Part 1 | Selling Modern Yoga as Spirituality | Joe Dolezal
It seems to be a trend permeating the world but mostly in the West, where Yoga has become a grossly misunderstood science, and a term regularly abused. Perhaps with the exception of certain monks and eastern scholars, when the idea of Yoga comes to mind, we are likely to envision someone with an athletic figure maneuvering similar to a gymnast with bodily contortions we have all become ambiguously familiar with. Most have heard and perhaps even participated in some “mindful attention” exercises – usually under the guise and pretense of Yoga. None of this constitutes a real crime in of itself, and has even arguably a variety of physical as well as psychological benefits. Though it maybe true such calisthenics and mental efforts resemble minor elements of Yoga proper, their similarity in theory and purpose starkly end beyond this. Nonetheless, these are likely the unfortunate ideas many have when Yoga comes to mind.
Within the United States there are many “yogic systems” claiming to have their roots in traditional Yoga. But after considering the original prescription of Yoga proper, we not only see why such claims are deceitful, but in fact can be harmful. The most popular among such systems are Hatha, Vinyasa, and Bikram; where the main difference seems to be the methodology implemented when it comes to their specific postures and conjunctive breathing. None however, actually include the essential totality of Yoga proper, nor mention anything about liberation of the spirit; which is the sole intention and aim of Yoga proper. This trend is surprisingly ramped within India itself, as many so called gurus and self-proclaimed yoga instructors are regularly steeped in scandal, further perverting an already misunderstood art and science.
This doesn’t neglect the fact that Yoga proper does in fact have several different methodologies, which have inadvertently resulted in the several different traditions. What distinguishes such authentic traditions from ad-hoc usurpations found in abundance today is that Yoga proper will always consummate with deviations of the Spirit into unity with higher states of consciousness, and unity. To strive and yield different results is a mutations of Yoga rooted in either ignorance or even worse, the ambitions of individual ideologies.
Yoga is an Sanskrit term describing a transcendental idea which simultaneously implies a process, the means of the process, and the end of such process where liberation of the spirit from the physical, emotion and mental incarceration is said to yield free the trapped soul. There is no English transliteration for Yoga, but is often accepted to loosely mean “Union”. Union in this sense is meant to be understood that during the process of the practice the individual spirit becomes so rarified that the soul is allowed to unionizes back into the soul of the universe itself. The progressive shedding and control of the spirt within is the process of Yoga proper whereby the soul merges and finally sublimates with the soul of the cosmos – as a final and absolute Oneness results. Countless opinions and commentaries have been expressed on this practice and process, but what Yoga ultimately is has to be reserved for practical experience rather than descriptive fantasies many pretended spiritualists use to divulge their own form of escapism.
Of the different schools of thought, or authentic traditions Yoga falls under, the most widely known is that which was compiled by a Sage living some millennia ago known today as simply Patanjali. He himself is generally not accredited to having written or created any system of Yoga itself; but rather, compiled and elaborated existing systems of the Yogic process in a plain and methodical format.
Eight stages of Yoga were broadly described, referred to as the Eight Limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. (1) Yama, (2) Niyama, (3) Asana, (4) Pranayama, (5) Pratyahara, (6) Dharana, (7) Dhyana and (8) Samadhi. These stages are meant to provide broad guidelines to the yogic process where individual begins by subduing their baser instincts, and gradually transmuting that energy into higher qualitative states of conscious existence. It is practically impossible to put in to a single word, or even a paragraph the entire meaning of these stages, but roughly their descriptions are as follows.
Yama (first stage) – refers to developing a superior ethical understanding and being vigilant that ones behavior doesn’t conflict with spiritual principals. Here the practitioner strives to be an “ideal” person and citizen.
Niyama (second stage) – refers to studying and having an understanding of scriptural texts along with their multilayered significance. The practitioner focuses on self-discipline to become a living embodiment of scriptural teachings.
Asana (third stage) – refers to bodily postures. This makes the practitioner physically healthy to be able to endure long stints of concentration and later meditation which Yoga proper requires. Unfortunately, this is what people mistakenly believe represents the majority of Yoga proper and the benefits to be accrued.
Pranayama (fourth stage) – refers to control (Yama) of Breath (Prana /
Life Force). This is conducted by different types of rhythmic breathings techniques. The Kundalini Yoga tradition has derived extensive metrologies to this practice whereby the entire process of Yoga can be achieved through them. More on this later.
Pratyahara (fifth stage) – refers to metaphysical or philosophical abstraction. The mind attempts to cognize and understand higher values, realities and spiritual ideas. This practice is a prerequisite priming the mind for concentration.
Dharana (sixth stage) – refers to the act of mental fixity, or enduring concentration. Pratyahara (abstraction) becomes Dharana (concentration).
Dhyana (seventh stage) – refers to the result of intense concentration (Dharana), where our intensified mental fixity becomes a mediating channel between our individual mind and the mysteries of the universe. Meditation is not a trivial physiological effort where we fixed our attention on something for 30 minutes or an hour.
Samadhi (eight and final stage) – refers to the final culmination of soul after prolonged meditation (Dhyana), which yields permanent unity between the individual and everything within the universe. This is the goal of Yoga proper.
This is an oversimplified description of the stages of Yoga proper giving us an general understanding of its process and expected results. Considering such a generic outline, we begin to see how Yoga has been grossly misrepresented in todays public, and why it rarely yields profound results and divine experiences as its literature often suggests. Perpetuating ignorance about Yoga has made its ineffectiveness acceptable. And more ironically, it the variety of todays “yogic organizations” which have seemingly delivered the final deathblow in improperly divulging the Yogic science, often being more interested in maintaining their hierarchy, notoriety, and worldly gains, rather than divulging the real purpose and practice of Yoga proper. Corruption is corruption whether guided by ignorance or deceit, and such corruption has effectively debased the sacred science to a level of near valueless worth.
This puts us in an usual predicament if we are to practice Yoga in its intended purpose, and redeem any notable benefit from it. So we shift our attention to Pranayama – the fourth stage mentioned by Patanjali’s in his outline of the Yoga process. As mentioned previously, Pranayama is the control (Yama) of the Breath (Prana / life-force), which is a practical and highly expeditious method to achieve the entire gamut of Yoga proper. Extensive methodologies detailing such techniques belong to a tradition known as Kundalini Yoga – a name commonly known but grossly misrepresented.
This particular methodology does not neglect any part Patanjali’s Sutra, rather it stresses and expands on the importance of Pranayama by demonstrating how manipulating the breath can be used as the sole means for spiritual elevation when we understand the mind and Prana (life force) are flip-sides of the same coin which breath alone can control and refine. It may be asked why choose this path over any other within all the different systems of Yoga. And the answer presumably lies in understanding the scientific nature theory of the system, and the notable benefits even upon commencement of its practice.
Some adepts of the Kundalini system even go so far as to claim that by its practice alone, (in its intense variety), any physical or mental infirmity and be rectified since they are all ultimately rooted in some form of spiritual trauma or iniquity. Though this may seem far-fetched because the discipline required is beyond the capability of most people, there is substantial validity to these types of claims. In many ways, this system is perfect because of its flexibility, simplicity and effectiveness; not to mentioned regular boons acquired through the practice. It is for this reason among others that Kundalini Yoga is called the path of enjoyment and pleasure.