How Classical is Our Yoga?

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There are various ways of attaining the sublime and the surreal – Yoga takes you towards that. But today’s scientific day and age ask for more – how can energy be viewed while doing Pranayama and meditation, some ask and doubt the real effects of Yoga. For such skeps, Yoga is more of a form of exercise and a fad rather than a philosophy. Then there is also a category of practitioners, who see it more as a remedial path instead of a preventive practice; especially the upwardly mobile middle class. Is Yoga then losing its real spirit or is it gaining popularity as a ‘materialist form of panacea’ instead of holistic living, asks Navodita, exclusively for Different Truths.

As International Yoga Day was celebrated, last week (June 21) across the world and media reports were flooded with pictures of various ministers, celebrities, and gurus true doing Yoga or at least trying to get there, it is worth thinking twice about how we Indians imbibe Yoga in the 21st century. Is our generation of Yoga diametrically opposite to the gurus of yore with a mat in one hand and a lager of beer in the other or are we truly soaking in the ‘true’ Yogic spirit?

Yoga has changed in a lot of ways from Lord Patanjali’s classical form to simply sitting on a couch and panting hard watching Ramdev’s CD with Kapalbhati playing on television. It is simplified so much so ‘aam admi’ is lapping it up much like fast food in colourful packaging. Does that put us in a vantage position or a generation losing out on the pure classical age of Yoga devoid of Ramdev where it was more ritualistic and disciplinary?

Yoga in ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’ is said to have eight limbs – Ashtanga Yoga. One has to master each of the eight parts in equal measure to derive the full benefit of the pose. Yes, the ultimate aim of Yoga was not perfect health but Moksha. The intention of doing Yoga was not just swearing by a healthy life but one full of righteousness, honesty, love, respect, ethics, and beauty of the soul. With junk food being served in youngsters’ school canteens the aim of Yoga these days is more to get rid of a sedentary lifestyle and free oneself of lifestyle diseases instead of imbibing the right values associated with a good, humane life. Ashtanga Yoga expounds the eight limbs of Yoga – Yama and NiyamaAsana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyan and Samadhi. There are various ways of attaining the sublime and the surreal – Yoga takes you towards that. But today’s scientific day and age ask for more – how can energy be viewed while doing Pranayama and meditation, some ask and doubt the real effects of Yoga. For such skeps, Yoga is more of a form of exercise and a fad rather than a philosophy. Then there is also a category of practitioners, who see it more as a remedial path instead of a preventive practice; especially the upwardly mobile middle class, who are swayed away by the rising consumerist culture tend to turn to Yoga only after they have gone through a tough ordeal amassing huge wealth and weight and diseases. Yoga truly does become a fad for them. Is Yoga then losing its real spirit or is it gaining popularity as a ‘materialist form of panacea’ instead of holistic living?

Yoga, as the word suggests, is actually a synonym for harmony – communion and oneness of the body, mind and soul. It is associated with a certain simplistic lifestyle, quite opposite to what the current materialist trend indicates – totally divorced from the idea of amassing a huge amount of wealth or scurrying up the social ladder through huge fortune. It has more to do with qualities of the heart and intellect and a feeling of contentment, peace, and hard work. This is why Yogic meditation is considered to be an end to all forms of stress and corporate drudgery. Yoga has also been adapted to suit modern times as these days even a short office Yoga workout is becoming popular. But is that really Yoga in its truest form or does that relegate itself to simple exercises to distress and energize the body? Some Yoga workouts even talk of performing a short Yoga workout with shoes and socks on in the closed doors of your workplace. Yoga, however, as preached by the sages and pundits was essentially a mark of respect to the ancestors who passed down this knowledge to the current generation and involved wearing loose clothes sans shoes. Are we forgetting Yoga in its original form?

Since ‘Yog’ became ‘Yogaa’, things have changed; with the common man taking shortcuts even for a brief sojourn from a tough day’s schedule. Yoga can truly be enjoyed away from the humdrum of a city life in the remotest of hills in the North where there is little or no township. Yoga is a completely different feel when practiced in a way where you close the doors to civilisation and retire to the cool, natural environs not only for some fresh breath but also distressed living. Yoga truly makes you feel there is only one life to love and one should live it to the fullest – reaching out to the ultimate happiness and joy which is to be searched for within oneself that manifests itself outside when you have perfect relationships with others. Yoga is thus the greatest invention of mankind in this day and age, only if it is practiced well and in its truest form.

©Navodita Pande

Photos are of the camp that the author organised on the International Yoga Day.

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Navodita Pande has been practicing yoga since she was 9 years old in Iyengar Yoga. In April 1995, she performed at the International Yoga Seminar. In January 2003, Navodita taught at Hare Rama Hare Krishna Mandir in New York. Navodita had a Yoga show on NDTV 24×7 and was also the official yoga trainer for Miss Delhi contestants in 2007. She currently teaches Yoga and Reiki to
people in Kanpur.