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Modern Yoga versus Traditional Yoga
by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati 
Homepage 
 

The typical public perception of Yoga has shifted significantly in recent years. This article addresses the nature of those shifts, comparing traditional Yoga of the ancient sages to the modern revisions. The article also includes quotes from nine different teachers whose names are well known.

The starting point of most classes, books, magazines, articles, websites, and blogs on Yoga are so different from traditional Yoga of the ancient sages that it can be fairly called "Not Yoga". The wave of Not Yoga seems to morph further and further away from Yoga.

"Not Yoga" Facebook Group: The "Not Yoga" group is playfully devoted to the ways in which Yoga is misrepresented. Yoga is now so totally altered that we can cry, get angry, or laugh, and laughing might be the most positive. Much, if not most of today's Yoga can be called "gymnastic yoga" as it has emerged from the gymnastic practices of the late 1800s and early 1900s, not from the ancient traditions of Yoga. Other "styles" of modern Yoga are simply gross distortions.

To be a miner of diamonds, 
take care of your picks and shovels. 
To be a miner of your spiritual Self, 
take care of your body, breath, and mind. 
But don't confuse the tools and the goals.
-------
The goal of Yoga (union) is Yoga (union), period.

Click here to read the Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Click here to read the Yoga Sutras

Click here for relation of Hatha and Raja Yoga

"Traditional yoga" has historically been taught orally, and there are subtle nuances among various lineages and teachers, rather than there being some one, precisely agreed upon "yoga". Principles are usually communicated in sutra style, where brief outlines are expanded upon orally. For example, yoga is outlined in 196 sutras of the Yoga Sutras and then is discussed with and explained by teacher to student. Similarly, the great depth of meaning of Om mantra is outlined in only 12 verses of the Mandukya Upanishad and is expanded upon orally. This article also does not claim that there is a single, universal "Modern Yoga". Here also there are many different faces. However, there has been a quite significant overall shift in the perception of yoga, and that is worthy of comment and ongoing examination.

 
Contents
of this web page: 
Juice Box - On Yoga
Two perceptions of Yoga 
Yoga Body
Science of Yoga
6 schools of Indian philosophy 
Confusion of goals and instruments 
Fallacy of Composition
Reversing the words
 
The whole and the parts 
Hatha Yoga Pradipika 
Yoga and Medicine 
Yoga and Money 
Yoga and Fitness Programs 
Seekers of the spiritual
 
Turning away from Yoga as spiritual 
Teacher Training programs 
Names and Modern styles of Yoga 
What kind of Yoga do you do?
When is Yoga no longer Yoga?
 
"But it's useful! It helped me!"
Opponents are providing support 
What to do 
 

 
Quotes
on this page:
Swami Satyananda
 
Swami Rama 
B.K.S. Iyengar 
Swami Chidananda 
Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
Bikram Choudhury 
David Frawley 
Georg Feuerstein 
Paramahansa Yogananda 
Quotes: LINKS

See also these pages: 
Yoga Day Distortion of Yoga 
Meaning and Purpose of Yoga
Mysticism, Yoga, Religion
Is Yoga a Religion? 
Yoga & Institutional Religion
Philosophy, Not Religion 
Choosing the Highest "T" 
Vedantic Meditation 
 

 
Traditional View of Yoga and postures (asanas)

Traditional view: 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.

History of Yoga: The history of Yoga can conveniently be divided into the following four broad categories: Vedic Yoga, Preclassical Yoga, Classical Yoga, Postclassical Yoga. (see whole article)
 

 
Modern View of Yoga and postures (asanas)
 

Modern view: In modern times, 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.
 

Telling Lies that are so big people will believe them

The Big Lie (German: Große Lüge) is a propaganda technique. The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler in his 1925 autobiography Mein Kampf for a lie so "colossal" that no one would believe that someone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously".

Black is black and white is white. However, if enough people say that black is white and that white is black, it will be believed and staunchly defended by the followers of that delusion.

This is also the case with Yoga. We now have millions of people who totally believe in the Big Lie that Yoga is a gymnastic, exercise or physical fitness program. The lie is so believed that I routinely receive emails attacking me about revealing or highlighting the true nature of Yoga through this and other articles.

Asana classes and asana studios: It is so unfortunate that the word "Yoga" has so often been used in place of the word "asana" or "posture" in recent years. We would not call a brick a "house" even though it is part of the construction. Yet, this is what is often done with Yoga. The first word of Yoga Sutras is "atha" which means "now," implying a prior preparation. 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.

Yoga Body

From the book
"Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice"

2010, Oxford University Press
Mark Singleton

"In spite of the immense popularity of postural yoga worldwide, there is little or no evidence that asana (excepting certain seated postures of meditation) has ever been the primary aspect of any Indian yoga practice tradition… The primacy of asana performance in transnational yoga today is a new phenomenon that has no parallel in premodern times."
(page 1 of the Introduction)

"Singleton shows that, contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence in the Indian tradition for the kind of health and fitness-oriented asana practice that dominates the global yoga scene of the twenty-first century. Singleton's surprising and surely controversial thesis is that yoga as popularly practiced today owes a great debt to modern Indian nationalism, and even more surprisingly, to the spiritual aspirations of European bodybuilding and early 20th-century women's gymnastic movements of Europe and America, than it does to any ancient Indian yoga tradition."
(back cover of the book)

Science of Yoga

Review of The Science of Yoga,
a book by William J. Broad
Review by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati

There is a widespread misunderstanding of the nature of yoga that is well exemplified by William J. Broad in his book The Science of Yoga. Broad says in the Introduction that the book is about postural yoga, but he never again uses that term (at least, not that I was able to find). Instead, he subsequently uses the single word yoga, implying that yoga and postures (postural yoga) are one and the same, which is the common cultural myth of our times. The degree to which he had done this was not immediately apparent to me. It took a 4th and 5th reading to see the problem clearly.

Broad says that we are now in a period of yoga 2.0 and predicts that in the next two to three hundred years we will see the coming of yoga 3.0 and yoga 4.0. However, he says that his baseline period--yoga 1.0--is the medieval ages (which is approximately the 1500s, though he does not elaborate on his intended dates), completely ignoring the previous thousands of years of yoga history, which includes the yoga principles and practices in the texts known as Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Yoga Sutras.

Broad makes brief mention of this unrecognized yoga by saying that the yoga of Patanjali (the Yoga Sutra) is old yoga, apparently in contrast to his views of new yoga. However, it takes only a most cursory review of virtually any of the public faces of the new yoga to see that it bears no resemblance to the old yoga (using his term for clarity, not my agreement). Broad also uses the phrase modern yoga a few times. If Broad’s categories are in alignment with the common view of yoga (which they seem to be), then we can fairly say that this yoga is actually not yoga compared to the yoga of the ancient sages. There is almost nothing to be found of modern yoga, yoga 2.0, or not yoga in any of these ancient descriptions of yoga that would be part of old yoga.

Once I noticed Broad’s classifications, it was fairly easy to read back through sections of the book and mentally insert postural yoga wherever he used only the single word yoga (After all, he said that the book was about postural yoga.). It was also easy to read back through sections of the book and mentally insert not yoga wherever he used only the single word yoga. Finally, it was also easy to read back through sections of the book and mentally insert modern yoga wherever used only the single word yoga. These three exercises gave a very different feel to the book.

Once we see that Broad is talking only about the modern devolutions of yoga, it is easy to see that he has written an extremely clear and useful book about postural yoga or modern yoga or not yoga, as well as clearly summarizing the risks and benefits of the categories of physical fitness or therapies known as postural yoga , modern yoga, or not yoga. However, although it obviously appears to not be his intent, he has also done a great job of outlining the devolution of yoga in the past hundred years or so. In other words, Broad really does seem to view yoga only as a physical process dealing with fitness and health/medical treatments, and he writes from that perspective alone.

