From yog on rustic cotton mats laid out on an earthen floor under a hay roof to Yoga in swanky über temperature controlled yoga studios with branded accessories, this practice has leapt to a different level altogether. The multi billion-dollar yoga industry today is a far cry from the simple akahada gurus who would sweep the floor and lay out the mats to make the space ready for the students and accept calmly what now seems a paltry remuneration for the teaching. A routine and disciplined study, it involved much more learning than developing a beach ready body or a flawless facade.
Yoga today has taken on many hues and those who develop a particular style of Yoga hugely define its practice today. A 200-hour teachers training gets a certificate and a traditional Hindu name for a practice that took yogis lifetimes to even make progress. Patanjali and his yoga sutras, each of which can be pondered upon for months is taught in five easy lessons.
Though elated at the status this practice has achieved in the world today one has to wonder whether somewhere along the way a very scientific and well documented practice to realise the Self has been diminished to a glamour quotient for movie stars and studios.
For many born in India in the 50’s and 60’s and earlier, yog sadhana was a way of life, learnt often from watching our parents. Formal training sometimes started in school and study of the first two tenets of yama and niyama by example from adults around us.
The five Yamas are, Satya (truthfulness), Ahimsa (non-violence), Asteya (honesty), Brahmacharya (popularly sexual restraint) and Aparigraha (non hoarding).
The five Niyamas are, Shaucha (personal hygiene), Santosha (contentment), Tapa (austerity) Swadhyaya (self study) and Ishwar Pranidhan (surrender to divine will).
Yoga instructions today often either ignore or gloss over the yamas and niyamas as do’s and don’ts. Rather they may even be subverted in the race to achieve ‘success’ in this field. To build a brand, to lease out franchises, to woo students, to manufacture products, to become popular, to weed out competition, yoga practitioners and teachers may and often do trample upon many of these tenets with impunity.
These two tenets however become a natural way of being for the sincere practitioner of yog sadhana, herein lies the beauty of yoga to transform the sincere practitioner despite poor instructions from unqualified yoga teachers.
Yoga today popularly refers to the practice of asanas and to some extent pranayama. Little surprise as most often the step towards yoga is taken either for reasons relating to physical health and or mental stress both of which are taken care of by the practice of asanas and pranayama. Here ends the journey of many who venture into yoga as a practice today.
It’s a disservice to yog though to divest it of its purpose that of uniting the individual spirit with the universal spirit. In their passion to keep out the mystical or the unexplainable yog has been stripped of its real purpose. It’s like giving few ingredients of an exotic dish and keeping away the others. The dish will neither be cooked nor eaten. This may also be because the teachers are restricted by their own progress on this path, which stopped at perfecting the asanas.
The fifth stage of yog sadhana pratyahar is the withdrawal of sense organs from sense objects. But for many modern practitioners of yoga there is a feeling of discomfort when the word detachment is mentioned. The attitude is of not being ready to give up sensory pleasures yet; they don’t want to venture that far. Systematic practice of yoga stills and reduces the clinginess of the mind to external stimuli, freeing the soul to experience its own divine nature. So once again regular practice of pranayama will get the practitioner to this very exhilarating state sooner or later.
Many practices of Dharana, the art of concentration the sixth stage of yoga is taught by experts, especially to sportspersons and high achievers. These practices taken from yoga texts are separated from the other steps that lead to it. The concentration then becomes a wish to succeed in one’s field rather than a one pointed attention to realise ones innermost core of bliss.
Dhyan and Samadhi being in the purview of a true master, a satguru often is not realised easily by many on this path.
There’s a reason for this very elaborate and codified practice of yoga laid down by Patanjali. The steps followed systematically lead you without fail to the state of self-realisation, no matter what your race, colour, gender or caste is, whether you are an atheist or a believer. Yoga does not discriminate; the sincere is rewarded with results.
Yoga is self-regulatory and an inward path. It involves a bond between the teacher and the taught that is based on an ethical behaviour where they alone judge and witness their motives. The redeeming fact is that since every one who practices any of the eight steps of yoga is evolving along this path, eventually the chitta and the vrittis -fluctuations of the mind will be overcome and Patanjali’s Sutras will bear fruit for that yogi.
This article was first published in the The Pioneer in December 2018.