Yoga & “not” Yoga… a personal story about the awe of Yoga
Over the years the way I look at Yoga and “not” Yoga has changed. Maybe by telling my story on Yoga and “not” Yoga, some people are benefited by it, but maybe not. This is my story on how I moved from “Asanas were my starting place… it worked for me… so it is OK what has happened to Yoga” to a deep passion to keep expressing the awe I have for Yoga. Unfortunately, having this passion seems to include talking about the distortion of Yoga that has happened over time and a concept of “not Yoga” seems to be needed. This is not a passion against asanas (they are a wonderful part of Yoga) or the incredible service people do to support people in every walk of life wherever they are on the path to happiness. This is not a passion that excludes the beauty of diversity, to say “my Yoga is better than your Yoga” or having no compassion and love for all. This is a passion that embraces the awe for the highest state of Consciousness… known as Yoga (and many other names).
Let me first share that my whole life has been penetrated with this one longing. Words came over the years, but the feeling and intuition have always been residing in my heart. Looking for words and ways to express this longing I encountered “Yoga” for the first time like most people do these days. I walked into a Yoga Studio. My good luck was that this studio offered just hatha yoga, didn’t presented itself as brand name, style or type. Along the side I tried different “style of Yoga”, like Iyengar and Bikram. Just out of curiosity trying to figure out what Yoga was. If you would ask me then “what is Yoga?” I would say something like: “It makes you relax, calm, and is a way to learn about yourself.” Talk about avidya!
It felt like I was on the right path, so I kept going, learning, reading, exploring…
I started a Yoga Teacher training after only half a year of doing weekly classes. I had no own daily practice yet at home. No clear understanding of where it all was going or what Yoga was. I had not heard; Yoga is for Self-realization. Teaching “Yoga” this time of my life seemed a better way to live. It seemed a better way to make money than anything else I did at that time. So, I went for it. I am just being honest here. The longing was still there, and kept pushing me further as I felt I was going in the right direction.
Shortly after I started my training I started to teach in this studio. I did this for a while with pleasure. However, when I made the move to go more seriously for Self-realization, it became clear that this was not appropriate in this studio. I was initiated by one of the guest teachers in the training and had been given a new spiritual name. They wanted me to leave and I also felt it was time to move on. I do not want to come across as if I talk ill about this studio, this is not my intention. I had a nice time and learned a lot. However it does indicate what was going on then and still is going on today in most studios. Yoga is for Self-realization. This is what is has always been about. If you consciously or unconsciously keep this out of the studios… can you still call it Yoga? If the whole path of Yoga is not shared, consciously or unconsciously, but only a part of Yoga is offered as if it is equal to the totality of Yoga, can we still can it a Yoga Studio? What has happened? There was fear, that if I would go for Self-realization it might scare the students. They were afraid to lose their students. I started to teach in my own house and expanded from only hatha yoga to sharing raja yoga with its goal; Self-realization. Even though I knew little about it, I was still seeking. Within 2 months I shifted to donation based classes. Everything I do today is still donation based. I saw how Yoga and the dependency of making your money with it did not go together. Still if I look around me I see how money brings fear into the some/most studios. Some/most are afraid to lose “their” students. There is competition among studios. Yoga is commercially exploited and people do not dare to offer more than asanas and relaxation because this is what most people think Yoga is.
I share all this just so you know what I have been through. That I speak from direct experience. I started to teach asanas too early, called myself a Yoga teacher and offered “not” Yoga as Yoga. Why? Out of ignorance, I just didn’t know any better.
Back to this guest teacher: In the training this guest teacher was speaking beautifully on Yoga Sutras and Bhagavad Gita. She herself had been practicing and studying with her teacher for more than 15 years, traveled with him all over India. She still feels as one of the purest people I encountered in the Netherlands sharing real authentic Yoga from own experience. Being with her felt like home. She spoke about Self-realization as the goal of Yoga. This was what the longing in my heart was directing me toward all my life. There was a way to know ‘pure I’ that is beyond personality and mind! Life became better and better. I was going in the right direction. Answers to big questions were unfolding itself. This teacher did not only teach asanas, pranayama, meditation, and yoga nidra but during the retreats and satsangs we dove deep into the philosophy, sharing the wisdom of the sages. She spoke on Yoga, the Non-dual Reality… and that Self-realization was possible in this lifetime!
If there was not an unconscious knowing that there was a certain way of living that I was looking for, I would have probably stayed with her and just kept diving deeper and deeper. But the heart was calling. Since she was a householder (one path of life to walk to Yoga) the longing in my heart pushed me to look for something else that I had not found and I did not know it existed. Going to India and meeting Swami Jnaneshvara it became clear, that probably due to habit (having done it in a previous life), the path of renunciation (the other path of life to walk to Yoga) was the one path suited for this personality in this lifetime.
Now, I share all this because I too started with just asanas, thinking it was Yoga… I too explored several “kinds” of Yoga styles in the beginning. I too had the opinion that because it helped me along the way to find authentic Yoga, what has happened to Modern Yoga is ok. Back then i though: with Modern Yoga everyone can start where s/he is at, and those who want to know more will find their way, just like I did.