I encountered only one place where Broad uses the term traditional yoga, a term I and others have used to contrast the yoga of the sages from modern yoga. However, he uses the term traditional yoga not to refer to the yoga of the sages, but to postural hatha yoga before it was altered/hijacked by the innovators such as Krishnamacharya, Jois, and Iyengar.

I highly recommend this book. It gives great summaries of the potential dangers of not yoga, as well as physical fitness and health benefits, and if you read closely, also maps out the way in which yoga has been distorted in recent years. You also may notice that Broad offers no evidence or research showing any danger in practicing the introspective methods of yoga as explained by the practitioners and teachers of old yoga (known simply as yoga). Apparently the dangers he presents only apply to not yoga. There was not a single example of anybody experiencing any health problems from sitting quietly doing the introspective practices of meditation and contemplation, which are characteristic of yoga done for its original purpose, Self-realization.

It would be interesting to see research on the risks and rewards of these meditation and contemplation practices of old yoga, but this is not the subject of Broad’s book. That may be very difficult research since so few people are practicing or interested in this.

Yoga "On" and "Off" the Mat:

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. Along with the invention of yoga "on the mat", there has been a subsequent invention of yoga "off the mat" to describe the "other" form of yoga. Google presently reveals 1,220,000 results for a search of "yoga off the mat". While it is good that people are doing other such practices, the mere fact that "yoga off the mat" has come into vogue implies that the default position of real yoga is "on" some synthetic "mat". 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 Industry:

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". Googling the term "Yoga Industry" reveals 92,800 results. 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.

Oxymorons

An oxymoron is a phrase that combines two opposite meanings which do not really go together, often having a humorous effect.
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. The list below includes some other phrases often considered to be oxymorons:


Yoga Class
Yoga Studio
---
 Absolutely unsure
Artificial intelligence
Authentic replica
Balding hair
Big minority
Bittersweet
Business ethics
Civil unrest
Clearly confusing
Confirmed rumor
Deafening silence
Dry lake
Honest politician
Ill health
Military intelligence
Open secret
Precise estimate

Yoga Day USA and the
Distortion of Yoga in America

Truth about 10 Reasons for Yoga
according to Yoga Day USA

The goal of Yoga is Yoga: The goal or destination of Yoga is Yoga itself, union itself, of the little self and the True Self, a process of awakening to the preexisting union that is called Yoga. While it is not the intent of this article to give a final or conclusive definition of the term Yoga--which can be described in different ways--it has to do with the realization through direct experience of the preexisting union between Atman and Brahman, Jivatman and Paramatman, and Shiva and Shakti, or the realization of Purusha standing alone as separate from Prakriti. 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.

History of Yoga: The history of Yoga can conveniently be divided into the following four broad categories: Vedic Yoga, Preclassical Yoga, Classical Yoga, Postclassical Yoga. (see whole article)


7-minutes

Yoga Meditation Visualized - Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati
(More YouTube videos by Swami J)

 

A personal note:

A small percentage of people find the kind of information in this article of interest. Some even find it offensive. It is very clear that virtually nobody is going to be swayed from their misdirected opinions about the nature of Yoga simply by reading this, as minds tend to hold their course until some life situation forces them to change.

So why is this article here? It is here to serve that small number of you who have come to see that Yoga is far more than we generally see these days. You may feel completely outnumbered by the current wave of distortion and devolution of Yoga. I say this because people sometimes tell me such things. You may feel misled, confused, and alone because your personal perspective and journey seem out of alignment with your peers and the popular so-called teachers and styles of Yoga. I hope this article serves as validation for you, and also provides some explanations and quotes that you can use for yourself to stay focused in a Yoga world where you are in a minority.

If you are a sincere seeker of the higher, authentic goals of Yoga, you are on a sometimes exasperating journey that is filled with joy. It is infinitely worth the challenges along the way.

In loving service,

Swami Jnaneshvara

See also Philosophy, Not Religion 


See also Yoga and Institutional Religion
Yoga, Hindu and Hinduism
Mysticism, Yoga, and Religion

Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia

Respected Western publishers acknowledge authentic, traditional Yoga, quite unlike many so-called yoga teachers and yoga teacher training schools. The following is excerpted from Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia:

YOGA (Skt. yuga, “yoke”), one of the six classic systems of Hindu philosophy, distinguished from the others by the marvels of bodily control and the magical powers ascribed to its advanced devotees. Yoga affirms the doctrine that through the practice of certain disciplines one may achieve liberation from the limitations of flesh, the delusions of sense, and the pitfalls of thought and thus attain union with the object of knowledge. Such union, according to the doctrine, is the only true way of knowing. For most Yogi (those who practice Yoga), the object of knowledge is the universal spirit Brahma. A minority of atheistic Yogi seek perfect self-knowledge instead of knowledge of God....

The final stage, in Yoga doctrine, rarely can be attained in one lifetime. Usually, several births are required to achieve liberation, first from the world of phenomena, then from thoughts of self, and finally from the spirit’s entanglement with matter. The separation of spirit from matter is Kāivalya, or true liberation.... (more)

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Two perceptions of Yoga

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, though it is not solely an American phenomenon. (Similar shifts have happened with Tantra as well.)

Gist of the two perspectives: The gist of the shift can be summarized in two perspectives, one of which is modern and false, and the other of which is ancient and true.

  • False: Yoga is a physical system with a spiritual component.

  • True: Yoga is a spiritual system with a physical component.

The false view spreads: Unfortunately, the view that Yoga is a physical exercise program is the dominant viewpoint. The false view then spreads through many institutions, classes, teachers, books, magazines, and millions of students of modern Yoga, who have little or no knowledge or interest in the spiritual goals of ancient, authentic, traditional Yoga and Yoga Meditation.

To understand the recent devolution that 
Yoga is only a physical exercise program 
is one of the most essential steps for
the modern seeker of authentic Yoga.

Yoga and Christianity: To say that Yoga is merely physical fitness, as have many Christians, is like saying that Christian communion is merely drinking wine and eating bread with a meal, and that baptism is nothing more than taking a shower or bath. The goal of Yoga is Yoga.

The Columbia Encyclopedia,
Sixth Edition. 2001-07

yoga:

(y´g) (KEY) [Skt.,=union], general term for spiritual disciplines in Hinduism, Buddhism, and throughout S Asia that are directed toward attaining higher consciousness and liberation from ignorance, suffering, and rebirth. More specifically it is also the name of one of the six orthodox systems of Hindu philosophy. Both Vedic and Buddhist literature discuss the doctrines of wandering ascetics in ancient India who practiced various kinds of austerities and meditation. The basic text of the Yoga philosophical school, the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali (2d cent. B.C.), is a systematization of one of these older traditions.

Six schools of Indian philosophy

Yoga is a classical philosophy: Yoga is one of six schools of Indian philosophy. These are Nyaya, Visheshika, Mimasa, Sankhya, Yoga, and Vedanta. A brief review of those six schools or systems will easily clarify the true nature of authentic Yoga being a system of spiritual pursuit. (While there is not universal agreement, some consider the teachings of Buddha to be a seventh system or school of Indian philosophy, rather than a separate system, in that his methods come from the same root. In addition, some consider these divisions inaccurate, stating that the only valid Yoga is directly from the ancient texts, the Vedas.)

