Many people work with diet, exercise and interpersonal relationships. This may include physical fitness classes, food or cooking seminars, or many forms of personality work, including support groups, psychotherapy, or confiding with friends. When done alone, these are not necessarily aimed towards Yoga, and are therefore not Yoga, however beneficial they may be.
Yet, work with body, food, and relationships may very much fall under the domain of Yoga, when Yoga is the goal. The key is the goal or destination one holds in the heart, mind, and conviction. Without that being directed towards the state of Yoga, the methods can hardly be called Yoga.
For the vast majority who seek functional training or functional exercise programs, there will continue be an abundance of functional trainers. For the tiny percent who seek Yoga, there will continue to be a tiny number of Yogis to help. This is how it works. There will continue to be a majority rule phenomenon. If enough people say that Yoga is fitness or medical treatment, it will be so, at least in the minds of the majority, as it has happened in recent years.
Yoga deals with body, breath, and mind, but is aimed at that beyond mind. However:
If, one day, the physical therapists and occupational therapists, who deal with the body, will collectively call their work Yoga, it will appear to be so, in the minds of the majority.
If, one day, the respiratory therapists, who deal with the breath, will collectively call their work Yoga, it will appear to be so, in the minds of the majority.
If, one day, the psychotherapists, who deal with the mind, will collectively call their work Yoga, it will appear to be so, in the minds of the majority.
Still, with all of that majority rule, there will be a tiny handful of Yogis available, mostly out of public view, to help people who seek Yoga as Yoga. This is how it works.
Fallacy of Composition
The misuse of the word Yoga often involves what logicians call the Fallacy of Composition. One version of the Fallacy of Composition is projecting a characteristic assumed by a part to be the characteristic assumed by the whole or by others. It may lead to false conclusion that whenever a person is doing some action that is included in Yoga, that person is necessarily doing Yoga.
Some of the examples below might sound silly, but this Fallacy of Composition is what happens when saying that Yoga is physical fitness, stress management, or medical treatment. The goal of Yoga is Yoga, which has to do with the realization in direct experience of the highest unity of our being, out of which the only apparent individuation and multiplicity have emerged. Practices that are not done for that purpose are simply NOT Yoga.
Here are some obviously unreasonable and false arguments about the nature of Yoga. These are given as examples of the absurdity of the fallacy of composition.
Body flexing is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody who flexes the body is practicing Yoga.
Breath regulation is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody who intentionally breathes smoothly and slowly is practicing Yoga.
Contracting the anal sphincter muscles is a lock, which is part of Yoga; therefore anybody contracting those muscles is doing Yoga.
Cleansing the body is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody cleansing the body is practicing Yoga. And the list is still very long!
Yoga and Medicine
What constitutes success with Yoga: There are many implications to the shift from traditional to modern perspectives on the nature of Yoga. For example, in relation to the success of modern Yoga and traditional Yoga, there are also two perspectives:
Modern view of success with Yoga: According to the modern view, the success of Yoga is evidenced by the state of the physical body and the reduction of physical disease.
Traditional view of success with Yoga: According to the ancient view, the success of Yoga is evidenced by the degree to which one experiences realization of the eternal Self, which is beyond the physical body, its maladies, and its inevitable demise.
Tell a big enough lie often enough
and people will believe it:
“Yoga is medical treatment”.
“Yoga is physical therapy”.
Yoga redefined as a medical treatment: Yoga is now seen as a medical treatment, as if it was a mere physical therapy program. There are even efforts to have modern Yoga covered by insurance programs, as treatment for specific diseases. While this is good for the physical health of people, it further convinces people that Yoga is only a physical program.
Therapies are useful: Treatment modalities such as Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy are very useful and needed professions. However, designing such treatment methods and calling them “Yoga” is a tremendous disservice to both those professions and Yoga.
Hijacking: To distort the use of the name “Yoga” in such ways is tantamount to hijacking the name “Yoga”.
The sole purpose of Yoga
is spiritual in nature.
The sole purpose of Yoga is spiritual: Yoga is a systematic program whose sole purpose is spiritual, whether you call it enlightenment, Self-realization, or other similar terms. The purpose for working with the physical body is so that the body is not an obstacle in practices such as Yoga meditation, contemplation, and prayer. Obstacles to these spiritual practices are naturally minimized or completely removed in the process of following Yoga.
Yoga is now prescribed for its side-effects: What happens is a confusion of goals. The goal of traditional Yoga is spiritual in nature, and the side effects include physical healing. It is like a physician prescribing a medication for a particular malady, and that drug also having side effects. With a medication, a pill, the drug is prescribed for it’s immediate benefit, not for the side-effects. In modern times, Yoga is being prescribed for its side-effect, while its real goal is usually being ignored.
