Is Your Yoga Practice Ancient & Authentic?
Updated: Sep 14, 2021
Todays market driven Yoga world is amazingly diverse and sometimes rather confusing. For those of us who are seeking an authentic spiritual path that relates to the ancient practice of authentic yoga things can be very dicey these days. Traditionally Yoga was a closely guarded practice, handed down from master teacher to truly dedicated students. In the modern arena with the printing press, and now the internet and social media information sharing has shifted, and it is impacting how Yoga is shared. While we need to relate to Yoga based out of the current state of information technologies, communication and economic systems we can still learn a lot from how Yoga was organized in in India prior to colonization.
Below I am sharing definitions that can help you clear up some of the confusion you might be having about what yoga is "real" or "authentic". I will also lay out the traditional system of viewing yoga overall. We will explore what is the difference between Yoga Darshana and Yoga practice as means to realization. We will look into these two general topics to help us clear the confusion of the market driven yoga world we have found ourselves in.
Methods of Yoga Practice in Brief
Yoga has always been an experiential practice. Each teacher who shares Yoga ideally has in-depth understanding from either study or direct experience of what the fruits of Yoga are. A Sat Guru, or True Guru is one who has directly experienced the highest Samadhi, Nirvana or Moksha, and then teaches about it. Sat Guru's are not always easy to find. Upa Guru's (one who is near- upa, the Guru or near the state of the Sat Guru) are those who might not have attained full Yogic states of consciousness but their teacher has encouraged them to teach, for the benefits of others. Pundits and Acharyas are also high caliber teachers and scholars who understand Yoga from deep practice and study. They may or may not have attained levels of realization, but can be trusted as authorities from a certain standpoint. We can never judge if another is realized or not. Realization is an internal experience, yet humility, ethics, love and compassion are a good indicators of realization.
The use of words like Samadhi, Nirvana and Moksha trace to various schools. They all basically refer to enlightenment. Samadhi relates to Yoga Darshana of Sage Patanjali and his famous Yoga Sutras. Nirvana is mostly associated with Buddhism, yet not limited to it, (also common in Advaita Vedanta). Moksha usually relates to Vedanta. These terms get confusing because people loosely use them, yet they are all pointing towards the same general state or word we use in English which is enlightenment. We can explore these terms in more detail latter.
We must always remember that Yoga means union and is not simply a form of exercise. There are many ways to achieve spiritual union. The approaches of Karma, Bhakti and Jnana Yoga have acknowledge that each seeker needs their own unique method. Ayurveda has focused on body type (dosha), mental state (guna) life phase as well as cultural background and conditioning. Many schools for better or worse either consciously or unconsciously defer to Guru Bhakti (surrender to the teacher) as the means of deepening into samadhi. Hatha Yoga is its own vidya, (science), over the years it has legitimately been modified, expanded, contracted and also straight out bastardized. Hatha Yoga, being Tantric (speaking something being confused by the market place) in its origins includes practices to work with Kundalini. For further study of Kundalini and its relevance to Hatha Yoga you can refer to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is considered an essential text on Yoga and clearly lays out methods to open Kundalini, why the movement of Kundalini is important in Yoga Practice and how use Kundalini to establish us in Raja Yoga. In this case we mean Raja Yoga as the essence of the Yoga Sutras.
All Yoga teachers would benefit from doing their best to understand the HYP. It is a very useful text to study, if not crucial to have basic understanding of. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are also key for understanding what yoga has been for thousands of years. Hatha Yoga Pradipika can be difficult to understand without a good commentary or a teacher. Returning to it over and over again is helpful. Even thought it can be challenging to understand it is good to explore. We need it to deepen our knowledge. If have been feed many unclear ideas about Yoga the HYP will be even harder to understand. Chapter 3 on Kundalini is very useful for people struggling to redefine what might be a useful practice to keep using from the Kundalini Yoga as Taught by Yogi Bhajan method.
Yogic system seeking higher mind or enlightenment are used by theist and non theist, Buddhist and Hindus, renunciate and house holders alike. Yoga is truly for all interested in the pursuit of higher spiritual states, or we could say the non state (turiya). Yoga has never been a single system of practice, it is as diverse as there are master teachers and students who follow the path they suggest. Yoga is like the stars in the sky, vast and limitless. While Yoga practice is not one simple system, it can be said that the state of Yoga is One.
“Truth is one; sages call it by various names.”
While Yoga practice is decentralized, unregulated and based on the guidance of Enlightened ones, and their representatives, Yoga Darshana does have some absolute standards. Yoga Darshanas bar of excellence is held by the Yoga Sutras. Darshana is often translated as philosophy. This is not an inaccurate translation, but Darshana is much more than a mere philosophy. Darshana relates to the root word Darshan which mean to have a sight of something sacred or holy. While the Yoga Sutras are the main authority on Yoga Darshana they are much more than just an elaborate system of Sanskrit grammar, it also contains the seed of Infinite Truth and Bliss absolute. There are six (shad) Darshanas (philosophies) of classical Indian culture.
Yoga, Vedanta and Sankhya are the most relevant to experiential Yoga practices that have come to the West. These schools both build on each other and argue and disagree working towards finding the timeless truth. Yoga Darshana of the Yoga Sutras also relates to the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, which is longer and more in-depth conversation on Yoga than found in the Yoga Sturas. Tantra is also significant yet not one of the Shad Darshanas. Dr. David Frawley wrote a good intro to Tantra and Veda you can read here. Sikh Dharma is not one of the Classical Schools of Philosophy, yet much of its language is framed in response or relationship to them. Some Sikh sects are clear that they are influenced by certain Classical Philosophies. The Udasi Sikhs interpret the Sikh holy text in light of Adviata Vedanta, one of the sub branches of Vedanta Darshana.
Yoga practices by nature are diverse. The teachings are ideally guided by Yogic Shastra, or Yogic text and the guidance of the Realized Yogi. Yoga for exercise is not wrong, it is simply Yoga for physical fitness and not Yoga for realization. Yoga for exercise has been made popular due to the market place demands. Market driven Yoga is influenced by Classical Yoga, but is not the same thing. The two need to be clearly defined. Yoga Sutras study is not a requirement of a Yoga school or practitioner, yet they should have some level of relevance to the schools teachings. Yoga Darshana is a steady bed rock of spiritual nourishment and philosophy we can look too, Yogi's have used these texts for thousands of years. We can weight the practices shared in the Yoga market place against the great Yogic text. Much has been shared in the name of Yoga, but how does it relate to Yoga history and Yoga scriptures? Opening our hearts and mind to deeper study of Yogic text is exciting and rewarding. Learning about different traditions is empowering. Don't toss out your practice with the teachers exposed to have personal issues! Yoga has brought riches of inner treasures to countless peoples life's, and will continue too.