprehensive Samyama Yoga Teacher Training course. This 12-month course will give you an in-depth understanding of the true yoga pathway and open up your world to true transformation. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to work closely with me and become a qualified Samyama yoga teacher, as I will not be offering this course again. If you’d like to find our more information or express your interest, please contact us.