What is Yoga?
It seems that there is great misunderstanding about Yoga in Western Culture. We’ve really done a great job, at least here in America, of ’Mericanizing it. With as powerful a practice as Yoga can be, I can find it a bit dismaying to tell somebody I interact with that I practice Yoga, only to know that at that point they probably think that that means I go once a week to a room with a smooth hardwood floor, with a Yoga mat, and practice postures with a group of people that tone my body and make me sweat. They might also think I regularly press my palms together and say the word “Namaste” to people on the street. I just learned recently that there’s such a thing as “Chair Yoga”, and that it’s quite popular these days.
For the record, I rarely say the word “Namaste”, unless it’s being used with complete sincerity, with someone who appreciates its meaning. But I feel this word was kind of ruined by the character Chester V on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. A mild bit of stereotypical propaganda with that character? Possibly. Not to mention a slap in the face to the late Steve Jobs.
But I’m digressing here…
Well it is my hope that I might make at least a tiny bit of an impact in people’s understanding of Yoga, and what it is, because it really is quite amazing. This is not just for the sake of people who may come across these contorted Yoga-derived exercise programs and think that this is what Yoga is, but also because I’m selfishly a bit tired of people thinking that me practicing Yoga means that I have really toned arse muscles, can stretch into flexible positions, and like to speak Sanskrit in a soft voice while I talk about new-agey things with my new-agey friends over a cup of tea.
Yoga is very practical, very powerful, very advanced and scientific. Yoga is one of the most comprehensive spiritual roadmaps there is. When understood correctly, we have a formula here. It says, “If you start here at point A, do X,Y, and Z, you will arrive at point B”. It may be challenging, and take much time and effort, but it’s a structured plan to achieve total union with the Divine. How fantastic is it that we are fortunate enough to have this knowledge in our day and age, at the touch of our fingertips?
What Yoga Isn’t
An Exercise Program
Let’s first clear something up. Yoga is not an exercise program. Yoga was never designed to help you “tone”, or to make you more flexible, or to improve your “core strength”. Yes, all these things may be side-effects of practicing Yoga, but it’s the other way around. A serious practitioner will become more flexible, improve their core strength, and tone their muscles SO they can better practice Yoga.
The large majority of what most people consider to be Yoga is a Western-derived, toyed with version of one facet of Yoga, the practice and mastery of the various Yogic postures, or asanas.
It is also important to understand that these classes people take where they move from one posture, into another posture, into another as they sweat, and increase their heart rate, and tone their muscles is NOT the way that the traditional Yogic path teaches them to be used.
Ancient Yogis were said to have discovered the various postures by observing animals, and combining these observations with knowledge of how the electromagnetic energy system of the human body works. Traditionally, one is to practice ONE posture that involves bending the spine backwards at the area of a specific chakra, thus opening the energetic flow to that chakra, then following it with a corresponding posture that bends the spine forward at that same particular chakra, thus closing the flow to that chakra. After that, one is to rest in the total relaxation pose and allow the energetic flow that was induced to assimilate in the energetic body. After that, they may then move on to do another round, with postures targeted at different chakras.
This is very different that what is being taught in the average Yoga class these days. And even if this was being taught correctly, it is important to understand that, at least in most traditions, the practice and mastery of asans is approximately 1/8th of the total path and discipline of Yoga.
Now one thing to consider with this, is that even though this is just 1/8th of the total path of Yoga, and even though it’s not being taught in a traditionally correct manner, many people who practice “westernized” Yoga still receive many side-benefits like: greater emotional balance, greater mental focus, and improve energy flow through the chakras, meridians, and energetic channels of the body. This only goes to show just how powerful the full Yogic path is.
A Belief System or Religion
In total honesty, it makes sense that anyone can be tricked into believing that Yoga IS a belief system, as one of our most human foibles is to take anything in life and turn it into a belief system. So you may even find a very disciplined, authentic practitioner of Yoga that has turned it into a belief system or religion, without fully intending to.
But it is important to understand that the path of Yoga has never been about belief. In fact, the path is very scientific, and is based upon subjectively-verifiable results. The path, the steps, and the practice is laid out before the aspirant, and as they practice, their experience of the direction their path is taking reveals itself.
Like I said, Yoga is like a roadmap. It says, if you start HERE (at the point of being a human being, absorbed in the illusion of separation, completely incapable of experiencing Divinity, with a mind undisciplined and running rampant) and practice X, Y, and Z (the 8-fold path of Yoga) you will end up HERE (Samadhi, total union with the Divine, mastery of the mind and body, and in connection with the transcendental Self)
In a more extreme case, you could take someone who doesn’t believe in the aim or goal of Yoga at all, and have them diligently practice and they would still have the experience that Yoga aims to produce. In other words, belief usually is a component in a practitioner’s path, but it is not a required ingredient. You could give someone a map to California and have them take the route, and even if they don’t believe California exists, they’ll still end up there.
And thinking about it the opposite way, you can believe that what Yoga teaches is true all you want, but unless you actually practice it, you will not achieve the goal.
