If you want to get the involvement of that which is the source of creation within you, your body, your mind, your energy must be absolutely involved.
In a forecast of fitness trends recently, it was predicted that yoga would emerge as the most popular fitness option in the world. Nowhere is the accuracy of this prediction more apparent than in the Indian metros with plenty of yoga studios opening their doors to seekers. Those with better business acumen in the field realised, to sustain in the market, they need to embellish the supply with unique propositions. Some play music during the practice while some others introduce cardio moves to make the yoga session more interesting.
Asanas have begun to represent yoga whereas, traditionally, it is considered as only one aspect of yogic lifestyle. Asanas were practised by yogis as a means to transcend the physicality to a higher state, so the body does not become an obstacle in the aim. But today, for the larger population in the world, yoga is all about asanas. Purists would argue that it is distortion of 'yoga', a term derived from the Sanskrit word yuj, meaning union; the union of mind, body and breath. Liberals, on the other hand, feel whichever aspect of yoga we focus on, it will be beneficial to our existence, even if it is just the asanas.
With so many variants and distortions of yoga currently existing, let us look at how yoga is practised today and if we are doing it right.
'I can't do yoga, because I'm not flexible'
I have watched countless videos of Ana Forrest and her signature Forrest Yoga on YouTube, but if I were to see her standing on her feet, I would not recognise her. In almost all the videos, she is on her hands or head, doing gravity-defying stunts with her legs and impossible balancing acts. These videos often remind me of Romanian gymnastic prodigy Nadia Comeneci and her Olympic performances that we, as a family, watched with enthusiasm in the 80s. With YouTube sensations like Ana Forrest and Tara Stiles and their individual styles of yoga, yoga has become synonymous with contortions and sell the idea that if you cannot be pretzels, yoga is not for you. I have come across many people who say: “I can't touch my toes without bending my knees, I can't do yoga.” Do you need to be flexible to pursue yoga? As mentioned in the Sanskrit yoga manual, _ Yoga Pradipika, yoga can be practised by anyone. “Yuva,vrudho adhivrudhova, durbhalo vyadhithopiva; Abhyasat siddhi mapnodi, sarvayogeshu thantrita.” Anybody, _yuva (young), vrudha (old), adhivrudha (very old), durbhala (weak) or vyadhitha (sick), can reap the benefits of yoga.
Mysore-based hatha yoga teacher and student of yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar, Bharath Shetty says, “Asanas can be practised by anyone, but what form he should practise, depends on his physical condition. A youngster may not be equipped to control his pranic body. So he can do asanas vigourously but he may not be able to communicate with his prana (energy or life force). An older person, on the other hand, can put his mind and breath into his practice better.” Depending on which stage of life you are in, you need to tap into the aspect of yoga that benefits you.
Some bodies are naturally flexible. Women tend to be more flexible than men while men are stronger than women. The beauty of asanas is that practising it regularly makes the male body pliant and female body, stronger.
'C'mon, let's groove to some music'
Founder of Isha yoga, yogi Jaggi Vasudev, popularly known as Sadhguru, in one of his articles, mentions his visit to a yoga studio in America upon invitation. He writes: “I went to her yoga studio and music was playing chang, chang, chang to keep everybody enthusiastic. She was in ardhamatsyendrasana and was talking to a group of people. When she saw me, she just jumped up from the table, came and hugged me.” He asked her how long has she been practising this way and she said 16 years. He writes: “I said, 'if you've done this 16 years, you must be suffering from this, this and this.” She said she was suffering from all those.
If you are a regular yoga practitioner, you would have come across studios playing slow, soothing music to relax your body in asanas or meditation. A strong opponent of jazzing up asana practice with anything else, Sadhguru writes in his article, “ yoga demands a certain involvement of your body, mind, energy and the innermost core. If you want to get the involvement of that which is the source of creation within you, your body, your mind, your energy must be absolutely involved. Not just playing music and doing something.”
However, Mumbai-based yoga instructor Jehangir Palkhivala says some form of music like the soothing sound of nature could help during asanas or meditation to relax the muscles and bring the blood pressure down. “I don't recommend it, at the same time, I don't find it harmful either,” he says.
Hansaji Jayadeva Yogendra, director, The Yoga Institute, emphasises on the involvement of mind and breath in yoga practice. Playing music will take your focus away from it. “One must practise asanas with proper synchronisation of breath and also attempt to understand the underlying concept behind every asana. When you are in shavasana (corpse pose), you should continuously observe your breath and not focus on anything else. The core concept that shavasana talks about is vairagya bhav. The idea is to 'let go' and relax, calm one's being and gain a fresh perspective,” she says.
Bharath suggests the practitioner listens to his rhythmic heart beat while doing asanas. Asanas activate the pranaor the life force that runs through the nadis or energy channels in the body. “It benefits the practitioner if he is mindful of the vyana vayu (one of the pranas) that brings about the balance of the other four pranas in the body,” he says.
'Let's add cardio to yoga'
A session of yoga that I attended recently began with a run around the studio. Ten of us were made to run in a circle. To the instructor's constant, “faster, faster, better,” we were made to run forward, backward and sideways. A few of them mumbled “we came for yoga” and stayed away from the “cardio warm up” in protest. After this, we were asked to settle down on our mats and get ready for hatha yoga. Puffing and panting, we could barely hold any posture. This is just one example of how new-age instructors are making each session of yoga “interesting” by being “different”.
There are many variants of yoga these days, the latest being ganja yoga, where practitioners are encouraged to smoke up while doing yoga to “enhance the experience”. Yoga has emerged as a big brand now that everyone seems to want a piece of the pie. “Consumerism rules the world today. It is all about giving the consumers different products with as many innovations as possible. In the process though, most forget to ensure that they are beneficial,” says Hansaji. To stay away from such marketing gimmicks and do yoga for one's own good Hansaji says, “People should first ask themselves why they would want to do yoga at all. If they really want to learn traditional yoga and bring about a positive change in their lives, they will never opt for such offerings.”
A more liberal Jehangir feels that though these variants are diluted forms, they need not be scoffed at. “As long as practising them is not harming the body, people can do what they want. Hopefully, after practising these diluted forms, they will come back to the original one,” says Jehangir.