The notion of real yoga has been circulating in my mind since moving to Vancouver (5 years ago). There are many ways I have verbally responded to this thought/question in the past, but putting it in writing seemed so definite. Perhaps, that is the reason why this post has been so delayed. I wasn’t sure about how to approach this topic, but I’m just going to go for it. Before I begin, I would like to say a few things. One, this is solely my opinion on the subject and I in no way judge anyone for having their own opinion alike or different. Two, I am forever open to learning what others have to say about this topic so that I may be able to see it in different lights. And most importantly, Namaste (I acknowledge you as my equal).
Alright, let us start with a simple definition of Yoga. Yoga means union; Union of the mind, the body and the soul (atma). The traditional goal of Yoga is to achieve harmony of the three (body, mind, atma) perfectly so that our body and our mind are living in harmony with our atma.
In the Western world not everybody steps into a yoga class looking for this perfect harmony. Some people are just looking to stay fit, rehabilitate injuries, reduce stress, etc., but for the most part your average person is not looking for that ‘union’. That’s ok, they are using the asana (posture) and perhaps the pranayama (breath) parts of yoga to achieve what they need to achieve. More often than not, most people do not make a decision to further their goals in yoga. Maybe, they are unaware that there is anything beyond Asana and Pranayama.
Traditionally, Yoga is a complete system, of which the postures are a small though quite useful part. The word “yoga” referred to the whole and not solely Asanas. According to the sages, Yoga is spiritual in nature – it transcends the mat or the class and this is very important to understand.
The modern perception elevates the position of the postures to be of the most important part of Yoga; So much so that it is believed that Asana practice IS Yoga practice. In fact, the word Asana is interchangeably used with Yoga and THIS is where it gets really uncomfortable for some people.
Yoga teachers understand the difference between Asana and Yoga as a complete system. At some point we need to remind our students of this crucial difference. It is a matter of paying respect to the sages and the ancients that we understand what they created, and that we choose to take one part of their creation because it enriches our lives in some way. It is not wrong to only want to do Asana practice. Asana is a gift from the sages that we in the modern world benefit from in so many ways. All I am saying is that Asana is not solely what Yoga as a system is all about, it’s not even the most important part, it just is what it is – a part.
In my last article I said “it does not mean that you need to practice all of the Eight Limbs in order to say that you do Yoga.” I would like to elaborate on this: in order to really and truly say that you practice Yoga, you need to want to understand what yoga is and have that goal in mind that you do want to reach Enlightenment (Samadhi). They say that it is not always possible to accomplish this in merely one lifetime, it may take several, but it must be somewhere in our body, mind or atma to want to achieve Samadhi.