But over time my opinion changed…
With some loving kicks and blows from a selfless guide that helped me unfold the mystery of existence, my eyes slowly opened and buddhi started to see something that changed my opinion on Yoga. He lovingly kept showing me and pointing out to me what really had happened over time with Yoga.
Again I share this not to say my Yoga is better than yours. But to make you think about this; Yoga has been for thousands of years a practice that leads to Self-realization. Yoga has been the word (because it means union) to describe the moment in which a seeker directly experiences that Atman and Brahman are the same. Yoga is the realization that Shiva and Shakti are one and the same; they were never separated in the first place. This same experience is also explained as the dis-union of Prakriti and Purusha or the union of prana and apana vayu. It is the moment in which the individual Self unites with the universal Self. This moment is indescribable, incomprehensible, indefinable for the mind and formless.
This is what Yoga has been for thousands of years. This is the art, science, and philosophy that brings the seeker to a state of Yoga. In unbroken chains of sages, who all experienced Yoga, this wisdom has been passed on from generation to generation. Like any other science, it is repeatable; it brings a hungry sadhaka (spiritual aspirant) to the same experience, over and over again throughout history. Based on this direct experience the new self-realized sage is able to guide a new hungry sadhaka to the same Non-dual state of Yoga. Maybe not in exactly the same way, but always to the same end. They always knew where it was going. They were able to guide the sadhaka to the same experience of Yoga. There is only one Goal, one Yoga. In this way they were able to keep the teachings pure and alive, passing on the wisdom of Yoga throughout time without distorting it.
Understanding the nature of this science and its unbroken tradition increased the awe of Yoga science. It increased the respect of what these sages did throughout history. It made me realize that Yoga is so much more then I knew and had experienced yet. If this is what Yoga really is, then I am merely a little child playing with the preliminary toys. This is not to downgrade myself, my longing, experiences or the practice I did. It is an expansion that embraces the sacredness, beauty and magnificence of this wisdom, its tradition and its highest realization. The reverence to the sages who walked the whole path, who are selfless and personally guide hungry sadhakas to a state of Yoga grew along with tremendous gratitude for sharing and preserving the teachings.
Then looking into the world and how Yoga is offered is just a fraction of what Yoga really is about. Little pieces have been presented as the whole. Little pieces have been living their own lives and been developed into styles, methods and brands to be exploited for commercialism. Yoga has mostly become a physical practice that is offered for a healthy lifestyle, or is turned into a religion and certain things have to be done. Like worshiping photographs, wear certain clothes, do certain rituals. These days the majority of the Yoga-world or even “Yoga-industry” takes on a new identity called yogi, with certain looks, behaviors and gadgets, when they start practicing Yoga. While it has always been about reducing identities, to eventually set them all aside. Yoga is a science that is not related to any religion, caste, gender, nationality and identity because Yoga is experienced when you go beyond all of appearing duality.
So, here is the problem. When you ask the majority what yoga is, and the majority answers; asanas, physical fitness, or in some cases the union of body, breath and mind… is this OK? Meaning, is it OK that the Self-realization part is lost? And all that in less than two hundred years! Yoga has been distorted from an ancient science of knowing directly the Absolute Reality to merely physical fitness programs to heal bodies practiced globally as a billion dollar industry.
In 200 or 500 hours you can become a Yoga Teacher. Almost nobody wants to be a student, immediately a teacher. And I fell for it too. Why? Because when I was first introduced to Yoga, nobody presented to me the whole of Yoga. I was misinformed from the beginning (avidya, ignorance), and I had to figure it out along the way. Fortunately I did, but this doesn’t make it OK. It is not OK to mislead. I know it is done unconsciously by most, because avidya has been pasted on. But the avidya was not started by sages. Sages like Swami Vivekananda, Ramana Maharshi, Ananda Mayi Ma and Swami Rama did not share only a part of Yoga presenting it to be the whole. They all were Self-realized and thus their Yoga was about Self-realization only, offering all the steps and practices bringing a person to Yoga. It has been people that were not completely Self-realized that started to share yoga in an incomplete way. For those who are interested in what happened please read Mark Singletons book “Yoga Body”.
These days I do not want to call myself a teacher/ I am still a student… lovingly sharing and offering what I know, while honestly telling that I have not yet experienced all of Yoga. I am still a nurse… (read the coming story), I am not a doctor yet. I “work” hard for it. In the mean time I am in awe about the nature of existence and the unbroken chain of sages that did master this shore (the manifested world) and the other shore (Pure formless Consciousness). They knew/know Yoga, and are the ones qualified to teach it in its entirety. They are the doctors. But, I am sure they constantly know it is not their own wisdom, not their own practice that they invented, not their Yoga. They did not invent new forms of Yoga, but just shared Yoga. They are only instruments of the Divine.
So, maybe I am a dreamer, but what if…
What if… all over the world Yoga was respected as a science for Self-realization. Somewhat like a doctor is respected for his/her many years of investment to learn to take care of bodies. They give their whole life to the service of taking care of humanity on the physical plane. During their life they continue with training, to refine their understanding, and are basically always on call. Have you ever heard in a plane: “Is there a doctor on board?”
