Monday, 22 March 2010

Yoga, what is it again?

Most modern day yoga is the bastard child of an ancient esoteric Indian tradition and the modern western health and fitness industry. Arguably the two backgrounds complement each other.

The ancient Indian yoga tradition is based on a deep spirituality and inner vision and stillness beyond the superficial chatterings of the mind.The modern western health and fitness industry is largely derived from western scientific and sporting approaches and people’s desire to stay healthy and feel and look good.

Both approaches have benefits but are arguably incomplete by themselves. The Western emphasis on health and fitness can limit yoga to mainly its physical exercises potentially leading to self absorption rather than self examination. Traditional Indian approaches on the other hand are part of a particular cultural context that tended to encourage a withdrawal from productive worldly activities to ultimately liberate onesself from the cycle of existence. There is nothing wrong with choosing either of these approaches and perhaps a balance between the two options is possible.

A Modern Integrative Yoga?

Modern day teachers have met students with a changing range of mental, physical and lifestyle needs created by an arguably more stressful and sedentary modern lifestyle. Teacher's responses to this, combined with a generally more sophisticated interest in health, fitness and wellbeing has led to yoga evolving in new ways.

The teaching of yoga for its health and fitness benefits has arguably improved enormously under the western scientific microscope provided by interested professionals such as osteopaths and doctors, some of whom have become yoga teachers themselves.

Similarly the increased interest in  forms of spirituality that are less dogmatic than traditional institutional religion, such as that in yoga and some forms of Buddhism, has led to a renewal in the presentation of these inner practices in ways that are digestable to the modern mind and require no religious or esoteric beliefs.

In our generally busy, over stimulated, information soaked and outer directed society, there is little to encourage us to look inwardly for quietness, understanding, emotional balance and inspiration.

Yoga postures and breath work help attend to some of the physical manifestations of stress and inbalance. Meditation and some accompanying philosophy can provide a welcome window pointing towards an inner world of greater ease, understanding, freedom and creativity adding many benefits to our external life of relationships, work and attitudes.

Modern western yoga teachers are now trained to a certain degree in western anatomy, physiology and health care as well as some Indian arts, philosophy, healing, esotericism and spirituality. The resultant evolving creative fusion is modern yoga.

As a cross fertilised collection of knowledge, perhaps increasingly typical of our globalised culture, older timeless aspects of Yoga have richly intertwined with modern knowledge and ideas to give us a truly twenty first century discipline.