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YOGA--Past, Present, and Future

February 11th, 2016

From interview with Retreat Guru:   http://blog.retreat.guru/yoga-past-present-and-future/

Note:  On Yoga vs yoga. There is an ongoing debate, for years, as to whether or not Yoga should be yoga.  The print media for the most part stopped capitalizing it.  This actually limits the use of the word yoga to asana or physical practices.  We follow the convention of not capitalizing when it refers to yoga asana and capitalizing Yoga when refering to the broader philosophical, spiritual practice and philosophy. 

Origins of Yoga

There isn’t just one Yoga: the different branches of Yoga have their beginnings in different time periods. Most people used to say that yoga asana practice is 5000 years old, but it turns out to be “only” about 1000 years old. And it was strongly influenced by the West. Some of the most influential yoga teachers in India in recent centuries drew very explicitly on European influences, particularly from British colonial culture in India. They picked up different techniques and philosophies and incorporated them into their teachings. So, although a lot of a people in India are crying foul at the Westernization and appropriation  of “ India’s yoga,” it turns out that a lot of these yoga practices in India were actually derived from Western  systems, such as Swedish gymnastics. It’s a long conversation.

Swami Vivekananda wrote an influential book called Raja Yoga, which was his translation and interpretation of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. When Vivekananda came to America, he was blown away by Western sciences and philosophy, and particularly with Theosophy, which was really popular at that time. It turns out that Vivekananda incorporated these teachings into his loose translation of the Yoga Sutra, interpreting Patanjali’s text from a contemporary or even Theosophical perspective. Not only asana practice, but also many philosophical systems of Yoga have both Indian and Western influences. That said, the Upanishads and the Vedas are among the oldest texts in the world. They represent a spiritual and philosophical tradition of human beings studying themselves and studying life, which dates back thousands of years. 

We don't truly know the exact history of Yoga. It may be more useful to inquire into the application and practicality of practices and beliefs.  I see the teachings of Yoga, and our teachings, as evolutionary—growing, expanding and evolving into better more useful forms.  There are generally two schools of philosophy or approaches in Yoga, and perhaps you can find this dichotomy in many fields of knowledge. 

One perspective teaches that the spiritual path and practices of Yoga were mapped out in the past.  We must get that map and follow it to the goal!  Those following this perspective often spend a lot of time struggling over the meaning of one word so they properly follow that intent.   

The other perspective teaches that there are certainly some timeless truths, but they too are evolutionary because, as human beings, we are growing and changing. The ancient philosophers who composed the Vedas didn’t have iPhones, space travel, computers, or the internet. The world changes, and the human brain evolves and changes along with it. Our understanding and practices must do the same.  

There is truth to both perspectives, ancient and modern. There are new insights and teachings and discoveries being made all the time.

Where is Yoga Going?

The caterpillar doesn’t know that he’s going to become a butterfly. He just lives his caterpillar life and then goes to sleep, and slowly metamorphosizes into a butterfly. I would say that in the 50 or so years that I’ve been practicing yoga, the discipline has grown enormously in technique and understanding. There has been an evolution of the ancient teachings—new things were discovered when the yogis met science, medicine, feminism, environmentalism and more.  Some may say these things were always there in the teachings because that is their hope and belief.  But they weren’t there, or at least they certainly weren’t clear. A lot of the ancient texts are very short, verbless sentences, and therefore open to much interpretation and extrapolation. In contemporary times I’ve seen a lot of dogma and superstition stripped away from the teachings, especially in regard to asana practice. I believe that yoga is going to get better and better. Some poses or practices may never change much, because they have already been refined, but I think that the discipline is going to grow to new levels of blossoming and unfolding. And so are we. 

What is Needed?

Love, connection, and awakening, seeing beneath the surface. Everyone is so heavily bombarded by consumerism, like seeing 5000 advertisements a day, that some kind of personal practice is very much needed. It might mean practicing breathwork, asana, or meditation for even five minutes. 

Connection with nature might be the most needed quality because we’re fast destroying our planet’s life force—it’s quite literally insane. I like to believe that when people start an asana practice, they find themselves becoming conscious of their own ecology, and that expands out into consciousness of planetary ecology, which is at a crisis point. Yoga is helping a lot by teaching one to live harmoniously with the environment, whether it’s your body’s environment or the planet's environment. 






I love the clarity, breadth and optimism of your perspective. It feels inclusive and true to the narrative of our times. Our world keeps changing -- the less we resist this, the more room we can make for new possibilities on every level. Please keep sounding your voice, the yoga world (and that is to say, the world) needs it!

Thanks for clearing up some common myths! It's so important for teachers to have at least a very general understanding of the history of yoga into it's modern expression.

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