Reclaiming the Roots of Classical Yoga -Beyond Dilution and Distortion
“Will the real Slim Yogi please stand up?”
If you’re wondering whether yoga has anything to do with being slim, you should know it has as much as Eminem has to do with yoga. Nor does it have anything to do with being vegan, projecting moral superiority and definitely not culturally appropriation. However, it certainly is about being real. The kind of realness that radiates from the authenticity of one’s being. In that case, perhaps yoga has much to do with Eminem as he does with the hip-hop genre.
In recent years, the pendulum of the cultural appropriation of yoga has swung between maximum sterilization of its Eastern connection and spiritually flavoured consumerist paradigms. While the latter is an outcome that can haunt every domain of life based on our current economic system, it is the relentless sterilization of yoga and the dangers of deracination that concerns me.
The deeper the roots, the more sky-bound the seeker
When I was going through an intensive 21-week classical Hatha Yoga teacher training program offered by Sadhguru last year, one of the most poignant questions we were asked is whether we wanted to be yoga teachers or yogis.
“Yoga-sthah kuru karmani” (Be steadfast in yoga, then act) is what I had always deeply resonated with, and so I doubled down on my commitment for transformation. Long had the definition of yoga faced the suffering of suffixes and pretence of prefixes in my head and I was willing to learn afresh through the unfiltered perspective of the eyes of a child.
The impeccable attention to detail and devotion with which the practices were transmitted to us awakened a depth and dimension of experiential understanding within us. The intellectual definition of yoga as a union of the body, mind, emotion and energy that intrigued and inspired us in books was slowly and steadily actualizing as the momentum strengthened.
As the process evolved our perception beyond the tides of our most beloved nostalgia and wildest imaginations could conjure, we also realized only a commitment to authenticity by such traditions over millennia had helped honour our commitment to transformation today. This immense gratitude was immediately accompanied with a humbling realization of responsibility of transmitting this sacred science without distortion in our journey ahead.
The distortion dilemma - Subjectivity of experience does not entitle subjectivity of technique
Yes, yoga is essentially the science of self-realization. It is a subjective science where your consciousness is your laboratory to help you stabilize your body and still your mind to open up dimensions of perception beyond your normal sensory spectrum. It is not an abstract art form open to interpretation and subject to democratization in implementation.
Yoga is a process that consciously helps create a distance between you and your identifications. Its innate nature is ultimate freedom and it doesn’t need to trade identities for the sake of aligning with individual freedom of expression, which more often than not, is mere compulsive gesticulation of mental patterns.
So where is the room for authoritarianism or religiously imposition here? Yoga is one of the six Darshanas (the six demonstrations of Truth) that requires no belief system for qualification, but a disciplined practice for self-realization. And it is perhaps this decentralized structure of Sanatana Dharma and ability to accommodate individuals of infinitely unique temperaments and capabilities that has helped it withstand the test of time.
For the emotionally driven, the path of bhakti yoga is a safe bet. For the intellectually inclined, gnana yoga may be their calling. If you use your body, or physical action to reach the ultimate, karma yoga beckons. To transform your energies as a vehicle for transcendence, the path of kriya yoga is a natural fit.
A Guru knows how to mix the right “cocktail” for each individual, each of whom is a unique combination of these four ingredients to function in effortless alignment with existence. Only when these four wheels of perception begin to move in the same direction do we get somewhere.
All the asana sequences, mudras, mantras, pranayamas are designed with a sophisticated understanding of the human biomechanics to activate the energy system in a systematic way to naturally lead to a state of conscious union.
Negotiating away an AUM or a mudra here and there for the sake of secularization by this globalized collage of confusion has introduced an unprecedented wave of distortion in yogic transmission. This reckless editing and omitting merely for imprinting your creative touch is a road to disaster when it comes to maintaining the potency and integrity of yoga.
Mistaking yoga for any other physical fitness routine is like playing Tetris with your body and mind with a blindfold on.
The significance of the Guru-Shishya transmission and the dangers of deracination
In modern times, there is an increasing drive to deracinate people from the Guru-Shishya tradition of spiritual knowledge transmission through a cyclical campaign of mockery and notoriety drawing false equivalences to personality cults. Of course there will always be outliers who can misuse this trust like in any other domain, but to trash a whole system that has offered itself as a sacred scaffolding for priceless wisdom is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
As a result, a new age market has capitalized on this gap of trust and availability of platforms by flooding it with occult practice self-help books, pop-up kundalini awakening workshops, pranic healing and past life regression specialists, etc.
The lack of a committed atmosphere, long-term support system and superficial experiential understanding of teachers in these circles has only deepened the distortion of yoga’s spiritual possibilities and increased the risk factor for its practitioners.
Consider this. A lineage of yogis who have renounced name, material comforts and miscellaneous entitlements do not devote their life to preserving this tradition out of mere sentiment. It is because they recognize the precision and committed atmosphere needed to nurture the seed of liberation offered by these immense tools and techniques and are vigilant of the equally ominous drawbacks of philandering with them.
Every asana in classical yoga requires a collective involvement of your body, breath, mental focus and stability of energy. Much like how many key Sanskrit words like “Dharma” have no exact counterpart in English to elucidate their meaning, “Asana” is another one of them. Though asana is synonymous with posture nowadays, a more accurate translation would be – a posture that develops an inward focus – as an asana is intended to be a preliminary meditative process.
This brings into question the increasingly popular usage of mirrors or music in yoga studios that directly challenge an asana’s objective to withdraw from external sensory engagement and sterilizes it into a mere posture. Sadhguru further cautions how he was witnessed serious physical and psychological imbalances overwhelm practitioners who have disregarded essential guidelines like not talking while doing the practice.
The 8 limbs of ashtanga yoga must be stretched in sync to slowly deepen our awareness from the grosser to the subtler aspects of perception. It is a pathway to natural meditativeness available for anyone who puts in the necessary effort, which only a handful of people among billions are privileged to experience effortlessly. If you distort that process in the name of freedom of expression, you risk diluting its potential for total transformation.