What was Yoga really about,
before it came to the West...
and is there something we can do
to "make Yoga great again"?
The ancient Ashtanga Yoga (from over a thousand years ago, not the modern Westernized Ashtanga Yoga) and the Raja Yoga of Patanjali, clearly did not emphasise Asana.
Asana, in ancient times was not associated with gymnastics and flexibility, but instead with creating inner stability and a good preparation for the deepest self-knowledge and self-realization.
The ancient texts make it clear that Asana was considered to be a preparatory practice, together with ongoing purification, self-study, devotion and surrender to the Divine.
'Asana' was 'good posture'... 'good seatedness'... (literally actually meaning 'seat') enabling the practice of the other aspects of Yoga - the other 'angas' (Ashtanga meaning '8 branches' or '8 limbs' - Asana being one of the limbs).
Upon the stability of Asana, the other practices, or limbs, can be effectively practised/experienced.
It was Dhyana ('meditation') and Samadhi (deep 'equanimity') that were the essential focus in the set of practices of the Yogi.
Modern/Western Yoga seeks often to minimize the religious and the spiritual component of Yoga, emphasizing the side-effects - the health and aesthetic benefits... but can we have real 'Yoga' without the spiritual dimension?
Even the ancient Hatha Yoga (not the modern versions) were focused on the ultimate spiritual alchemy: communion with the divine and divinization of the body itself, as the vehicle and expression of the Divine.
Nowadays when people speak of a 'Yoga body' they're speaking of a good, 'fit-looking' body...
In ancient times, the 'Yoga body' or 'Divya deha' was the transmuted body - transformed into divine vibration.
How was this achieved in ancient Hatha Yoga?
First of all by purificatory practices (Kriyas)... by letting go of all obstructions to experiencing the divine... then the full and natural flow of energy can occur, even in its most potent form known as Kundalini Shakti.
This quote says it all, very succinctly :
"When all the organs are functioning properly and the flow of prana is unobstructed, then calmness and a peace descend on you, which is essential for meditation.It is sometimes said that we can only actually practice the first 6 angas/limbs, and that the last two (Dhyana and Samadhi) arise as a consequence of the correct practice of those 6.
In fact, peace of mind is a prerequisite and not a consequence of meditation as we normally tend to think."
- Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati
An important question for modern practitioners and teachers:
- To what extent is the approach, the context, etc. of a modern Yoga class providing the appropriate 'Asana' - the 'seat' - for Dhyana, for Samadhi and for the experience of Yoga ('Union') itself?
- To what extent are you as a practitioner or teacher of Yoga called to practice the fullness of what the ancient Yoga tradition offers?
- ... And, if you are a Yoga teacher, to what extent do feel that your training prepared you to pass on the full depth of the Yoga tradition - 'Yoga' as understood in ancient times by its 'founders'?
- What would you like to have had more attention given to in your training to give you a strong foundation as a Yoga teacher?
- Is there some aspect of the practices or the theory that for you would have been extremely valuable to be included but that wasn't, or that was approached, but only superficially?
- Did you receive clarity about the history of Yoga and the different approaches and how they relate to each other, or were you left a bit confused?
- Are you able to easily answer students' questions regarding Yoga philosophy?
- Did your Yoga training leave you wanting to deepen your understanding and provide you support for that ongoing journey, or were you left confused and without guidance for the next steps of learning?
- More importantly... what aspect, or practice, of Yoga would you most like to integrate now in your life and in your Yoga teaching in order to make it more effective, more fulfilling, more effortless?
I'm genuinely curious...
If you are a Yoga practitioner or teacher, I'd really like to hear from you.
(In the light of what ancient Yoga was about) I'd love to hear what you feel (as a practitioner) is missing from modern Yoga classes?
What could be deepened?
What should be included?
What is most important for you about Yoga?
Did you find what you were looking for in modern Yoga?
Have your teachers provided access to ancient Yoga, or only given you the Western 'gym-yoga'?
Is there some small or maybe big change that for you would make all the difference between a mediocre class and a truly inspiring one?
More personalized approach?
What's your heart calling for in your practice of Yoga?
... who are wanting to experience and share the full depth of the ancient Yoga tradition (whether using Mantra, Meditation, Kundalini Kriya Yoga, Bhakti, or any other style, approach or combination of tools).
Peter Littlejohn Cook