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." Such a haze of confusion has been created around the clear and pure concept of Yoga that it is now necessary to redefine Yoga and clarify its meaning and purpose. (more)

Yoga Vedanta: David Frawley writes about the nature of Yoga and its relationship to Vedanta in his book Vedantic Meditation, from which the following is excerpted (see more):

"The first teachers who brought Yoga to the West came with the profound teachings of Vedanta as their greatest treasure to share with the world. They presented Vedanta as the philosophy of Self-realization and Yoga as the methodology by which to achieve it. Such great masters began with Swami Vivekananda at the end of the nineteenth century and continued with Swami Rama Tirtha, Paramahansa Yogananda, and the many disciples of Swami Shivananda of Rishikesh. They called their teaching Yoga-Vedanta, which they viewed as a complete science of spiritual growth.

"However, in the course of time asana or Yoga postures gained more popularity in the physically-minded West, and the Vedantic aspect of the teachings fell to the sidelines, particularly over the last twenty years. The result is that today few American Yoga teachers know what Vedanta is or can explain it to others. If they have an interest in meditation they generally look to Zen or Vipassana, not knowing that meditation is the very foundation of classical Yoga and its related traditions.

"Even students of related disciplines like Ayurveda or Vedic astrology may know little about Vedanta, the path of self-knowledge that is the spiritual support and goal of these systems. Meanwhile, those who study the great Vedantic gurus of modern India, like Ramana Maharshi or Nisargadatta Maharaj, generally look at the particular teacher as the source of the teachings, and they may fail to understand the tradition that they are part of. In this way the heart teachings of India's great sages have become progressively lost even to those who claim to follow their teachings in the West.

"The great sages of modern India were all Vedantins. Most notable is Ramana Maharshi, who emphasized the non-dualistic form of Vedanta and lived a life of direct Self-realization. Ramakrishna, Aurobindo, Anandamayi Ma, Nityananda, and Neem Karoli Baba, to mention but a few, were Vedantins, using the Vedantic terminology of Self-realization and God-realization. Vedantic traditions remain strong throughout India today, including many great teachers—for example, the different Shankaracharyas, who have never come to the West and are almost unknown here.

"Current major teachers from India like Ma Amritanandamayi (Ammachi) and Satya Sai Baba similarly use the language of Vedanta and its emphasis on the Self. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Transcendental Meditation follows a Vedantic view of consciousness and cosmic evolution. Swami Rama, the founder of the Himalayan Institute, was another important Vedantic teacher in America. The main Hatha Yoga teachers in recent times, like Krishnamacharya of Madras or B.K.S. Iyengar, follow Vedantic teachings for the higher aspects of Yoga. Devotional approaches like the Hari Krishna movement reflect Vedantic devotional teachings. Without an understanding of Vedanta, therefore, it is difficult to understand these great teachers or their words to us.

Swami Rama explains that the word Yoga has been unfortunately misused. So people think Yoga means physical exercise for remaining young. It's the science that deals with body, breath, mind and soul, and ultimately to the Universal Self.

Swami Rama briefly explains the meaning of Yoga in this video.

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Swami Satyananda Saraswati, founder of Bihar School of Yoga, Bihar, India, describes the modern situation of Yoga quite well in the Introduction of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika commentary by Swami Muktibodhananda Saraswati, where he writes:

"In ancient times hatha Yoga was practiced for many years as a preparation for higher states of consciousness. Now however, the real purpose of this great science is being altogether forgotten . The hatha Yoga practices which were designed by the rishis and sages of old, for the evolution of mankind, are now being understood and utilized in a very limited sense. Often we hear people say, 'Oh, I don't practice meditation, I only practice physical Yoga, hatha Yoga.' Now the time has come to correct this view point. Hatha Yoga is a very important science for man today....

"The main objective of hatha Yoga is to create an absolute balance of the interacting activities and processes of the physical body, mind and energy. When this balance is created, the impulses generated give a call of awakening to the central force (sushumna nadi) which is responsible for the evolution of human consciousness. If hatha Yoga is not used for this purpose, its true objective is lost ."

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Confusion of goals and instruments

The body is not the goal: The human body is a beautiful instrument, and should be taken care of. However, the body is an instrument, and is not itself the goal of traditional Yoga. In the science and practice of medicine, a pill is an instrument, but the pill itself is not the goal. In the science and practice of authentic Yoga, the body is an instrument, but the body itself is not the goal.

Confusing goals and tools: This can sound like an anti-body perspective, but this is not the case. It is not a conflict between philosophies. Rather, there is a misunderstanding of goals and tools.

The goal of Yoga is Yoga, period.

None of the lower levels is the goal: In traditional Yoga, the aspirant works with and trains all levels of the being, including relationships, self-exploration, senses, body, breath, and mind. However, none of these are themselves the goal of Yoga.

On an authentic path: The aspirant following a path of authentic Yoga:

  • Relationships: The aspirant builds relationship with the world through practices such as non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, remembering truth, and non-possessiveness. However, building better relationships with the world is not itself the goal of traditional Yoga.

  • Senses: The aspirant trains the senses so as to be able to consciously regulate them in positive ways, although working with the senses is not itself the goal of traditional Yoga.

  • Body: The aspirant works with the body so as to make it flexible, strong, and steady, but working with the body is not itself the goal of authentic Yoga.

  • Breath: The aspirant trains the breath so as to make it smooth, slow, and serene, but training the breath is not itself the goal of traditional Yoga.

  • Mind: The aspirant deals with the mind at all of it's levels, although exploring and dealing with the mind is not itself the goal of authentic Yoga.

The goal of Yoga is beyond these: The single goal of Yoga is beyond all of these, while these are the veils that block the realization of the Self, Truth, or Reality that is being sought. Because they are the obstacles, they are emphasized in practice so that they may cease to cover the eternal center of consciousness.

Swami Rama writes about the situation of traditional Yoga and modern Yoga in his text, Path of Fire and Light:

"The majority of people view Yoga as a system of physical culture. Very few understand that Yoga science is complete in itself , and deals systematically with body, breath, mind, and spirit.

"When one understands that a human being is not only a physical being, but a breathing being and a thinking being too, then his research does not limit itself to the body and breath only.

"For him, gaining control over the mind and its modifications, and the feelings and emotions, become more important than practicing a few postures or breathing exercises . Meditation and contemplation alone can help the aspirant in understanding, controlling, and directing the mind."

In the opening paragraph of Lectures on Yoga, Swami Rama explains:

The word Yoga is much used and much misunderstood these days, for our present age is one of faddism, and Yoga has often been reduced to the status of a fad. Many false and incomplete teachings have been propagated in its name, it has been subject to commercial exploitation, and one small aspect of Yoga is often taken to be all of Yoga. For instance, many people in the West think it is a physical and beauty cult, while others think it is a religion. All of this has obscured the real meaning of Yoga.

In the second volume of Path of Fire and Light, Swami Rama goes even further, where he flatly declares:

"The word 'Yoga' has been vulgarized and does not mean anything now ."

Confusing Vehicles and Destinations: If you are going to the Himalayas, you may first ride in an airplane or car. However, the fact that you are riding in an airplane or car does not mean that you will necessarily end up in the Himalayas. Everyday there are many millions of people who travel in both airplanes and cars, but will not mysteriously or accidentally end up in the Himalayas without that being their goal or destination.

The goal or destination of Yoga is Yoga itself, union itself, of the little self and the True Self (While it is not the intent of this article to give a final or conclusive definition of the term Yoga--which can be described in different ways--it has to do with the realization through direct experience of the preexisting union between Atman and Brahman, Jivatman and Paramatman, and Shiva and Shakti, or the realization of Purusha standing alone as separate from Prakriti). 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.

Example

Below is an example of the unfortunate distortion
of Yoga terminology and practices.