This is not to say that people should not benefit from Yoga, even if only a small part is being taught, and even if that small part is being changed, so as to no longer actually be Yoga. Some of the physical therapies being developed in the name of Yoga might be very beneficial to physical health.
The truer meaning of Yoga is lost: However, by developing physical therapy programs and labeling them Yoga, and by focusing on one small aspect of Yoga (the physical), we find that the whole, greater, truer meaning of Yoga is lost to those who would seek the higher ground.
Yoga and Money
Seminars on making money with Yoga: As if calling Yoga a fitness program, physical therapy or medical treatment were not enough, it has also become common to promote Yoga seminars and books in the name of Yoga being a money making technique. The promoters sometimes don’t openly say that it is for money, but instead use the terms like prosperity, success, abundance or affluence.
This is not talking about teachers making money by teaching classes; that is an entirely different matter. This is talking about intentionally using the subtle methods and powers of Yoga to cause monetary wealth to come your way. Fruits naturally come to practitioners as a byproduct of Yoga, but to teach seminars on how to direct your conviction and practices into producing financial wealth is a very different matter.
Tell a big enough lie often enough
and people will believe it:
“Yoga is a moneymaking technique”.
Reframe of attachment, hedonism, and greed: It doesn’t take a great deal of reflection to see that these are reframes of attachment, hedonism or greed, which have generally been seen as obstacles to attenuate, rather than goals to be attained.
It is sometimes said that teachers must meet students where they are. This is the epitome of that process, whereby greedy teachers provide well packaged and marketed seminars to the greedy students. In this way, the seekers receive a form of pseudo-validation for their inner longings of external pleasure. To suggest here that Yoga has nothing to do with moneymaking propositions is not to say that people should live in poverty. It is simply a matter of confusing goals and methods. Yoga is not a moneymaking technique, and any use of Yoga for such a purpose is a devolution of Yoga.
Seekers of the spiritual
Skipping Yoga as a spiritual tool: For a person longing for spiritual attainment, the path of traditional Yoga may be an ideal fit, including all of the many aspects that it encompasses. However, when the authentic seeker of spiritual truths starts exploring the landscape of paths, Yoga is often not pursued as a spiritual tool because “everybody knows” (incorrectly) that Yoga is merely a physical exercise program.
Appearances prevent finding authentic Yoga: While it is not true that Yoga is a merely physical program, it appears that way to the majority of people. Therefore, because of the appearances, many sincere seekers are not finding authentic Yoga, which has some of the highest teachings and practices known to humanity.
Yoga focuses on the spiritual,
right from the very beginning.
Begin with the spiritual: Following authentic Yoga may bring a person not only spiritual realization, but also side effects that might include physical health, reducing or eliminating some diseases, or health promotion. The intent of Yoga is to focus on the spiritual, right from the very beginning. Through such an authentic orientation of Yoga, many fruits will come, including the physical benefits.
Reaffirm the true nature of Yoga: The problem is not one of changing the path of those who practice adaptations of Yoga, or only small parts of Yoga. Such people have a perfect right to do as they wish. However, what is needed, is to clearly reaffirm the true nature of authentic Yoga and make this available to the true seekers in a wide array of ve
Teacher training programs
Teacher training avoids the spiritual: Even a cursory review of the school and seminar offerings will reveal that in most modern Yoga teacher training programs, a small percentage of the curriculum deals with the spiritual aspects of Yoga, which are the true focus of Yoga. Once again, this modern focus on the physical aspects of Yoga is backwards from the authentic Yoga of the ancients.
You can become a “certified” Yoga teacher
without having spent a single minute in the
face-to-face presence of a teacher
studying the traditional Yoga texts.
Become certified with no face-to-face teaching: The Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Yoga Sutra are two of the most authoritative texts in Yoga. As an example of the current state of modern Yoga teacher training, the most well known agency in America that claims certifying authority for Yoga schools has structured its standards with such a focus on the physical that it is possible for a student to become a certified Yoga teacher without having spent a single minute in the face-to-face presence of a teacher studying these texts or any of the other traditional Yoga texts.
Teachers told to not speak: Some Asana teachers say that they do understand the authentic goals of Yoga, and would like to share these higher teachings with students. However, some of them who teach at well known “Yoga studios” around the country (USA) have privately confided that they have been directly told by studio owners to not teach this, and that if they do, they will no longer be allowed to teach there. Many other Asana teachers who understand and seek authentic Yoga in their personal lives refrain from sharing this with students out of fear for losing students and their payments for classes.
Maybe the pendulum will swing back: While modern Yoga teaching may have gone far off track in recent years, there is some movement towards providing training that focuses on the authentic. It seems that the pendulum has swung so far away that it might slowly be starting to swing back to the real goals of authentic Yoga.
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