The Westernization of Yoga or Why Stretching & Flexibility is Not Yoga

 

Yoga has become extremely popular over the last decade. Today, almost everyone knows someone who says they are practicing Yoga. Many of these new yogis/yoginis are quite dedicated and go to class several times each week.

Let's take a look at what they are practicing:

Most classes are 60-90 minutes of doing various Yoga poses/stretches/asanas, which can vary from gentle to intense. The intensity will vary from class to class, style to style and teacher to teacher.

And so, the student will say they are practicing Yoga regularly every week.

I do not wish to belittle anyone's practice or imply that anyone is claiming to be or do something they are not. Yet, the fact remains that no matter what kind(s) of classes they are attending, this is not the practice of Yoga as defined by any traditional text on Yoga.

To claim that this type of activity represents learning Yoga is similar to someone learning the hand and finger exercises practiced by great pianists and thinking that they are learning to play and indeed, even are playing the piano.

This is not the fault of the student. Imagine if most of the piano teachers only taught these exercises and called the practice "Piano Class." Why wouldn't the student feel he/she was learning to play the piano?

Perhaps you are saying that this is silly. After all, great pianists make beautiful music when they are playing. That's true. However, it is my contention that most people are only aware of the exercises and not what the exercises are meant to prepare them for. It's as if somehow they never get to hear the music. They only see and hear the exercises. Usually, there is no time and sometimes no desire to learn more in class. Sometimes, the instructors themselves have not been taught more than these exercises, sometimes they do not practice them and sometimes they do not want to lose students who are not ready to transform themselves.

In Reality, classical pianists study the already written works of great composers and try to play them as the composer intended them to sound. Modern jazz pianists try to understand what their fellow musicians are playing and try to make up new, never played before music that fits in perfectly with what is going on around them.

You can play for yourself or you can go play for the enjoyment of others. This is similar to what true Yoga is like. You can study the ancient scriptures or you can go out into the World and practice Yoga in everyday life. You can practice Yoga for your benefit, or for the benefit of others.

I am not saying that going to a Yoga class and stretching for an hour is of no benefit. Not at all. There are plenty of benefits which anyone can and will get from even this limited practice. However, since their practice is on the gross or physical plane, most of the benefits will be limited to this physical plane: Better Health.
And so the most Yoga, or Union, they can hope to achieve is that of uniting one part of their body with another, via the flow of their Pranas. I use the plural for Prana because by definition, you cannot unite just one flow. You can only unite separate and different flows.

This is another area where most Western Yoga Instruction falls short. Most instruction is only in the placement of the various body parts. And while it is true, that the flow of one's Prana will be influenced by where one's body parts are in relation to each other; this is also low level Yoga. The flow of one's Prana should be directly regulated and controlled by one's mind. Of the Yoga classes that do talk about the flow of Prana, they usually talk about the main flow of Prana in the Asana and not the counter flow.

Since Hatha Yoga is the Union of the Ha or the Sun Flows of Energy and the Tha or the Moon Flows of Energy, talking about only one flow means they are practicing either Ha Yoga or Tha Yoga. They cannot be practicing Hatha Yoga.

Most people are not aware that the practice of the Asanas or stretches is actually the third step in the classical school of Raja Yoga. The first step is the practice of 5 Restraints: Non-Harming, Truthfulness, Non-Stealing, Self-Restraint and Non-Possessiveness. The second is the practice of the 5 Observances: Purity, Contentment, Austerity, Self- Study and Surrender to God. (Notice there are 10, as in the 10 Commandments).

The concept behind this is that since the practice of the Yoga Asanas does make you Healthier and does give you more energy regardless of your State of Being, if you have not become a better person first, all the Yoga Asanas will have accomplished is making you better able to carry out your gross impulses. This is what happened to Darth Vader. He practiced the exercises of a Jedi Knight and they only fed the Flaws in his character.

My Yoga Teacher, Yogiraj Swami Bua, Maharaja of Hatha Yoga, sums this up when he says:

"The Lotus Pose will not take you to Heaven."

Another way of looking at this is: Yoga is Union. How can one claim to practice Union only a few hours a week? Do we get married for a few hours a week? (OK. I can hear all the humorous comments about marriage this will generate.) I think we can legitimately question the validity of using the term Union to refer to a fleeting or very temporary State of Being.

By this, I do not mean we are not practicing Yoga unless we are in the State of Union. I mean we must be trying to be in the State of Union. Whether we succeed or not, is another question.

My purpose in writing this article is to try and stop Yoga from following in the foot steps of the many Ancient Traditions which have been reduced by the market place to nothing but a hollow shell of their true selves.

It is not the fault of the instructors. After all there is no money to be made in not giving people what they think they want. Therefore, I hope this article will inspire some to examine what they want and lead them to true Yoga.