Despite the modern popularity of yoga as a form of exercise, asana or the physical postures, form just the tip of the yoga iceberg. And whilst I don’t mean to scare anyone or bombard you with mystical mumbo-jumbo, whether you’re trying yoga for the first time or the hundredth time it’s important that you know if what you’re practicing is really yoga or not.And therefore realistically what you can expect to get out of it. Authentic yoga is spiritual in nature. Yoga is a process of self-discovery and awakening to our highest Self. Authentic yoga involves mental discipline and a philsophical commitment to yoga as a way of life that leads to inner happiness and freedom. Beyond all the hype of sexy postures on yoga magazine covers, adorned bodies and lofty promises that say yoga is all sweetness and light, it’s important you know that the true gifts of yoga require real work, and are worth working for. After all, authentic Yoga is powerful, beautiful and profound.
It has the potential to blow your mind without needing to give you the best body, or anything else for that matter, other than to reveal the natural, loving essence of who you really are. And you deserve to enjoy the entire fruit of yoga and not just to eat the skin and throw away the flesh! Yoga’s Traditional Roots Yoga has its roots dating back to the Indus civilisation some 5000 years ago, where ancient texts such as the Vedas, the Upanishads and later the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali described highly evolved rituals, mantras and practices in order for one to overcome the limitations of the body, the delusions of the senses and the pitfalls of thought. As such, Yoga is recognised as one of six classical schools of Indian philosophy. Meaning that ‘Yoga’ is a complete system, for attaining higher consciousness and liberation from ignorance and suffering – and reaching one’s highest potential. Only in relatively modern times has the role of yoga asana been over-emphasised to such a misleading extent that the phrase ‘doing yoga’ and ‘yoga class’ have become common mainstream expressions albeit used incorrectly.
Asana is a small, though quite useful part of a much bigger system that is designed for spiritual liberation, and actually not for just a healthy, strong or flexible body.nYoga is a spiritual system with a physical component, and not the other way around. As Swami Jnaneshvara of the Himalayan Yoga Masters Tradition states “To understand the recent devolution that Yoga is only a physical exercise program is one of the most essential steps for the modern seeker of authentic Yoga.” That is not to say that the practice of authentic Yoga is reserved for Indians or those wishing to give up their life and meditate in the Himalayas! Yoga is a timeless system that surpasses creed and culture, although it must be practiced carefully and patiently over a long period of time if it is to be truly effective. If it is to bring us any long-lasting ease and inner joy. Authentic Yoga The main objective of Hatha Yoga (the branch of yoga that is most widely practiced in Australia and other Western countries) is to create an absolute balance of interacting activities and processes of the physical body, mind and energy.
When this balance is created, the individual’s consciousness naturally expands beyond their usual limitations. Increasing depths of love, creativity and joy are all the natural byproducts of the process of liberation. However if Hatha Yoga is not used for this purpose, then it’s true objective is lost. On an authentic Yoga path, under the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable teacher, a yoga student follows a number of different aspects to bring about holistic self-development: Relationships – building relationships with others and contributing to society through values and practices (known as yamas and niyamas) such as non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing and non-possessiveness. This means taking responsibility for our behaviours and actions towards others, and actively cultivating qualities that make us a more compassionate, understanding, peaceful and well-rounded. Which all makes life much easier for us. Senses – training the senses in order to consciously and positively regulate them, known as pratyhara. This means monitoring cravings (or attachments) and getting away from what we don’t like (aversions), knowing full well that unless we train ourselves we’re likely to live like on a pendulum, swinging from one attachment and aversion to the next, without finding a natural balance in the middle.
Yes, it is possible through authentic yoga! Body – working with the body through postures and movements so as to make it flexible, strong and steady, called asana. Then the body can sit still for the deeper practices of pranayama and meditation. Breath – training the breath to make it smooth, slow and serene, also known as pranayama. From a serene breath naturally comes a serene mind. Mind – dealing with the mind and emotions at all levels, including concentration (dharana) meditation practice (dhyana) and overcoming the habituated patterns of the mind and emotions which show up in everyday life that lead to dissatisfaction and suffering. Then reaching a state of mental clarity and expanded states of consciousness. The overall goal of Yoga is beyond each of the parts. If a balanced approach is not taken, and one part is emphasised over the others, then we will only encounter further obstacles to their self-growth and not be able to reach their full potential. Progress on the authentic Yoga path is characterised by life becoming generally easier, the heart becoming more open and the mind becoming generally quieter, although there will be ups and downs along the way. I remember my very first idea of Yoga. To me it meant ‘hippies putting their legs behind their heads’.
And I couldn’t have been further from the truth. After 10 years of solid practice and teaching, I can honestly say that the limbs of Yoga keep working away to smooth out my rough edges and create deeper stillness and clarity than before. From this experience, I know that authentic Yoga works and that I am still a work-in-progress. So next time you’re tempted to explore yoga or to try and take a short-cut, remember what authentic Yoga is all about. I encourage you to dive-in. Find good teachers who you resonate with. Ask questions. Practice breathwork and meditation. Develop a home yoga practice. You won’t be disappointed and your potential will probably surprise you! With blessings, Natalie