Om Sweet Om

Om Sweet Om


Yoga: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

posted by sheetal
Over the past week, I’ve been reviewing the comments in response to my last blog which continued to bring to light the Hindu roots of yoga.  It seems like the main issue many yoga practitioners have is that “yoga is not a religion” and any attempt to link it to one is seen as contrary to the principles of yoga.  This, of course, is at the crux of the Hindu American Foundation’s Take Back Yoga campaign: the misunderstanding of Hindu philosophy.  The perception of Hinduism, particularly in the West, is that of a religion replete with colorful rituals and multi-limbed gods and rooted in a callous caste system.  Based on that exoticized description of my faith, I can understand the skepticism at the idea that the calming, spiritual practice of yoga is rooted in Hinduism.

But let’s step back for a moment and take a look at the Hinduism that was taught to me at home.  Like yoga, Hinduism is experiential in nature and it is up to each one of us – based on our inherent nature and temperament – to find our own path to achieve unity with Brahman (or the Divine).  In the sacred Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna expounds upon four paths, or yogas – bhakti yoga, karma yoga, jnana yoga, and dhyana yoga (which in the past 150 years or so is more commonly referred to as raja yoga).  The four yogas can be succinctly summarized as the path of loving devotion to God, the path of selfless action and service, the path of knowledge, and the path of meditation and self-control, consecutively.  While each of these paths are unique, they are by no means mutually exclusive.  One chooses to follow a particular path based upon her temperament, but is able to and should draw from the others.  Central to all yoga is the goal of growing closer or uniting with Brahman.

Dhyana yoga (aka raja yoga) is also referred to ashtanga yoga, and for those who are familiar with all eight limbs of the practice, the connection is apparent.*   Asana, the most popular of the limbs and the one that most people associate with the term “yoga”, is not an end in and of itself.  The intent is to prepare the body and mind to be seated in meditation for long periods of time.  In fact, in the chapter on dhyana yoga in the Gita, Krishna even goes so far as to outline the basics necessary for meditation:

“In a clean place,
one should establish
for oneself a firm seat…

There, having the mind actively
focused upon a single point,
with thought and
sense controlled,
Sitting on a seat,
one should practice yoga
for purification of the self.

With an aligned body,
head, and neck -
keeping these steady,
without movement;
Focusing the vision toward
the tip of one’s nose
without looking about
in any direction…

Controlling the mind
with thought
focused upon me -
one should be seated
while absorbed in yoga,
holding me as the highest.”

(BG, 6.11 – 6.14)

Forget focusing on a single point, for most of us, sitting cross-legged and still for any significant length is an impossible feat when our backs are aching or our feet are falling asleep.  The need to move and reposition ourselves is much more immediate than the need to focus.  But as most practitioners will agree, even a few rounds of simple surya namaskar on a daily basis will allow the body to remain comfortably seated and aligned for longer periods of time.  Asana makes the body limber and flexible and improves circulation; all vitally important in our efforts to meditate.  It is a great tool for us to use.  But it is just that – one of many tools in our bag designed to assist us on our journey towards the Divine.

The beauty of Hinduism lies in its acknowledgement and acceptance that one size does not fit all, and that there aren’t there any exclusive, membership only lanes.  People are inherently different in their temperaments and abilities, and life can be complicated.  For that reason, Hinduism provides multiple paths, or yogas,  from which seekers can choose and holistically tread.  Bhakti, karma, jnana, dhyana…the choice is yours.

*For those who are not familiar, the eight limbs of ashtanga yoga are yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.

 

 



  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Herb

    Namaskar,
    As a practioner and teacher (we’re always students first) I find this read very informative and easy to understand. I hope to read more from this post. Gratefully yours Herb

  • http://Padmasan Yogendra Solanki

    It is very good article indeed. It is very much necessary to sit steady before we make our mind steady. One can seat in Padmasan for many be 5 minutes but for 3 hours ( 4 hours 24 minutes as described by other Hindu scriptures), looks impossible. I am not sure how can I sit standstill without any movement!!!!!

