yoga philosophy

How to Practice

yoga philosophy

Yoga is as ancient as civilization, and has evolved just as quickly as humanity. The teachings have come down from the Himalayas and worked its way into the very fabric of our culture today.

For those interested in yoga simply as a physical practice, it is easy to access public fitness classes, free online instruction, retreats and teacher training programs. But for those looking for a path that integrates body, mind and spirit, it can be difficult to turn this myriad of resources into an intelligently designed yoga practice that leads to both a strong, open body as well as a strong, open mind. How do we honor the ancient traditions while keeping ourselves open to innovative practice?

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Traditional Yoga

yoga philosophy

In India, reverence for the guru is more than respect for an individual; it is devotion to the knowledge honed by a lineage of masters stretching back to ancient times. Dance and music are the main classical Indian traditions. They are the arts, but they carry the weight of centuries of precision and discipline. Each student learns from her guru; each guru is one link of a timeless lineage; the art is the living language between the ancient ones and us today.

Yoga is said to be one of these ancient, living, Indian arts, and yet the physical practice we know is fairly new. For most of modern history, the practice of yoga was an esoteric search for enlightenment, often carried out in mountain caves and forests. The Bhagavad Gita, one of the most ancient texts of yoga, teaches that yoga is perfect evenness of mind, equanimity in success and defeat, and non-attachment to fruits of labor. And yet, those who live by these yogic teachings are not typically practicing gymnastic-like physical fitness routines. So who is truly practicing yoga?

For all artists, there is a dynamic conversation between tradition and innovation. This dance between discipline and creativity is especially complex for yoga, because the ancient texts seem to describe something orthogonal to today’s fitness phenomenon. Traditionally, in the East, yogis were gurus and their disciples, wizened ascetics full of mystical knowledge. Today, in the West, yoga evokes images of lithe young women in leggings. To find the true art of yoga, we must first find the lineage of yoga gurus.

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What is yoga?

yoga philosophy

Insta-yoga

Yoga has evolved from the esoteric mediation practice of Himalayan hermits to a trendy fitness phenomenon inspiring countless group classes, altheisure lines, hashtags and luxury retreats. There is so much yoga online and in gyms/studios, so many people who have become famous for their portrayal of yoga. Most of what I see is photos of thin white women in beautiful places doing incredible poses that I have never seen before, paired with words that alternate between vulnerable and motivational. It feels strange to see strong postures and seemingly unrelated words, with all of it disconnected from yoga’s Indian roots, and yet, I am so much in awe of the business acumen and physical prowess of the InstaYogis.

I wonder too: is this yoga? Where is the science, the philosophy, the knowledge? The constant stream of #yogainspiration runs parallel to the lives most people live behind desks and deadlines. Are these images and fitness classes helping us feel peaceful, or are they distracting us from the fuller living of the tangible lives? Has yoga become a product to consume? Are we creating inspiration or entertainment?

Does it matter?

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