On the recent surge of popularity of yoga practice and alternate medicine, my Law school made it compulsory for us to attend morning yoga sessions as a non credit subject while incentivising it with attendance. Now this class of 180 students was a pessimistic, sceptical group of 22 years olds with an awfully gruelling lifestyle and unhealthy life choices, trying to stay up at 7:00 AM in the morning, doing asanas and thereafter attending 2 consecutive 3 hour lectures.
As much as I was enjoying this flow of energy through this unkept body, a friend of mine was failing at it miserably, to the point that the teacher told him he was physically unfit for it.
Here is where the lesson lies.
Despite the negative effects of calling someone out, bullying, mocking or belittling someone, which can have far reaching consequences on somebody’s mental health and will power, what present day yoga instructors/gurus have forgotten is the teleology of “yoga”. Yoga is not just an aerobic exercise. The word “Yoga” is made up of a Sanskrit root word literally translated as “union”. Deepak Chopra in his translation of Bhagvad Gita (The Divine Song) defines it as “The way to understand God”. The Bhagvad Gita is an authority on Hindu theosophy and goes on to describe four types of Yoga: Gyan (knowledge) Yoga, Bhakti (devotion) Yoga, Karma (Action) Yoga and Hath (force) Yoga. To understand God, it is not necessary to purify your body by breathing techniques and physical exercises. It is also about purification of your mind through knowledge; purification of your emotions by devotion, purification of your choices and intentions through mindful actions; and fourth of course by purifying your body through physical labor.
Though when Patanjali compiled (note here, not invented/discovered) the asanas into various categories and routines, the descriptions were accompanied by philosophical text explaining the relevance of particular asanas and how they helped purify various chakras in body, eased the flow of energy, regulated energy flow/blood flow and was instrumental in maintaining a healthy body (that he often calls “a mere carrier of the soul”). Over the years, the passing down of this knowledge and its compilation by authors with negligible cultural understanding and the recent practice by ignorant instructors/gurus has turned a philosophy into a mere aerobic exercise.
I pulled my friend out of the class and talked about this. The idea of yoga practice is similar to the philosophy in Hinduism:
“There is one truth but so many different ways to reach it “.
He walked away with a smile. The next day, instead of being deterred, I found him in the morning session. He was there before me! I walked up to him and smiled. He said that physical health was important too but he had realised that there wasn’t just one way to achieve the peace of “being”.
Mr. Tanmay Sharma