Due to their direct experience of Yoga these self-realized yogis are the only real “doctors”. They have committed their whole lives to Yoga and selflessly guide the students to Yoga. There are only a few real doctors in this world. The rest are assistants.
Would there be asanas offered in this world? Yes, I think there would be. I think that every yoga institute or yoga school would offer every aspect, so that everyone can develop him or herself at the level they are at. But clearly it would be said that this beautiful aspect of Yoga is merely the beginning. Everyone who passionately shares yoga knows; asanas is not the same as Yoga, it is just a fraction of Yoga. These places would know all the aspects of Yoga. They would know all the layers that need to be trained: body (which can be done in several ways, not only through asanas), breath, mind, intellect, to go beyond, so Yoga can happen or be directly experienced, which is called Self-realization. Schools would know this experience is possible for everyone in this life-time… and would do their utmost best to guide students systematically to the goal of Yoga.
There would never have to be a debate on what yoga is and yoga is not, because it is not distorted. Yoga would be respected for what it is.
Nobody with common sense who has no doctors training would call themselves a doctor. Maybe they would be a nurse, because s/he has done part of the training. Maybe they have First Aid training and can help people with minor injuries. These kinds of professions that take thousands of hours of study and practice, dedication, and skill are respected in our world. Yet Yoga has been turned into a gimmick to make money, devoid of its true meaning. People call themselves Yoga teachers while they are not doctors yet.
Could anyone who has realized the Self and knows Yoga is for Self-realization have assistants like nurses and First Aid-assistants? Yes! Could people who are only trained in a part of Yoga support the doctor? Of course! Maybe my thinking is naive, or that of a dreamer, but in this world there would be no discussion about what place asanas have within Yoga. People would practice as far along the path to Self-realization as they can. Nurses would support the doctor. These nurses are called asana-teachers, or just people who share what they know of Yoga, being honest that they are not doctors yet, not real Yoga teachers yet as they do not know Yoga in direct experience. They are equally important, but each knows where they stand. There would be ahimsa, non-harming and satya, truthfulness…
THIS is the passion I talked about in the beginning. Why do we have different words for everything that is seen as something else, yet there is so much resistance when the difference is being pointed out between Yoga and “not” Yoga… Why do people want to keep calling something that is “not Yoga” Yoga?
So over the years my opinion changed from “Asanas were my starting place.. it worked for me… so it is OK what has happened in Yoga” to a deep passion to keep expressing the awe I have for Yoga. I hold in my heart the sacredness of its tradition. I hold in my heart the awe and magnificence of its path, its goal and its direct experience. It is OK to start wherever you start in life to get yourself ready for Yoga. It is OK to serve everyone along the path wherever they on their way to Yoga. However, when enough people say something purple is orange, doesn’t make it orange. To passionately keep holding in my heart that it is purple and share it with the few who are interested in purple, doesn’t mean I am opposed to orange… I am just in awe with purple as purple…
To conclude with a silly example… If we would know what a diamond is, yet the whole world sells pieces a glass as if it are diamonds. Should we be quiet and not tell people what a real diamond is? Should we let the few who ‘seek to know diamonds’ to just wonder around in this world of glass, feeling lost in the world of glass? Or should we speak up so that the few can find us and enjoy the splendor of seeing a real diamond?
OK one more… this example comes from a friend…
In the mountains, in an unbroken chain of teachers and students, sages of ballet have been practicing ballet for thousands of years. In the meantime this ancient wisdom and practice of the art of ballet has come down the mountain and over time it altered into merely hopscotch, though kept the name ballet. Of course hopscotch is fun and useful, but is it still ballet? Then when a ballet sage comes down the mountain, unaware of what has happened to “ballet” over time (now it is merely hopscotch) and sees what is done in the name of ballet. Would s/he not passionately want to tell people “this is not ballet, ballet is something far more refined, needs years of practice, so incredibly beautiful if you master it”. It that not about that s/he is against “not” Yoga (hopscotch). It is the passion of the few who know Yoga and practice Yoga (ballet, not hopscotch) to want to tell the world “THIS IS REAL YOGA –> YOGASH CHITTA VRITTI NIRODHAH”. It is the passion of wanted to share with the few what Yoga really is about, that is will bring peace, happiness and joy that is not subject to change.
So I drag you through this whole story because I understand the initial opinion of “It worked for me”. I know people are sweet, loving, and caring. So the avidya that has spread throughout the world is not their fault, they have just been misinformed by people who also didn’t know any better. That is why I made this attempted to use (too many) words that may lift the veil a little. To hopefully increase the awe and understanding for Yoga. Perhaps, you would like to help with moving toward a world in which it is clear that Yoga has always and only been a practice for Self-realization. To a world in which people who lovingly offer only a part of Yoga clearly and respectfully shared what Yoga really is about. There is only one Yoga. You can help to remove the confusion… if you like…
READ MORE ON MODERN YOGA VERSUS TRADITIONAL YOGA on www.swamiJ.com