Yoga is not about Lycra-clad fashionistas in downward dog. Yoga is the practice of calming the body and mind in preparation for meditation. It is a way of life, a psychology, a worldview, a spiritual practice. In the West, when most of us hear the word “yoga” we think of physical fitness and electrolyte infused flavored water. We think of gym memberships and cute semi-bell bottom flared pants made of blended spandex and cotton. But yoga is so much more. Yoga, as a religious philosophy, led to Buddhism, Hinduism, Samkhya, Jainism. . .Yoga, as a Way of Life, led to peacefulness, compassion, community.
I am not against asana (physical yoga postures). But please know that the physical health benefits derived from asana are only the tip of the iceberg.
Georg Feuerstein’s The Psychology of Yoga touches upon many of these factors. His book is not a deep-dive into Yogic psychology. It is only an overview, albeit an excellent overview, of how the practice of understanding Mind and Self hold the potential for a better integration of Western and Eastern psychology.
In Feuerstein’s words,
“In the broadest sense, Yoga is simply spiritual practice, or spirituality. It is India’s version of what has long been known as mysticism in Christianity, kabbalah in Judaism, and Sufism in Islam. Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as Jainism, are all yogic cultures, or traditions. That is to say, these cultures are spiritual at heart: they acknowledge and promote the age-old ideal of liberation (moksha), however it may be conceived. Yoga has, from the beginning, been a liberation teaching (moksha-shastra), and as such has shaped Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. . .
“Many Western Yoga students confuse Yoga with Hinduism and typically pitch it against Buddhism. Many more Westerners confuse Yoga (that is, the yogic poses) with physical exercise and see in Buddhism a path of meditation. But the opposition of Yoga-Hinduism versus Yoga-Buddhism meditation is ill conceived.
“Yoga is common to both cultural traditions and forms their spiritual essence. Yoga must not be reduced to a mere system of physical exercises; it clearly offers many spiritual methods and approaches, especially meditation. It makes no sense to say, as is often heard, that Yoga has no meditation practice and that one must therefore resort to Buddhism meditation. Yoga has a wide variety of meditation techniques that include Buddhist, Hindu, and Jaina practices” (Feuerstein, 238-39).
Vikara’s Ending Thought: Eat blueberries because you like the taste, good for you. Discover the antioxidant healing properties of blueberries and intentionally make them part of your daily diet, great for you. If you understand this, you will understand the difference between asana and practice.