Yoga is gaining in popularity at an alarming rate. Just last year the Yoga Alliance put out a survey that concluded that over 80-90% of Americans are willing and want to practice yoga. Still with all this attention that yoga has received there have been questions as to weather or not the yoga that people today are practicing is really yoga.
In the west the concept of yoga has been translated almost exclusively into a physical work out with some pretty fluffy words that make you feel good about yourself. Though the trend to call it ‘just stretching’ and ‘easy’ has largely been removed, it also quite quickly turned into ‘hot’ and ‘hyper flexible’. Further with much attention on the ideal ‘yoga body’ has also largely enforced this idea of a total focus on physical fitness and ability.
Though for some this process is great and transformative, there are still a few of us yogis left scratching our heads; and many at a loss for words when invited to classes, or other yoga events with communities and proclaimed top yogis whom not only focus on this physical manifestation, but completely ignore the other beautiful parts of the yoga practice.
Yoga is a tradition that sprung up out of a Shamanic culture in India pre-5000 BCE. Though the exact date and origin is unknown, it is widely accepted as one of the oldest practices still in circulation today. As time went on Yoga was included in the three major religions of India, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. With all the varied information in the second century BCE Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras presumably putting all this information together in one ‘Yoga Guide Book’.
True yoga did spring from a set of spiritual beliefs, it did NOT spring from just one. In fact one of the most enduring parts of the Yoga Sutras is that Patanjali did not profess any religion, or God concept, one way or another, rather he wrote a true manual for the practice and goal of yoga itself. And although the concept of worshiping the ultimate God Head does appear in about seven of the 196 sutras; it is optional for some of the different ‘versions’ of yoga.
The Yoga Sutras method of yoga compiles of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, 5 Yamas (restraints), 5 Niyamas (observances), Asana (posture), Pranayama (breath Control), Dharana (self study), Dharana (one pointed concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (union/absorption). Further the more you read the Sutras and other yoga texts, the more it becomes clear that yoga is about 35% self understanding and growth, 55% meditation, and only 10% physical posture and upkeep.
Granted much has changed from the time of the Yoga Sutras, however the text remains timeless; and the main message is just how to become a true enlightened being (which is in fact the goal of yoga). Further any time that a Guru (spiritual teacher) or yogi was approached by someone of another faith wishing to practice yoga, the spiritual side of yoga was always encouraged to be approached by the student from the religion of their choice, or the one that they were born into depending on the Guru. Thus Yoga is not just a Spiritual practice; but is in fact a Spiritual Tool that transcends any concept of religious ideology, because it’s ultimate goal is the oneness with the Universe, God, or any other power one feels is above them, or enlightenment.
This is not meant to scare anyone away from the practice of yoga, nor to discourage those still only seeking a physical workout from the beautiful practice. It is a much more fun, dynamic way of focusing on the health of the whole body; but rather this is to make the point about asking ourselves if when we call ourselves yogis, are we really being truthful with the world and ourselves? There are so many beautiful benefits of yoga that the world is missing out on by ignoring the pure and simple fact that yoga is not just a workout. In fact at the core of the practice it is so much more than that, and is used as a practice to find wholeness within both ourselves and our place in the greater world.
As history has gone on yoga really has not changed much, with the exception of the western concept of a physical practice. There have been a few changes including the practice of yogis getting married and having families – traditionally they were celibate. As well as a few gurus and yogis changing the way that asanas are practiced, and focuses to obtain enlightenment. Case and point Iyengar was not only married but claimed that enlightenment could be produced by the constant maintenance of the body; however this idea should not be used to further the idea of yoga as a physical practice but rather a different way of coming to the same goal.
When we step off our matts and call ourselves yogis, we should be conscious and aware of exactly what we are saying. We are not just saying “I take classes at a studio X times a week and am a vegan.” We are saying that every moment of every day we are devoted to finding and furthering our connection within ourselves and the Universe as a whole.
Practice in Love and Peace ❤