Much of the Yoga taught today has its roots in the Krishnamacharya lineage, with a focus on asana (commonly referred to as modern postural yoga). The popularity of modern postural Yoga can be linked to BKS Iyengar’s book Light on Yoga, published in 1965, which made yoga accessible to a new audience with its detailed descriptions and photos of the asanas.
These days however, this emphasis on asana has seen a gradual transition to a point where the teaching of Yoga is often thought of as a form of movement or exercise, where asanas are broken into small details and isolations in a form akin to physiotherapy. We learn to activate our glutes or release a piriformis muscle. Alignment is viewed as an expression of muscular-skeletal perfection.
There are many different paths in Yoga (examples include: Karma, Jnana, Bhakti), and not all would link themselves to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras or accept the definitions in the Bhagavad Gita, but these 2 texts are seen as being the defining period of Yoga. The period of classical Yoga.
A closer look at the classical texts reveal some central principles
- Yoga is a study of the human condition: why we suffer and how we might overcome suffering. In this regard it is aligned with the 6 teachings (Darsanas) which emerged in India, all of which seek to explore the world within, and to examine human experience.
- Yoga is a practice rather than a belief system. Its knowledge is knowledge from experience rather than seeking to acquire something from outside ourselves. Through a practice we are not learning about Yoga as a doctrine or how to perform asanas better but learning about ourselves through a practice. It’s called a Swadhyaya (self-study).
- Yoga recognises that the mind is always busy, but a quiet mind is not the goal of Yoga. Yoga is described as a study of consciousness (called citta) and we seek to examine what causes the Citta to fluctuate. It’s a meditative discipline.
- Yoga identifies states of mind (vrttis) and types of suffering (klesas) and offers types of practice to address the suffering and to minimise the movements.
Across millennia there have been many schools of Yoga and many teachers, each with their own distinct practice approaches. New ways of working, new techniques, new ways of communicating continually emerge.
The covid pandemic has forced us to adapt again and the use of technology is another example of change. Change is a constant but what we need from change is to clarify, renew and revitalise Yoga to make it relevant to the lives of the practitioners of today. We need to examine closely what makes it Yoga so that what gets taught is not merely a grab-bag of ideas and wellbeing practices to fulfil consumer expectations.
It’s time to define the scope and limitation of the of what goes in the name of Yoga
Fyshwick, ACT Australia