The website ashtanga.com describes Ashtanga Yoga as a breath and postures practice of Pattabhi Jois (1915- ):

"Ashtanga yoga is a system of yoga transmitted to the modern world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. This method of yoga involves synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of postures—a process producing intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, a light and strong body, and a calm mind."

Swami Sivananda Saraswati (1887-1963), founder of Divine Life Society of Rishikesh, India writes of Ashtanga Yoga:

"It is said that the original propounder of classical Yoga was Hiranyagarbha Himself. It is Patanjali Maharishi who formulated this science into a definite system under the name of Ashtanga Yoga or Raja Yoga. This forms one of the Shad-Darsananas or Classical Systems of Philosophy.... Patanjali's Raja Yoga is generally termed the Ashtanga Yoga or the Yoga of Eight Limbs, through the practice of which freedom is achieved."

 

Many people work with diet, exercise and interpersonal relationships. This may include physical fitness classes, food or cooking seminars, or many forms of personality work, including support groups, psychotherapy, or confiding with friends. When done alone, these are not necessarily aimed towards Yoga, and are therefore not Yoga, however beneficial they may be.

Yet, work with body, food, and relationships may very much fall under the domain of Yoga, when Yoga is the goal. The key is the goal or destination one holds in the heart, mind, and conviction. Without that being directed towards the state of Yoga, the methods can hardly be called Yoga.

Yogis are here for the true seekers of Yoga

For the vast majority who seek functional training or functional exercise programs, there will continue be an abundance of functional trainers. For the tiny percent who seek Yoga, there will continue to be a tiny number of Yogis to help. This is how it works. There will continue to be a majority rule phenomenon. If enough people say that Yoga is fitness or medical treatment, it will be so, at least in the minds of the majority, as it has happened in recent years.

Yoga deals with body, breath, and mind, but is aimed at that beyond mind. However:

  • If, one day, the physical therapists and occupational therapists, who deal with the body, will collectively call their work Yoga, it will appear to be so, in the minds of the majority.

  • If, one day, the respiratory therapists, who deal with the breath, will collectively call their work Yoga, it will appear to be so, in the minds of the majority.

  • If, one day, the psychotherapists, who deal with the mind, will collectively call their work Yoga, it will appear to be so, in the minds of the majority.

Still, with all of that majority rule, there will be a tiny handful of Yogis available, mostly out of public view, to help people who seek Yoga as Yoga. This is how it works.

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Fallacy of Composition

The misuse of the word Yoga often involves what logicians call the Fallacy of Composition. One version of the Fallacy of Composition is projecting a characteristic assumed by a part to be the characteristic assumed by the whole or by others. It may lead to false conclusion that whenever a person is doing some action that is included in Yoga, that person is necessarily doing Yoga.

Some of the examples below might sound silly, but this Fallacy of Composition is what happens when saying that Yoga is physical fitness, stress management, or medical treatment. The goal of Yoga is Yoga, which has to do with the realization in direct experience of the highest unity of our being, out of which the only apparent individuation and multiplicity have emerged. Practices that are not done for that purpose are simply NOT Yoga.

Here are some obviously unreasonable and false arguments about the nature of Yoga. These are given as examples of the absurdity of the fallacy of composition.

  • Body flexing is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody who flexes the body is practicing Yoga.

  • Breath regulation is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody who intentionally breathes smoothly and slowly is practicing Yoga.

  • Contracting the anal sphincter muscles is a lock, which is part of Yoga; therefore anybody contracting those muscles is doing Yoga.

  • Cleansing the body is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody cleansing the body is practicing Yoga.

  • Purging the gastrointestinal system is a practice of Yoga; therefore, anybody taking an enema is practicing Yoga.

  • Concentrating the mind is part of Yoga; therefore anybody who concentrates is practicing Yoga.

  • Talking to yourself in a contemplative way is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody talking to himself or herself is practicing Yoga.

  • Lovingness is part of Yoga; therefore all people who love their family and friends are practicing Yoga.

  • Honesty is a part of Yoga; therefore, any honest person is practicing Yoga.

  • Contentment is a foundation of Yoga; therefore, anyone who is content is practicing Yoga.

  • Eating healthy food is a part of Yoga; therefore, anyone eating fresh vegetables is practicing Yoga.

  • Attenuating attractions and aversions is part of Yoga; therefore, anyone reducing their habitual thoughts and emotions is practicing Yoga.

  • Sitting still is a part of Yoga; therefore, anybody who is sitting still is practicing Yoga.

Here are some other false statements about Yoga, which have unfortunately come to be widely accepted as true.

  • Since Yoga is beneficial to the body, Yoga is a physical fitness program. (Wrong; the goal of Yoga is Yoga.)

  • Since Yoga reduces stress, Yoga is a stress management method. (Wrong; the goal of Yoga is Yoga.)

  • Since Yoga has an effect on physical health, Yoga is a medical treatment. (Wrong; the goal of Yoga is Yoga.)

By understanding the Fallacy of Composition, and reflecting on simple examples such as above, it is easier to see through the arguments and widespread misperception that Yoga is about physical fitness, stress management, or medical treatment. In fact, Yoga is ONLY about the higher union having to do with pure consciousness, soul, spirit, purusha, atman, or other such words. Other efforts for lesser purposes may be quite useful, but they are NOT part of Yoga unless these higher goals are the underlying motive for the practices.
 

The Sivananda Yoga Om Page website explains on its homepage:

Yoga means Union: "Although many people think this term refers to union between body and mind or body, mind and spirit, the traditional acceptance is union between the Jivatman and Paramatman that is between one's individual consciousness and the Universal Consciousness. Therefore Yoga refers to a certain state of consciousness as well as to methods that help one reach that goal or state of union with the divine."

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Reversing the words

Hatha was a part - Yoga was the whole: In ancient times, Hatha Yoga was considered to be a part, or aspect of the greater whole, which was called Yoga. The word Yoga applied to the encompassing, or umbrella principles and practices of wholeness.

Postures were only a part of the part: In fact, Hatha Yoga itself only partially dealt with the practice of postures, called Asanas. Thus, the postures or Asanas were a part of Hatha Yoga, which, in turn led to Raja Yoga.

The word Yoga previously 
referred to the whole
now it refers to a part, the postures.

Meaning of the word Yoga: All of this has changed in the past few decades. In this time of modern Yoga, when you hear the word Yoga, or see it written, it seldom is used to refer to the whole of Yoga. Rather, the single word Yoga is now used to refer to physical Yoga.

  • The two words Hatha Yoga: In the 13th century text entitled Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the first verse states that the text is for Hatha Yoga. It does not use the single word Yoga, but instead uses the term Hatha Yoga. The text clearly states that this is in preparation for Raja Yoga. In other words, Hatha Yoga is underneath, a part of, or preparation for Raja Yoga (Raja Yoga refers to both the state of samadhi and practices to attain that state.

  • The single word Yoga: The Yoga Sutras, codified at least a thousand years earlier, is a text outlining Raja Yoga. The first verse of the text uses the single word Yoga, stating that now begins the process of Yoga. It clearly uses the single word Yoga to refer to practices that bring spiritual awakening.

Not merely semantics: This is not merely semantics; it means that when one is trying to refer to, or to follow the whole of Yoga, there is no longer a word, terminology, or name to go with that whole, the higher Yoga, which is the umbrella for the parts. If you say, "I do Yoga," it is automatically taken to mean that you do physical postures alone. While modern Yoga focuses on the physical, it is, in fact, not even necessary to do the physical postures for one to practice authentic Yoga.

The typical Yoga class
is an Asana (postures) class,
not a Yoga class.

