Yoga is trendy. It is the “in thing” to do or at least to claim that one does it. It’s almost like one has to be able to say “oh, yes, I also do yoga”. But what is yoga all about and why has it gained so much popularity in recent years? Is it a hype or is it something magical by definition?
One of these questions I can answer easily, without having to think twice about it. The way yoga is thought of today, it’s certainly a hype or if not a hype then it’s a word that has more meaning in terms of marketing and advertising than it has consistency and integrity in effectiveness. Just because we do yoga does not mean that we are a better person, more successful, more healthy, or more happy. Rather it all depends on how we practice yoga or anything else for that matter. Our approach to yoga has a greater effect than the system of yoga itself.
This article is not about a theoretical or philosophical discussion about yoga — what yoga is, what it is not, what is real yoga, what is original yoga, what is the best yoga, etc. — it’s not about any of that. It is to illustrate that in 2016, the field of activities, methods, systems, etc. that all fall under the umbrella of the word “yoga”, has virtually no common denominator, history, or methods, and therefore no consistent results. In 2016, to claim that “I do yoga”, is quite meaningless. Too diverse are the methods, systems, styles, and approaches of all that is labeled “yoga”. What is left is the label — 4 letters suspended in mid-air.
And yet, I am not to say that all systems / approaches to yoga are useless. I am not even saying that any one such system (whether traditional or modern or fusion, etc.) is useless. But at the same time, I am saying that really none of these systems are necessarily useful or beneficial. There is no way to make a general statement that “yoga is beneficial for our life” and yet, any style of yoga may be beneficial to some people. It really depends on many factors, such as age, level of fitness and health, personal goals and preferences, attitude, the type of yoga, the style / method of the instructor, and how the practitioner jives with the instructor (which really, in my experience, is one of the most important factors).
From a broad perspective, we can distinguish between different categories of yoga. The most commonly known category of yoga is referred to as asanas (physical postures, performed in countless different ways). Most people, when they think or speak of yoga, they really mean asanas. Other categories of yoga would include meditative practices, breathing techniques, behavioural yoga (often referred to as “karma yoga”), yoga on the level of the intellect (gyana yoga), devotional yoga (bhakti yoga), and various variations and combinations of different categories.
But for all intensive purposes, at this time and age, whenever the word yoga is mentioned, people think of the physical yoga, the yoga of postures (asanas). The way that asanas are practiced in the different schools of yoga asanas is again very versatile. There really is no common ground, except maybe for the basic understanding of the most common poses. How we use our bodies to get into these poses, how we move from pose to pose, what we do while we remain in those poses and how long we remain in each of these poses, can hugely differ from style to style and even from teacher to teacher. So don’t be confused if you think that you are doing yoga and someone else is doing something very different. No need to think that you are doing something wrong or that the other person is doing something wrong. What matters, is how it feels when you “practice yoga”.
In the context of this platform, we want to look at effects, at results, not at philosophies or theories. We would like to point people in a direction of activities and methods that “work for them”, things that improve their health, well-being, and overall life-experience. As such, it is important to realise, that yoga as such, does not necessarily improve our health or quality of life. In fact, is a well-known secret amongst especially the long-term practitioners of yoga, that yoga can be as damaging as it can be beneficial. No yoga practice is, by definition or default, any more or less beneficial, than engaging in some other physical activity. It really depends on how it is suited for us, how we experience the practice itself and the effects of the practice on our life. There it is important realise, that it’s perfectly ok to say “this yoga is not for me”. There is nothing magical about a method or activity, just because it is labeled “yoga”. The magic is not in the system, the magic is in you, it’s in each of us. Yoga, at its best, is a tool to bring that magic to light and serve the purpose of improving our health and overall life-experience, hopefully for many years to come.
In upcoming posts, we will look more at the characteristics of different styles and schools of yoga, who they are suited for, and what to expect from them. But no matter what is being written or said, you are the ultimate judge of what s good for you, what you enjoy doing and what brings you the desired benefits. Yoga is really all about you.
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