Yoga was a way of living that included moral, ethical, spiritual, and physical components. Postures (asana) were an important, but small segment of the ancient practice. Today, many people use the word “Yoga” to mean a particular type of physical exercise, while being totally unaware of its spiritual aspect, which makes the modern version of Meditation Yoga a shadow of its former self. Some classes end with no time invested in the value of pranayama, relaxation, or meditation.
To put it another way, the essential Yoga mat, used in the modern exercise version, would only be needed for a small portion of an authentic Yoga practice. According to Maharishi Patanjali’s writings, in the Yoga Sutras, asana is only one of eight limbs within Yogic philosophy – all of which are used to prepare for the ultimate union of one’s inner wisdom with universal consciousness. According to proponents of traditional Yoga, it is impossible to achieve enlightenment by simply doing a physical exercise, even if one diligently practices the most intricate postures.
In addition to providing a distorted view of the original practice, modern Yoga has been side-tracked and used as a method to promote fame and sell images to the public. This includes personal stardom, and anything from politically correct organic mats, to expensive high-style clothing and accessories. While this is not inherently bad in itself, it hardly resembles the humble lifestyle, and unwavering devotion, of the many sages, who kept Yoga alive for generations through Sanskrit texts and oral teachings. When Yogic teachings reached global awareness, it was only natural for modern Yoga to take its own identity.
This does not mean that the physical exercises in modern Yoga are bad or any less efficient than those in other activities. In fact, asanas and flows may be more effective than many other kinds of exercise. Research has shown that Yoga movement improves physical health, help to prevent disease, reduce depression and anxiety, reduce pain, promote relaxation, and a general sense of well-being. Purists, however, may question whether these fitness-based styles should be called Yoga.
The fact remains, that few people in the 21st century, are likely to spend long periods of time in ashrams as apprentices, meditating, and living the lifestyle of a traditional Yogi. In fact, a bit of Yoga is much better than no Yoga at all. If modern Yoga exercise is helping to create a calmer and more peaceful society, and reducing the staggering cost of medical care, it is a miracle in itself.
Another issue with contemporary Yoga is the somewhat confusing fact that some people consider it to be counterproductive to their religious ideals or belief systems. Yoga is a lifestyle, not a religion. Yoga does not discriminate. It does not seek to interfere with individual faith or reason, and anyone is welcome to enjoy its benefits. After all, who can argue with a happier, healthier, more peaceful world?