No alternative word for Yoga: Rather than simply using the term Yoga when referring to the original, broader, higher meaning of Yoga, one now has to use an alternative word. However, there is no alternative word for the whole of Yoga.

Reason for misunderstanding: This use of the term Yoga rather than Hatha Yoga (or, more accurately, Asana) has been a major reason for the misunderstanding that Yoga is a physical program with a spiritual component, rather than a spiritual program with a physical component.

Who benefits from the removal of the spiritual: Some students and teachers of modern Yoga want to remove or ignore the spiritual orientation of Yoga, for a variety of reasons. Because of this, such people actually benefit by dropping the word Hatha from the term Hatha Yoga. By dropping the word Hatha, and calling it only Yoga, they can more easily avoid the fact that the ancient texts, such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, so clearly state the spiritual priority of traditional Yoga. They can escape the fact that Ha and tha refer to the subtle energies of Ida and Pingala, the process of Kundalini Awakening, and attaining Samadhi.

It is not even necessary 
for one to do the physical postures 
to be a practitioner of authentic Yoga.

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The Whole and the Parts

The "whole" is "Yoga": Not only has there been a reversal of Hatha Yoga and Yoga, whereby Hatha Yoga (the "part") has been labeled as "Yoga" (the "whole"), but the whole process and scope of Yoga as been effected in our collective perceptions of Yoga. One way of seeing this clearly is to remember that:

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Bhakti Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Hatha Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Jnana Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Karma Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Kundalini Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Laya Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Mantra Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Nada Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Raja Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Tantra Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which _______ Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which _______ Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which _______ Yoga is a part.

B. K. S. Iyengar, a well known teacher and author writes in his discussions on the Yoga Sutras:

"... Through the discipline of Yoga, both actions and intelligence go beyond these qualities [gunas] and the seer comes to experience his own soul with crystal clarity, free from the relative attributes of nature and actions. This state of purity is samadhi. Yoga is thus both the means and the goal. Yoga is samadhi and samadhi is Yoga...."

"... Usually the mind is closer to the body and to the gross organs of action and perception than to the soul. As asanas are refined they automatically become meditative as the intelligence is made to penetrate towards the core of being. Each asana has five functions to perform. These are conative, cognitive, mental, intellectual and spiritual...."

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Hatha Yoga Pradipika

The entire purpose is spiritual: The entire purpose of ancient, authentic, traditional Yoga, including Hatha Yoga, is spiritual in nature. Following are a few points from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a 13th century text outlining the practice of Hatha Yoga. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is possibly the best known and most authoritative text on authentic Hatha Yoga. These few references should make the true nature of Hatha Yoga clear.

Click here to read the Hatha Yoga Pradipika

The last chapter is entitled Samadhi: It is significant to note that of the four chapters of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the last chapter is entitled Samadhi, the higher state of consciousness.

The focus of Yoga is Samadhi.

References from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika: The following references are from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (sutra numbers are in parenthesis). Note how the emphasis shifts away from postures to breath, kundalini, raja Yoga, and samadhi.
 

Chapter 1:

  • The purpose of Hatha Yoga is to be a stairway to Raja Yoga, the higher Yoga (1.1-2)
  • Postures are the first part of Hatha Yoga (1.77)
Chapter 2:
  • After postures, one should practice with breath (2.1)
Chapter 3:
Chapter 4:
  • Samadhi leads one to the eternal and highest bliss (4.2)
  • Mind and the eternal merge like salt and the sea (4.5)
  • Those who do only Hatha Yoga without realization of Raja Yoga derive no fruits for their efforts (4.79) [It does not mean that no physical benefits are derived; rather, since the goal of Yoga is spiritual in nature, when only the lower practices are performed, the intended goal is completely missed, yielding no fruits.]
  • All of the practices of Hatha Yoga and Laya Yoga are means to Raja Yoga, samadhi (4.103)
     

Swami Chidananda Saraswati, head of the internationally known Sivananda Ashram (Divine Life Society) in Rishikesh, India explains that:

"Yoga is not mere acrobatics . Some people suppose that Yoga is primarily concerned with the manipulation of the body into various queer positions, standing on the head, for instance, or twisting about the spine, or assuming any of the numerous odd poses which are demonstrated in the text-books on Yoga. These techniques are correctly employed in one distinct type of Yoga practice, but they do not form an integral part of the most essential type. Physical posture serve at best as an auxiliary, or a minor form of Yoga."

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Yoga and Medicine

What constitutes success with Yoga: There are many implications to the shift from traditional to modern perspectives on the nature of Yoga. For example, in relation to the success of modern Yoga and traditional Yoga, there are also two perspectives:

  • 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.

  • Traditional view of success with Yoga: 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.

Tell a big enough lie often enough
and people will believe it:
"Yoga is medical treatment".
"Yoga is physical therapy".

Yoga redefined as a medical treatment: Yoga is now seen as a medical treatment, as if it was a mere physical therapy program. There are even efforts to have modern Yoga covered by insurance programs, as treatment for specific diseases. While this is good for the physical health of people, it further convinces people that Yoga is only a physical program.

Therapies are useful: Treatment modalities such as Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy are very useful and needed professions. However, designing such treatment methods and calling them "Yoga" is a tremendous disservice to both those professions and Yoga.

Hijacking: To distort the use of the name "Yoga" in such ways is tantamount to hijacking the name "Yoga".

The sole purpose of Yoga 
is spiritual in nature.

The sole purpose of Yoga is spiritual: Yoga is a systematic program whose sole purpose is spiritual, whether you call it enlightenment, Self-realization, or other similar terms. The purpose for working with the physical body is so that the body is not an obstacle in practices such as Yoga meditation, contemplation, and prayer. Obstacles to these spiritual practices are naturally minimized or completely removed in the process of following Yoga.

Yoga is now prescribed for its side-effects: What happens is a confusion of goals. The goal of traditional Yoga is spiritual in nature, and the side effects include physical healing. It is like a physician prescribing a medication for a particular malady, and that drug also having side effects. With a medication, a pill, the drug is prescribed for it's immediate benefit, not for the side-effects. In modern times, Yoga is being prescribed for its side-effect, while its real goal is usually being ignored.

This is not to say that people should not benefit from Yoga, even if only a small part is being taught, and even if that small part is being changed, so as to no longer actually be Yoga. Some of the physical therapies being developed in the name of Yoga might be very beneficial to physical health.

The truer meaning of Yoga is lost: However, by developing physical therapy programs and labeling them Yoga, and by focusing on one small aspect of Yoga (the physical), we find that the whole, greater, truer meaning of Yoga is lost to those who would seek the higher ground.

One of the possible alternatives:

It would be soooooo..... much more clear if classes that are predominantly about asanas were called asana classes instead of Yoga classes, though this isn't likely to happen.

Imagine for a moment that you were to go to a lecture by a Yoga scholar about this or that, but that the advertisement said only that he was going to teach a Yoga class. People would show up with their mats and other paraphernalia. He might be giving a lecture on yogic contemplation, or jnana Yoga, for example, but it really would be a Yoga class. Would one really teach such a class and only call it a Yoga class? Of course not.

What if the ad said it was a Yoga class and people showed up to find it was a two hour religious ritual led by a Hindu pandit or a Buddhist priest, rather than a class about asanas. It really would be Yoga, even though the ad didn't mention that it was about this or that form of bhakti Yoga. Would a priest or pandit really have such a ritual and only call it a Yoga class? Of course not.

So why is it that this small part of Yoga called asanas gets elevated to the status of using the whole, or encompassing name Yoga. It really would be soooooo..... much more clear if classes that are predominantly about asanas were called asana classes instead of Yoga classes, though, again, this isn't likely to happen.

