In taking any contemporary yoga class, you’ll discover parallels to ballet. Like ballet, the promise of poise, grace and flexibility promotes much interest. Yet if yoga is like any other exercise, it’s only at first glance. Underneath the coveted health and fitness benefits of modern yoga practice are the origins of a wonderful spiritual heritage combining cultures and religions.
Unfortunately, through the westernization of yoga, we’ve lost a vital part of this peaceful practice. Though the ritual remains intact the meaning has gone awry. Where previously the postures of yoga training were just a branch of a tree; now they are seen by western society as the tree itself. How can we bring meaning to our presents?
Modern Yoga’s Roots and Benefits
Though the development of yoga can’t be pinned to an specific year, the discovery of the Indus seals, which show characters in the traditional yoga asana (posture) of lotus pose, trace yoga back to at least 3000 BCE. At the moment the Vedas were being composed, which today’s yoga postures are derived from. These gave birth to Vedic yoga, which accommodated the early Indians fixation on ritual and sacrifice. We see evidence of the value of sacrifice in the yogic corpse posture. Lying like we were put in a coffin, this represents the greatest sacrifice-that of death. Though seemingly morbid, corpse posture is one of hope when we know that based on the Vedanta sutras, passing results in liberation
Sacrifice was intended to combine the substance and the physical, and make the longed-for “marriage” that defines the term Yoga. The Vedanta sutras announce that the soul isn’t materially motivated. By requesting us to free ourselves from the bondage of material inspiration, compassion requires us to be selfless. Surely, this giving is an exercise in empathy. Even still, the contemporary practice of yoga facilitates this. Through postures and bitterness, we change our consciousness and so change our perspective. In our new realization of others as being a part of the cosmic whole, we believe that in giving them we’re also giving to ourselves.
Branches of Yoga
The ancient doctrine of yoga saw its bearings as part of a larger whole. Thousands of years back during the time of Astanga yoga, posture practice was one bit of a more significant whole. Astanga yoga, which originated during Vedic India, was originated from eight branches; yama (control and discipline), niyama (methods and principle), asana (posture), pranayama (concentrated breathing), prathyahara (avoidance of undesirable actions ), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (contemplation). In contrast, most modern yoga focuses on postures and utilizes breath function as a small component or an afterthought.
Though admittedly, the current vision of yoga over-emphasizes asana, it’s vitally important and has enormous advantages. The clinically researched benefits of yoga include the following: Stress reduction, improved muscle strength and tone, increased flexibility and energy, improved balance and coordination along with a decrease in depression.
Moving with Compassion
Through most of asana practice, we’re unconsciously engaging in physical metaphor. Many yoga postures are named after and mimic the living world; tree pose, eagle pose, frog pose, cat pose. By developing postures that mimic the position of animals, the vedic seers might have been seeking not just to adopt the qualities of those creatures, but to invent sympathy for them.
The way that compassion acts as a spouse to yoga’s goal of liberation could be realized through studying the ancient yogic texts. Understand these vedas; if they’re the Rig Veda (knowledge of praise), Yajur-Veda (comprehension of sacrifice), Sama Veda (knowledge of chants), and Atharva-Veda (comprehension of atharvan), is likelier while deep in meditation. Understanding the vedic sutras, we’re allowed to experience a bliss unknown through substance grasping.
In this state everyday adventures fade away and a larger perspective unfolds. As time passes, meditation also enables us to become more intuitive and receptive. This opens us up to other people, improving our compassionate nature.
So as to experience empathy for others we must first extend it to ourselves. Straining too forcefully in a pose is counter to empathy. Why? Yoga teaches us that we’re all connected, so when we hurt ourselves that this pain finally reaches others. Instead we have to try for gentle self-acceptance, competing with nobody-not ourselves. This is important to a rewarding experience of yoga.
Postures for Peace
By the time of Patanjali’s yoga sutras, which have been written near the start of the common era, we start to find a discussion of the practical aspects of yoga. Posture is discussed (be it mainly for meditative purposes), as is concentration of the mind in this exercise. In the Yoga-Sutra, Patanjali presents comfort as the very nature of yoga training. He teaches us that posture should be steady and comfortable. This opinion is reflected in the positions (asanas) of the practice. The physical measurement of yogic exercise requires us to have compassion for our limitations. We’re never asked to push, rather only to release. Mercifully, our little efforts are graced with us linking to a life-force that’s divine and encompassing.
Asanas urge us to see our body as divine, and to nurture health in this deadly temple. Yogic adepts know that their body is faulty, however toned and slender it might look externally. This acknowledgement contributes to less conclusion of other’s bodies. However pleasing to the eye a yogis contour might be, the identical vedic texts which promote the practice of yoga for health, also remind us that true “liberation” comes from being free of the cycle of rebirth-free of their bodily form.
Union with the Divine
Yogic postures work compared to the western notion of exercise. Here we see exercise as an ending, like an end to fatigue and overweight. Yoga differs. While in most types of exercise that the physical results are the lone goal, in yoga the spirit is the goal. The ancient tradition of yoga practice stands apart from its doctrines. The ancient yoga texts insist that the mind and soul are more important than the physical body. While many other eastern kinds of mind-body fitness also promote this consciousness, no additional physical exercise has the ultimate objective of union with the divine. In yoga, the process of accomplishing this marriage is as important as the real attainment.
Yoga practice isn’t a means to an end. It’s an end in of itself. Even distinguished from vedas and sutras, the contemporary practice of yoga posture is a relaxing and beautiful pursuit. Though contemporary yoga practice makes little mention of the scriptures it is based on, the experience of marriage and empathy can be woven into every pose. In doing this we’re improving over our practice, we’re improving our life.