“Yoga is a great adventure. I think it is the greatest adventure of all. It will take you into completely new territory and confront you with the tallest peaks of spiritual realization and the deepest trenches at the bottom of your own subconscious. If you allow Yoga to transform you it will do so at the physical, mental, moral and spiritual level. Whatever type of Yoga you pursue, in the end, it will send you inwardly free. It will bring you understanding, joy and the capacity to face any situation fearlessly.
~ G. Feuerstein
Reading these words, I wish I could say I wrote them myself. I truly believe Yoga is a great adventure. Since 1997, Yoga has been the center of my professional and personal life. It is a wonderful adventure that has taken me to India, given me the joy of practice and a clear path to cultivate a spiritual life. But my original aspirations were very far removed from this.
In high school, my dream was to become an actress. I had the leading role in every school play. I remember a play in which we depicted the scenes from everyday life. I listed the areas of work, school, play and family. I recall asking my group, “Is that it?” Something felt like it was missing but everyone agreed there was nothing else.
That ‘something’ is today what I deem as the spiritual life and what many people have come to articulate as the lack of an inner one.
The spiritual realm is where Yoga ultimately takes us. But in the West as Georg Feuerstein writes we are often involved with a type of Yoga that is far removed from its roots. I first became acquainted with Georg Feuerstein’s work while thumbing through books on Yoga philosophy during my early dabblings in yoga. I revisited his work during my post-graduate studies. His work became the backbone for some of my research on Yoga in the educational system in India.
Feuerstein points to the loss of ‘authentic’ Yoga and that the resolution may rest in defining what is ‘traditional’. What we call tradition is so relative, because Yoga’s evolution is not as straight-forward as most people assume. In fact, many people equate Yoga to Hinduism but Yoga is also interwoven into the fabric of Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.
For anyone really interested in Yoga, it’s worthwhile to take a look at Feuerstein’s book called The Lost Teaching of Yoga. He states that contemporary Yoga is flat and that it does not go to the core while traditional yoga does.
I personally think it is helpful to define what is meant by contemporary and traditional. Contemporary yoga or what is called Hatha yoga and Ashtanga yoga has generally been reduced to exercise. Even the fact that teachers claim Ashtanga yoga is ‘the authentic Yoga’ is debatable. Krishnamacharya, the Guru of many other Gurus today went on to develop another type of Yoga based on his own evolution. As well, many practitioners say you will ‘eventually’ be led to deeper experiences by practice alone.
But the truth is, if I am not actively doing the work, will I be so easily led there by default?
Conversely, traditional Yoga tends to start off with the practice as being a spiritual one. The vinyasas and the exercise are considered secondary, not primary. Shri K. Pattabhi Jois often told me in class, “it is just bending”. And another teacher in Mysore always said, “the postures are imaginings”.
Nothing really there. But they feel pretty real.
Like many people, I also began with no intention in learning in the theory or history of Yoga. This was in part due to the representation of Yoga in the media and my own superficial quests. Having a few good teachers has thankfully shaped my path. Each one of my primary teachers has been an Indian Master and there were very clear from the start, “It is only bending.”
Today, it is important to find the context to fit the “lost teachings of Yoga.” Rather than looking for ways to make it easier or more accessible, it’s more important to seek the lessons in learning it well. This is not to imply Yoga should not be enjoyed and only a strict austere regime.
It’s just more than a knee-jerk reaction to the practice, which I hope does not stop there.
© Copyright of The Yoga Way. All written rights reserved. Photo taken in Gammarth, Tunisia, 2017.