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Yoga and Money

Seminars on making money with Yoga: As if calling Yoga a fitness program, physical therapy or medical treatment were not enough, it has also become common to promote Yoga seminars and books in the name of Yoga being a money making technique. The promoters sometimes don't openly say that it is for money, but instead use the terms like prosperity, success, abundance or affluence.

This is not talking about teachers making money by teaching classes; that is an entirely different matter. This is talking about intentionally using the subtle methods and powers of Yoga to cause monetary wealth to come your way. Fruits naturally come to practitioners as a byproduct of Yoga, but to teach seminars on how to direct your conviction and practices into producing financial wealth is a very different matter.

Tell a big enough lie often enough
and people will believe it:
"Yoga is a moneymaking technique".

Reframe of attachment, hedonism, and greed: It doesn't take a great deal of reflection to see that these are reframes of attachment, hedonism or greed, which have generally been seen as obstacles to attenuate, rather than goals to be attained.

It is sometimes said that teachers must meet students where they are. This is the epitome of that process, whereby greedy teachers provide well packaged and marketed seminars to the greedy students. In this way, the seekers receive a form of pseudo-validation for their inner longings of external pleasure. To suggest here that Yoga has nothing to do with moneymaking propositions is not to say that people should live in poverty. It is simply a matter of confusing goals and methods. Yoga is not a moneymaking technique, and any use of Yoga for such a purpose is a devolution of Yoga.
 

Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, head of the Himalayan Institute of the USA writes in an article entitled Real Yoga that:

"Yoga has become the health and fitness system of choice. This is odd because it is the mind - not the body - that is the main target of all genuine Yoga practices .... To regard Yoga primarily as a set of practices for increasing strength and flexibility while calming the nervous system is to mistake the husk for the kernel ."

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Yoga and fitness programs

Commingling of methods: The word Yoga has come into popularity of late. Many other styles of exercise, ranging from aerobics to calisthenics to jazzercise to kick boxing have come to be associated with Yoga (Believe it or not, somebody has even come up with Yoga for dogs!).

Two results have come as a result of this commingling of methods:

  • First, participants come to believe that these practices are a part of Yoga, which they are not.

  • Second, the authentic Yoga is left even further out of view and unavailable.

Tell a big enough lie often enough
and people will believe it:
"Yoga is a physical fitness program".

Admiring those who keep the names separate: Some providers of exercise programs have integrated Yoga postures into their teachings, but have not used the word Yoga. These people are to be admired for having the wisdom to not misrepresent Yoga by presenting co-mingled, or watered-down versions under the name Yoga. In this way, their students are getting some of the benefits of this small piece of Yoga, while at the same time not distorting authentic Yoga in the eyes of those students.

Functional Training: A good example of programs integrating Yoga principles, but without hijacking the name Yoga and abandoning its higher goals, is the movement towards Functional Training or Functional Exercise. From this perspective, the postures of Hatha Yoga are considered only a part of this broader physical fitness perspective. The increasing use of these terms is very good news for Yoga, in that it more accurately states what is actually being done, instead of deceptively (by omission) calling the practices Yoga.
 

Bikram Choudhury, interviewed by CBS television on the 60 Minutes show aired on June 8, 2005:

About Yoga being what the interviewer referred to as "meditative," Bikram Choudhury responded, "No, that's the biggest problem in America. That's the Yoga introduced to America. Yoga means sit and close your eyes and you look at the lamp, or look at the crystal. Absolutely not; absolutely you are not ready for that kind of Yoga.

"You use the body as a medium to bring the mind back to the brain. Perfect marriage between body and mind. Then, you can reach and knock the door to the spirit ."

"Yoga is free. It belongs to the earth. It's a god."

Of India, "it is the only country in the world that still there is some humanity and spiritualism left."

"The philosophy of human life: Who you are? Human. Why you came to this earth as a human? What ultimate destination of your life? To understand all these things you have to study Yoga."

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Seekers of the spiritual

Skipping Yoga as a spiritual tool: For a person longing for spiritual attainment, the path of traditional Yoga may be an ideal fit, including all of the many aspects that it encompasses. However, when the authentic seeker of spiritual truths starts exploring the landscape of paths, Yoga is often not pursued as a spiritual tool because "everybody knows" (incorrectly) that Yoga is merely a physical exercise program.

Appearances prevent finding authentic Yoga: While it is not true that Yoga is a merely physical program, it appears that way to the majority of people. Therefore, because of the appearances, many sincere seekers are not finding authentic Yoga, which has some of the highest teachings and practices known to humanity.

Yoga focuses on the spiritual,
right from the very beginning.

Begin with the spiritual: Following authentic Yoga may bring a person not only spiritual realization, but also side effects that might include physical health, reducing or eliminating some diseases, or health promotion. The intent of Yoga is to focus on the spiritual, right from the very beginning. Through such an authentic orientation of Yoga, many fruits will come, including the physical benefits.

Reaffirm the true nature of Yoga: The problem is not one of changing the path of those who practice adaptations of Yoga, or only small parts of Yoga. Such people have a perfect right to do as they wish. However, what is needed, is to clearly reaffirm the true nature of authentic Yoga and make this available to the true seekers in a wide array of venues. Fortunately, at least a small percentage of teachers are trying to do this.

The Journey OF Yoga TO Yoga
is a Sacred Pilgrimage

Imagine that you are taking a sacred pilgrimage (Yatra) to a sacred place in the height of the Himalayas (or other such destination). In your journey you might fly on an airplane, ride in a car, and do lots of walking. The whole journey en route is one of pilgrimage due to your heartfelt conviction for the destination you are seeking.

However, at any given moment, there are thousands of airplanes in the sky around the planet. There are millions and millions of people riding in cars. There are still many more millions who are walking somewhere. Are all of these people on a Yatra, a sacred pilgrimage to the Himalayas? Of course not.

  • The thing that makes airplane riding, car riding, and walking a Yatra is the intentionality in the heart for the destination being sought.

  • It is the intentionality for the goal called Yoga that makes the process leading there also called Yoga, not the mere actions themselves.

The fact that one moves the body this way or that, or does some breathing practice does not, unto itself constitute Yoga. Yoga is the journey (Yatra) towards Yoga, which is the union being sought. People might have different ways of describing that union called Yoga, such as to say it is Jivatman knowing itself as Paramatman (the individual and the absolute), or the union of Shiva and Shakti (the static and the active), or discerning the convergence point of Purusha and Prakriti (consciousness and matter). However this union or Yoga might be described specifically, they have to do with the union called Yoga.

If one is not working with relationships in the external world, with one's personality, with the body, with the breath, or the levels of mind with this kind of intentionality towards the destination called Yoga, then the process along the way is simply not Yoga.

There are many practitioners and workshop leaders who provide breath training for health reasons, though without using the word Yoga. When providing breath training for health, they make no mention whatsoever of attaining or realizing the higher union that is at the core of Yoga. These people are to be admired for not calling their work Yoga, even though breath training is a part of Yoga. Frankly, it may have never crossed the minds of many of these practitioners to call their training Yoga. This is as it should be.

So how is it that others who teach that work with body, breath and mind do call their practices Yoga, while completely ignoring the goal or destination of Yoga? Should we say that massage therapists, respiratory therapists, and psychotherapists are all teaching Yoga because they are working with body, breath, and mind? Of course not.

The destination of Yoga is Yoga, period. Any other use of the practices is simply not Yoga.

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Turning away from Yoga as spiritual

Some go elsewhere for meditation: Among the teachers, scholars, authors, and publishers who profess to be experts in Yoga, many turn away from non-sectarian Yoga Meditation for their own practices of meditation and contemplation. Almost unbelievably, it is not uncommon for so-called Yoga teachers to recommend that their Yoga students practice Yoga for the physical body, but instruct them they should not follow Yoga to learn practices such as introspection and meditation.