  • http://www.sivananda.org Steve Scott

    Karma Repair Kit: Items 1 – 4

    1. Get enough food to eat,
    and eat it.

    2. Find a place to sleep where it is quiet,
    and sleep there.

    3. Reduce intellectual and emotional noise
    until you arrive at the silence of yourself,
    and listen to it.

    4.

    from page 8 of “The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster”
    by Richard Brautigan (published 1968)

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment BigOil

    Sheetal,

    Excellent Post as usual. I agree with you 100%. When it’s time to sling mud and hatred at Hindus, the enemy comes guns blazing but when it comes to any positive from Hinduism, “oh we can’t possibly say it’s Hindu, it’s ‘spritual’ you know so it belongs to everybody”. How about the Spanish Latin American Christian caste system? Oh that belong to Hindus also. I am surprised they didn’t blame Hindus for global warming either. I think a lot of them would have liked to.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jacki

    Thank you so much for this article. As one raised in the Christian faith but open to wisdom from any religion or philosophy I am grateful for the opportunity to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the origins of yoga.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ofelia

    It seems so ironic that within the world of yoga (specially in the US) many schools are more worried about their registered trademarks, teacher trainings, and having a marketable product instead of learning the basics and honoring it´s origins (same goes for so many yogis). Your article was so clear about it all, and I thank you for the interest in reaching to many of us. Looking forward to read more from you.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment greg bonura

    Say it like it is! Thank you Sheetal for up keeping the Truth of the eternal, Absolute….Many of us americans have so prospered internally from Studios and schools in NYC that expound the Vedanta and its texts. Its all so good. Om Shanti.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Heather Purple

    Thank you for this beautifully written article. I do agree with you however, as a student that has dedicated lots of time to give proper credit to those that were the originators of yoga and Hinduism. They are the Upanishads. I wrote a long paper in college that displays proof that Indo European warriors came and pillaged and stole their beliefs, land and technology that was then past on to Ancient Greece. They were the most advanced civilization on the planet at the time. Because the natives of the land, the Upanishads were not war faring, they were destroyed and made into the “untouchables”, the lowest of the caste system implemented by the invaders to take over, which they did.
    I have argued with Western scholars who do not want The Indus Valley Civilization to have credit for the Great Bath, Agriculture and the first sewer system! That’s right, it was not Greece and I can prove it!
    I have done so in the paper I wrote but because I am a Westerner, it is very difficult to get others to care because I am surrounded by Westerners that are so self righteous and proud to say Greece had the first great bath when in actuality, they stole it from the Indus Valley Civilization.
    That’s a whole other point, but is is where Yoga came from. They were peaceful people who spent their time in meditation and they deserve the credit for doing what they did, no matter who took it over and stole it!
    Thank you so much for reading this. It is my dream to someday work on this more and dedicate my life to doing so. I have had a very hard life of poverty myself so I have empathy with them. If only I could continue my education to show the world these things. I would love nothing more!
    Heather L. Stevens

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment BigOil

    “they are the Upanishads. I wrote a long paper in college that displays proof that Indo European warriors came and pillaged and stole their beliefs, land and technology that was then past on to Ancient Greece”

    Congratulations on the cleverly disguised propaganda.
    That’s 19th century Hocus-Pocus Colonial era propaganda. There is no such thing as an Aryan invasion theory. Sorry no Indo-European warriors, just Indo. In the 19th century the Northern Europeans took a large lead in the world economically and politically. Naturally they sought a correlation with their race and drafted theories that all civilizations on Earth came from Whites.
    The Upanishads is part of the Vedas, there is no race called “Upanishads”. You are right however, our Vedic ancestors came up with City Planning and Sewer systems well before Greece and certainly well before Northern Euro’s. I find the whole idea of Western civilization to be an artificial 19th century construct. After all how can an Olive skinned Roman and Greek Mediterranean people be related to Northern Europeans. The Romans themselves associated blonde hair with barbarians.
    As proud as we are of the our past, we look forward to the future with the global balance of power once again shifting away from overwhelming European dominance to a more balanced world. Once again the large number of Indian scientists and engineers are increasingly making a huge contribution to human technology.

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