Thursday, August 18, 2011

Authentic yoga, anyone?

In all the downtime students had over the summer, we all indulged in some new habits and practices that will most likely dwindle during the school year. Like exercise. Like yoga.

So yoga is the new, hip thing EVERYONE is doing. Myself, included.

The ancient Hindu art of yoga. The union of the mind, body and soul. An arrangement of physical movements, asanas, and mental concentration and relaxation.

Yeah, most people probably don't get any of that from their Saturday morning yoga sesh.

It is an intrinsic part of the Hindu way of life, a daily reverence to the Divine within. Yoga is not a practice done once a week, or just whenever you're in a 'hippie-mood'.

The asana, those freaky pretzel-like poses, is merely a single limb of the eight associated with yoga. These limbs encompass all of the physical and mental attributes of the practice, and severing one from the rest leaves the yogi disabled. Every movement of every asana must be synchronized with the breath and the mind, enveloping the body and mind in a complete, spiritual experience.

Much of the Western world is focused on this single limb, thus depriving the largest portion of the world’s yoga practitioners of the full benefits. Undoubtedly, there are benefits to be reaped from yoga that are purely physical, but the practice is diminished when the asanas are taken out of context. It's pointless to stretch and pose and breathe when your mind is a million miles away, thinking about an upcoming movie, an embarrassing memory, an overdue term paper, whatever. Focus is key!

Does anyone even know where yoga came from?

Yoga has earned immense popularity in lands far from its hearth. The recent movement demanding the return of yoga to its creator centers on the Hindu reclaiming of the art. Although the Western world acknowledges yoga’s ancient Hindu roots, it has also been accepted by leaders in the yoga 'industry' that associating the word Hindu with yoga gives the practice too much unwelcome baggage. And this is easy to understand. The depiction of Hinduism in the minds of Westerners is uncharacteristically colorful, near-savage and eccentric. Yoga has a completely divergent portrayal. It is viewed as a peaceful act, associated with the vibrations of "Om" and the gentle sound of the ocean. But in reality, Hinduism is identified with more than savage gods and cows. Our traditions may be colorful, but they are painted with peaceful mantras and the belief that God is the Supreme, manifested across the Universe in infinite ways.

Yoga is a means of spiritual attainment for all who seek it; those who are aware of the underlying purpose of the practice can achieve the same as the saffron-clothed sages residing in the Himalayas. It's a deep practice that relieves stress, creates harmony, purges the mind of all negativity and revitalizes the body.

So if you're going to yoga, go all the way. Because you're cheating yourself! And because one day, when you mention in conversation that you 'do' yoga, just to give yourself a cool persona, you might be talking to someone who actually knows a thing or two about the art. And then you're caught.

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