Yoga in the West has only 
scratched the surface of Yoga.

Compatible with religion: Yoga as a means for spiritual unfoldment is compatible with any religious orientation. It is quite common for people who have pursued the authentic spiritual practices of Yoga to report that they become even closer to own their religious roots. There is no conflict. (See the article, Mysticism, Yoga, and Religion)

How is it that you would NOT do this:

People do not walk into a restaurant and order a bottle of “Christian communion” with their meal. Rather, they order a bottle of wine. If one did place such an order, it would be taken as a joke. Similarly, would we call eating bread with your meal “Christian communion” or would we simply call it eating bread? Would you call taking a bath or a shower baptism? Of course not.

But that you WOULD do this?

How is it that one can walk into a health spa, for example, and order up “Yoga” and completely disregard its true meaning?

Teachers promoting their religion: Yet, it is also sadly true that some other teachers of Yoga, both from East and West, teach in a way that worships teachers or deities that are not known to the religions and cultures of the students, even further confusing the issue of what Yoga is truly about (See the paper, Is Yoga a Religion?). This is not to say that teachers should necessarily not present their religion. Rather, the point is that by not clearly acknowledging the difference between their religion and Yoga, there is a great potential for confusion about the nature of Yoga.

Teachers and students are both deprived: Many modern Yoga teachers are missing out on authentic Yoga because of their misunderstanding, and these high Yogic practices are thus not even followed by many of them. In other words, they cannot teach the more authentic perspectives of Yoga if they do not know about them. In turn, their students are also being deprived of authentic Yoga and the wisdom of the ancient sages.
 

David Frawley, an internationally recognized scholar and teacher, is quoted in the Sep/Oct 2000 issue of Yoga Journal:

Yoga in the West "has only scratched the surface of the greater Yoga tradition," he says. "The Yoga community in the West is currently at a crossroads. Its recent commercial success can be used to build the foundation for a more profound teaching, aimed at changing the consciousness of humanity. Or it can reduce Yoga to a mere business that has lost connection with its spiritual heart. The choice that Yoga teachers make today will determine this future."

See also this, by David Frawley:
Vedantic Meditation

Can a Christian Practice Yoga or Yoga Meditation?
(YouTube of Swami J)

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Teacher training programs

Teacher training avoids the spiritual: Even a cursory review of the school and seminar offerings will reveal that in most modern Yoga teacher training programs, a small percentage of the curriculum deals with the spiritual aspects of Yoga, which are the true focus of Yoga. Once again, this modern focus on the physical aspects of Yoga is backwards from the authentic Yoga of the ancients.

You can become a "certified" Yoga teacher 
without having spent a single minute in the 
face-to-face presence of a teacher 
studying the traditional Yoga texts.

Become certified with no face-to-face teaching: The Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Yoga Sutras are two of the most authoritative texts in Yoga. As an example of the current state of modern Yoga teacher training, the most well known agency in America that claims certifying authority for Yoga schools has structured its standards with such a focus on the physical that it is possible for a student to become a certified Yoga teacher without having spent a single minute in the face-to-face presence of a teacher studying these texts or any of the other traditional Yoga texts.

See also the article:
Yoga Day USA and the Distortion of Yoga in America

About Yoga in the US:
"It's a mess".
- Georg Feuerstein

Online Yoga teacher certification for $49.99: As if the state of Yoga and Yoga teacher training were not already bad enough, one online company has started to offer a $49.99 online Yoga teacher training program. All you have to do is purchase their program via credit card, read their material, and take a written online exam, which consists of multiple choice questions. You can become a "Certified Yoga Instructor" and will also receive an online transcript that mentions your score, which can be used "to prove your certified credentials". Interestingly, their promotional material even explains that the certificate that you will receive does not mention the word online.

Georg Feurstein, another well recognized scholar and teacher, is quoted in a July/August 2003 article in the online LA Yoga Magazine. When asked, "How would you describe Yoga in the US today?" he responded:

" It’s a mess. And you can quote me on that. Anything that comes to America or the West in general, immediately gets individualized and commercialized. There has always been great diversity in traditional Yoga, and this diversity was based on the experience of masters. Today even beginning teachers feel qualified to innovate and create their own trademarked Yoga system.

"So, looking at the Yoga movement today, part of me feels very saddened by it, but then I also see that it contains the seeds of something better. Also, amazingly, Yoga can be beneficial even when it is reduced down to posture practice. But people shortchange themselves when they strip Yoga of its spiritual side."

Teachers told to not speak: Some Asana teachers say that they do understand the authentic goals of Yoga, and would like to share these higher teachings with students. However, some of them who teach at well known "Yoga studios" around the country (USA) have privately confided that they have been directly told by studio owners to not teach this, and that if they do, they will no longer be allowed to teach there. Many other Asana teachers who understand and seek authentic Yoga in their personal lives refrain from sharing this with students out of fear for losing students and their payments for classes.

Maybe the pendulum will swing back: 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.

A picture is worth a thousand words:
This photo is from an advertisement at Dillards.com, which is
a leading department store in USA. (see copy of website)

What Yoga has become in America (Video)
(More YouTube videos by Swami J)

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Names and Modern styles of Yoga

Recent inventions: The nature of Yoga is even further confused in the public eye by the way the methods are promoted. Reviewing almost any list of the best known 10-12 modern Yoga "styles" will quickly reveal that almost all of the modern Yoga styles have been invented in the last few decades. Very few Yoga teachers today will simply teach "Hatha Yoga," the physical Yoga system of the past (that actually had spiritual goals), let alone the true spiritual Yoga.

Most of the modern "styles" of Yoga
did not exist a few decades ago, while
Yoga itself is thousands of years old.

Many use a man's name: In addition, many, if not most of the modern "styles" of Yoga have the surname of a currently living man in front of the word Yoga, as if that man, himself, has invented Yoga. This is not to say that these teachers are not competent or even superb in their physical abilities. They may do a very good job within the scope of their teachings.

Distorting Sanskrit terms: Several other modern systems have taken an ancient Sanskrit word or phrase that has a specific spiritual meaning, and then adapted that terminology to some set of postures or practices that were not part of the original intent.

Trademark of ancient names: In addition, these modern teachers have then trademarked these ancient, traditional names, further misleading an unsuspecting public. This leaves the would-be students with the impression that the current day founder of this brand name system is somehow linked to the original teachings associated with that word or phrase. It further leads people to believe that the new teachers certified by that founder also have some expertise or familiarity with the traditional practice or level of attainment authentically associated with that word or phrase.

Modern styles are very suspect: If you were to turn the clock back a hundred years, maybe even fifty, twenty, or less, few, if any of these current styles, systems, or methods of Yoga even existed. Most of the founders of these modern, so-called Yoga styles were not even born. Therefore, these modern styles are very suspect when, at the same time, we say that Yoga is thousands of years old. This is not a mere call to go back in time to some theoretically more pristine era of Yoga. Here, it really has been a case of throwing away the baby with the bath water.

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What kind of Yoga do you do?

Four traditional schools of Yoga: Traditionally, there are four schools of Yoga. If asked, "What kind of Yoga do you do?" the answer would be one of these four, or a combination of them. Briefly, the four schools of Yoga are:

  • Karma Yoga: The Yoga of action, doing the practices while fulfilling one's duties in the external world.

  • Jnana Yoga: The Yoga of knowledge or self-enquiry, knowing oneself at all levels through a process of contemplation and introspection.

  • Bhakti Yoga: The Yoga of devotion, of surrender to the divine force or God, practiced in ways consistent with one's own religion.