This is really quite fantastic, because you can practice Yoga regardless of what you believe, whether you are a Christian, a Buddhist, a Hindi, a Muslim, or a Southern Baptist. It’s also fantastic because we begin to understand that when we read or listen to words about Divinity, God, or Spirituality from the experienced Yogic Masters of this world, they are talking from experience, not from programming, or religious zeal, or even faith. They’ve been there, and they’re telling us what it’s like.
What Yoga Is
The simple definition of the word “Yoga” is Union. In a nutshell, the ultimate goal of Yoga is Union with the Divine. Of course, this is not something that someone can conceptually understand with their intellect alone. This aim of Union with the Divine, of Oneness with Divinity, is an experience. It is a subjective reality that one can live. And is it far beyond a religious preconceived notion, or a belief system, or even a religious or inspirational experience that happens and then fades away.
Through a disciplined, dedicated, lifelong practice of Yoga, one has the potential to live and breathe in an experience of being at One with All That Is. One has the ability to experience their true identity as Love, while simultaneously still having the experience of being human, in a physical body, having a physical experience.
The 8-Fold Path of Yoga
To summarize the “roadmap” that Yoga lays out, the process is very much one of purification, of both the physical body and the mind. At the core of the Yogic path is the knowledge that the body is not just physical, but has an energetic counterpart as well. This energetic counterpart has been traditionally referred to as the “astral body”, but it basically synonymous with the various different New-Age terminologies. It could be also be called the energy body, or the electromagnetic energy system.
Through the practice of the Yogic path, the dedicated aspirant is able to first purify the energetic system, clearing blockages and enabling a greater and more efficient flow of energy throughout the entire system. Once this stage is complete, and a state of efficient energetic flow has been achieved, the Yogi can then move on to intentionally manipulate and control the flow and direction of this energy to elicit a very specific metamorphosis within himself/herself. Various channels of energy are opened and activated, and dormant energetic potentials within the energetic system of the physical/astral body are awakened.
This process is both very physical and very mental as well. Not only does this process develop the mind, and take it to places it has never been before, but it also literally changes the chemical and physical function and make-up of the physical body. It is literally a process of alchemy, and in the end the final potential of this path is a transmutation from one form of being to another.
To give a broad outline of the Yogic path, and help anyone who is interested in more fully understanding what Yoga is, here are the 8 basic steps or stages that one progresses through to reach this transformation, and ultimately achieve total Union with the Divine:
1. Obstentions: This first phase is very similar to the vows that are placed when taking refuge in Buddhism, or in other religions as well. The first stage of the Yogic path is to begin to abstain from: Dishonesty, Violence, Stealing, Irresponsible Sexual Conduct, and Greed.
These are abstained from in both thought and action, and not only have an effect on the mind, emotions, and psyche, but are also said to begin to improve the flow of life force energy through the astral body. It enables a saving of energy so that the energy may be utilized through the more advanced Yogic practices.
2. Observances: In this stage the initiate begins to cultivate certain traits, and perform certain actions to cultivate them. These are: Purity, Contentment, Austerity, Study of Holy Texts, and Attunement to the Divine.
This phase is far from theoretical or intellectual. At this point, the Yogi begins practice of the Shat Kriyas, a regimen of powerful Yogic purification exercises to cleanse the body, mind, and energetic system. Honest self-study and introspection is also introduced.
3. Asan: At this point the various postures are learned and mastered.
4. Pranayama: Pranayama is the Yogic science of using the breath to direct and control life-force energy. At this point in the path of Yoga, states of mastery, miraculous feats of physical health and strength, and uncanny mental discipline begins to develop.
Steps 5-8 all deal in the realm of meditation, but the Yogis have divided these phases into separate steps, so as to master meditation in a way that it ultimately leads to the final step, Samadhi. I may write more articles in the future to further elaborate upon the differences in these phases, but generally speaking, once you make it to stage 7, you are REALLY meditating, with razor sharp concentration and a completely still mind. Once this phase is mastered, a natural movement to Samadhi occurs.
Samadhi is a state described as total union with the Divine. It is when the Yogi makes it to a place where there is no perception of separation, no perception of oneself being separate at all from Divinity and All That Is. It is complete and perfect Oneness. As one regularly visits this state through their practice, their self-identity is forever changed, and their ego is dissolved. This is Enlightenment.
A Yogic Shortcut?
There is one thing I want you to be aware of. The last phases of Yoga, that deal with meditation can be difficult, and require extreme discipline, and years of dedicated practice. But there may be a shortcut. In fact, I know there is a shortcut because I’ve taken it myself.
Scientific studies have proven that the meditative path can be reduced by decades of practice with the use of brainwave entrainment technology. In fact, many of the changes recorded in 10-20 year traditional meditators can also be recorded in the brain of someone using brainwave entrainment the VERY FIRST TIME they use it. It’s pretty mindblowing really, and I would encourage you to check out more resources on this site to learn more about this amazing technology. Or click here to check out the products and bundles we offer.
I hope that this article may have shed some light on this ancient practice. I will vouch for the efficiency and profound power of Yoga. I have been practicing Yoga myself for several years. It never fails when practiced with intention and discipline, and it is my personal belief that this path truly has the potential to lead one to enlightenment, and a state of total mastery over the physical body, and the energy body as well.
Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think!
Until next time,