Yes, I too have an Instagram account…it’s called TotalYogi. But this blog isn’t about Insta. It’s about how in the 21st century, Yoga is primarily (almost solely) identified with Asana. It’s also about how we as Yoga Teachers have a responsibility to pass on the best traditions of Yoga to future yogis and not succumb to the populism that Yoga currently enjoys.
The truth hit home when a new student walked into my yoga class the other day and said that she wanted to learn Yoga, but not get into Meditation! I was at a loss for words. How is that even possible I asked? Meditation is an integral part of Yoga. And she said, “Well I want to do all the Yoga that I see on Instagram but am not interested in the boring Meditation stuff!” I promptly asked her to leave. Well, almost. I was a bit more courteous, but dissuaded her from joining my class which would eventually turn boring for her.
But it got me thinking….how have we managed to ‘dumb-down’ Yoga to such a degree that many Yoga teachers I know today can’t teach Meditation. Or worse still, haven’t even tried it themselves.
So, where does that leave Yoga?
Before we get there, one question that might be worth answering: ‘Is Health necessary for Yoga?’ and I’m not even asking about Fitness, just Health? With modern Yoga so keen on parading itself as a Panacea for all health problems; it’s noteworthy that the greatest Yogi of them all – the Buddha, was often quite ill. In fact, it is said that He was always accompanied by his physician. I’m certainly not saying that you need to ditch being Healthy – in fact the art of asana exists to make the body Healthy, so you can transcend it and focus on Meditation. It’s easier to transcend a Healthy body than it is to transcend an Ill one. The Ill body will constantly seek your attention; the pain will keep troubling you and in fact you’ll be in ‘dis-ease’. It’s hard to transcend an Ill body, but not impossible. So, Health & Fitness are not the ultimate goals of Yoga; they are by-products certainly.
And, how did all this extreme Body-centric Yoga start off?
In the 1950’s, as Ashtanga Yoga was founded by Sri Pattabhi Jois and Iyengar Yoga by Sri BKS Iyengar (the 2 most respected Yoga teachers of the 20th century), it was the first time in history (I believe) that a Yoga program was created by a Yoga Teacher – and not a Yogi. You may or may not accept my view but it certainly deserves investigation. All contemporary Yoga courses till then, like the Sivananda Yoga course was created by Swami Sivananda, the Kriya Yoga programs were set forth by Sri Lahiri Mahashay and later Paramahansa Yogananda. All of these were Swamis and Yogis. Messrs Jois and BKS were the world’s first Asana Teachers!
Yes, that was the need of the hour. People needed the Physical Therapy from disease that Iyengar Yoga offered, with its uber-focus on Alignment in Posture. And they needed the Physical Training to fitness that Ashtanga Yoga offered, with its Vinyasa-sequenced challenges. And that it what Yoga needed to reach a far more vast audience than the Rishis in the Himalayas might have ever imagined. Yoga is today the fitness and cultural phenomenon that it is, omnipresent across the globe, with UN backing to boot, thanks primarily to the tireless efforts of Jois and BKS and many others ranging from the celebs’-yogi Bikram Chowdhury to the yogi-televangelist Baba Ramdev. Yoga is practised by nearly a 100 million worldwide (my guesstimate based on some stats we have). It is changing the way Medicine is practised and prescribed and has already inspired Modern Psychology to reach hitherto unknown heights. It is a huge part of CAM (Complimentary & Alternative Medicine). Yoga is integral to Modern Man’s wellbeing!
But what about Meditation?
It’s old hat more people dabble in Technology, without ever getting involved in Science – which is it’s Mother. Similarly, most modern yogis will limit themselves to Asanas without ever exploring the full-range of Yoga. While that is absolutely fine, have we come to a point when we can start calling these Asana classes or Asanists instead of Yogis? I’m only joking. The more important point is that we as teachers and students of yoga, go deeper into Yoga. Not just because the rewards are stunning, but also because the physical training through Asana has made us capable of sitting still, breathing deeper and staying more focused….all preparatory (Asana, Pranayam, Dharana) steps for Meditation (Dhyaan) to happen to us! We’ve watered the earth, grown our roots deep, reached out for the sunlight – now why wouldn’t we want to ‘flower’!
- MANISH POLE, yoga teacher, writer & speaker, co-founder & director of Total Yoga.