  • Raja Yoga: The meditative school of Yoga, such as systematized by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.

Six classical schools: In addition, it is important to note that Yoga itself has been classically considered to be one of six schools of Indian philosophy.

What kind of Yoga do you do?: However, now, when one asks, "What kind of Yoga do you do?" the question is almost impossible to answer. The question now is an inquiry as to which of the many modern adaptations of postures that one practices, as referred to in the last section.

Only Yoga: A true Yogi, one who sincerely practices authentic Yoga, may do just Yoga, meaning some combination of Karma, Jnana, Bhakti, and Raja Yoga, in the context of the six systems of Indian philosophy and practice. The mere asking of the question, "What kind of Yoga do you do?" is, itself, a sign of confusion, as one Yogi encountering another Yogi would not likely ask such a meaningless question.
 

Paramahansa Yogananda, the well-known author of Autobiography of a Yogi, responds to the question "What is Yoga?" in the text The Essence of Self-Realization:

"Yoga means union. Etymologically, it is connected to the English word, yoke. Yoga means union with God, or, union of the little, ego-self with the divine Self, the infinite Spirit. Most people in the West, and also many in India, confuse Yoga with Hatha Yoga, the system of bodily postures.

But Yoga is primarily a spiritual discipline . I don't mean to belittle the Yoga postures. Hatha Yoga is a wonderful system. The body, moreover, is a part of our human nature, and must be kept fit lest it obstruct our spiritual efforts. Devotees, however, who are bent on finding God give less importance to the Yoga postures. Nor is it strictly necessary that they practice them. Hatha Yoga is the physical branch of Raja Yoga, the true science of Yoga. Raja Yoga is a system of meditation techniques that help to harmonize human consciousness with the divine consciousness.

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When is Yoga no longer Yoga?

Think of a car with missing parts: Imagine you see a car, and your friend says, "What's that?" You say, "It's a car". Imagine that the car is missing a wheel, and your friend asks you the same question. Still, you say, "It's a car". But what if all four wheels were gone, and the doors were gone, and the engine was gone. Then, what would you say when your friend asked, "What's that?" You might say something like, "Junk". We may not know the exact point of change, but somewhere along the way, in removing the parts, you'd naturally stop saying, "It's a car".

Without the higher goals,
can it still be called Yoga?

Think of Yoga with missing parts: At what point, and after how much adaptation to modern culture, does Yoga cease to be Yoga? When Yoga is stripped of its higher goals and methods, can it still be called Yoga? When is Yoga no longer Yoga?

Bricks and houses: Imagine that you hold a brick in your hand, and say to a person, "This is a house!" To hold out asanas (postures) and say, "This is Yoga!" makes as much sense as saying that a single brick is a house. Both are confusing a minor, though useful part with the whole.

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"But it's useful! It helped me!"

One of the most common comments used to justify the modern devolutions of Yoga is in saying something like, "But it's useful! It helped me!" It is as if they think that pointing out the true nature of Yoga is somehow in opposition to doing other activities that are of benefit to human beings. The argument is that if people become flexible and less stressed, the method is therefore called Yoga.

The fact that physical postures (or modern revisions) are effective is not the question. Doing asanas is beneficial, but calling it Yoga is a different matter. The fact that the brick is useful does not make it a house. Any physical exercise, such as walking or playing tennis is useful, but that does not make it Yoga. Aerobics, calisthenics, jazzercise, and kickboxing may also be useful, but that does not make them Yoga. Massage therapy, physical therapy, and respiratory therapy are useful, but that does not make them Yoga. Psychotherapy and counseling are useful, but that does not make them Yoga.

The argument that the tiny piece of Yoga called asana is useful is not a legitimate justification to reverse the part and the whole, and thus claim that Yoga, when stripped of its higher goals and practices, is still Yoga.

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Opponents are providing support

Religious leaders say Yoga is spiritual: Ironically, some of the most outspoken opponents of Yoga are doing the most to promote its authentic spiritual nature. Leaders of some religious organizations are prohibiting Yoga classes from being conducted in their facilities because of its spiritual nature. They can be quite outspoken in their condemnation of Yoga. (See Is Yoga a Religion, including the section on choices related to Yoga and religion. See also Mysticism, Yoga, and Religion)

The opponents of Yoga are often
quite outspoken about Yoga's spiritual goal,
while so-called Yoga teachers
often avoid the subject.

Preventing classes because of being spiritual: In one recent example in the news, a religious leader stopped Yoga classes in his facility because "the Yoga instructor, had confirmed that the ultimate aim of Yoga was to enable participants to " 'ascend to a higher spiritual plane.' " He went on to add, "It seems completely inappropriate that we should give someone a platform who is advocating different spirituality". While his actions may be unfortunate for the students, it openly voices the authentic nature of Yoga.

Teachers argue that Yoga is only physical: At the same time, however, the modern Yoga teachers themselves are often arguing that the Yoga they are teaching is only a physical program supported by physicians and the medical community, and place little or no emphasis or acknowledgement on the authentic spiritual goals of Yoga.

Teachers and opponents have switched roles: Thus, we have a situation where modern Yoga teachers are usually ignoring or minimizing the spiritual goal of Yoga, while the opponents are speaking out quite loudly that Yoga is spiritual! The roles have effectively been reversed.

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What to do if you are seeking authentic Yoga

Recognize the authentic and the adaptations: There are many challenges faced by those who are seeking authentic Yoga as the path to Enlightenment or Self-realization that it is intended to be. As with many endeavors in life, progress begins with understanding. Understanding the current situation within the modern Yoga community will help tremendously in sharpening one's ability to recognize the difference between modern adaptations and authentic Yoga of the ancients.

The authentic seeker
of authentic Yoga
will find an authentic path.

Cultivate determination: Once seeing the difference between the adaptations and the authentic, it then requires the determination to be in a minority, to not just get caught up in the flow of the latest fad. That determination, followed by action will lead the authentic student of authentic Yoga to an authentic path.

Help will come: It is said that when the student is ready, the teacher will come. It is also said that the ideal teacher will come for each student, depending on the aspirations the seeker holds in the heart.

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Related Quotes & Links

Comments on Yoga in the West, David Frawley 
Yoga American Style, Prem Prakash
Yoga Renamed is Still Hindu Subhas R. Tiwari
Comments on Contemporary Yoga, Georg Feuerstein
What is Yoga?, Paramahansa Yogananda
Certified Yoga Teacher: Illumination or Illusion?, Pat Burke
Yoga Yesterday and Today, Interview with Georg Feuerstein
Yoga in the Modern World, Mikel Burley
Curative Yoga Introduction, AllAyurveda.com
Why do we do Yoga?, Sharon Steffensen
Had Your McYoga Today?, Hillary MacGregor, Los Angeles Times
Open Source Yoga Unity, A non-profit collective 

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This site is devoted to presenting the ancient Self-Realization path of the Tradition of the Himalayan masters in simple, understandable and beneficial ways, while not compromising quality or depth. The goal of our sadhana or practices is the highest Joy that comes from the Realization in direct experience of the center of consciousness, the Self, the Atman or Purusha, which is one and the same with the Absolute Reality. This Self-Realization comes through Yoga meditation of the Yoga Sutras, the contemplative insight of Advaita Vedanta, and the intense devotion of Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra, the three of which complement one another like fingers on a hand. We employ the classical approaches of Raja, Jnana, Karma, and Bhakti Yoga, as well as Hatha, Kriya, Kundalini, Laya, Mantra, Nada, Siddha, and Tantra Yoga. Meditation, contemplation, mantra and prayer finally converge into a unified force directed towards the final stage, piercing the pearl of wisdom called bindu, leading to the Absolute.