Yoga, an ancient art – outdated, irrelevant today?
Yoga has, no doubt, changed a lot from the original as the teachers over different centuries have taught it through the lens of different approaches, fads and belief systems, but its essence, I suspect, has stayed the same.
What was the original aim of yoga though? A fascinating article quotes Dr Manmath Gharote, director of the Lonavla Yoga Institute, located south-east of Mumbai, who says “Integration of personality is the prime aim of yoga”. “The five aspects of “personality” which “should work harmoniously” are physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual”, he told Mukti Jain Campion for BBC Radio 4’s 2016 programme The Secret History of Yoga. The article goes on to explore how yoga has changed over the centuries and why.
There is nothing new under the sun! We still have all those aspects of our ‘selves’ and not all of them “work harmoniously” in most of us, to say the least, in these days of digital communication, work stress, climate change, pandemic etc., etc. However, we can still use yoga to help us integrate mind, body and spirit, taking time out to deeply rest, restore, and integrate our whole selves.
The cumulative effect seems to me to be important here. If we have a long-term aim, then that motivates us to keep practising. In the same article, Dr Gharote says “As and when you are capable to [stabilise] your mind then you can achieve complete eradication of the suffering,” “and then you go for the attaining of eternal peace”. That may not be the reason for taking up yoga these days – most are too busy keeping the treadmill turning to even think of eternal peace! But what would happen if we could get off that treadmill, as so many of us have this last year thanks to Covid, and start focusing on what is really important – how much could we change our lives, even our very beings, with this simple practice?
To fill lockdown time, you may have taken up online yoga. I just want to encourage you to continue, even though the ‘daily grind’ may now have kicked back into your life again. Yoga gives that time out to explore our mental state (calm or just like a duck swimming – serene above and kicking away underneath?). It provides the space in which to connect to our bodies in a very different way, taking us through all the planes of movement, as opposed to walking, which is essentially linear. This multi-directional movement is vital to body maintenance – immobility is the enemy of the body, the connective tissue known as Fascia, the circulation of blood and lymph, and the energy field. We need to ensure we don’t ‘stagnate’ and we need to counteract the hours at the computer, or repetitive movements at work, or whatever it is we spend half our lives doing.
Yoga is no longer for the minority, but “There are over 300 million yoga practitioners in the world.” (Yogi Times) (The Economic Times). Yoga stats show that there are 300 million people in the world who practice yoga. Moreover, almost 50 percent of all yoga practitioners are from India, though the younger generations seem to be showing less enthusiasm for the discipline.”
It is also “cool”, certainly in the UK, and an industry worth a fortune, but don’t let that put you off. Find a teacher who allows the space for quiet engagement with your body and mind and give yourself that precious space; it stands us in good stead when we have to deal with the outside world.