Yoga: What is said, and what is done
Yoga can be studied in many different ways. My previous entry about yoga being something different in India from what is practiced here prompted a reply comment which requires a more in-depth discussion.
If you go to India, you won’t find yoga studios on every corner (the way you might find them in, say, parts of Santa Monica or San Francisco!). What most non-Indian practitioners call yoga here- mainly the physical asanas – is not as prominent a feature in yoga practices in India.
In India, you may be on the yogic path and never do a sun salute in your life! Your yoga practice may consist of meditation or chanting only (as a bhakti devotee), serving others (as a karma yogi) or in any number of ways as an artist, educator, mother, renunciate or householder who dedicates her or his work to the divine.
One of these approaches is by studying (and this usually means an ability to memorize and recite) sacred text. Here also exists a difference between Indian and non-Indian definitions of what is considered knowledge. Those of us trained in Western schools read and analyze books on yoga, perhaps to understand its history or ideas. We may read spiritual biographies of the saints or try to understand yoga according to the sutras or commentaries on the teachings. As practitioners this encourages us.
But as I’ve said before, there is no ancient authoritative text you can go to that will tell you the exact alignment of your thumb in the downward dog pose! These have been produced only recently by such great teachers as Iyengar. And yes, this recent wave of teachers did come from India, but it is a false impression to think that what they brought here (and more importantly, how it influenced non-Indian teachers here, and how that has continued in our “market”) replicates what was/is yoga in India.
That is the most accurate description of what Yoga I’ve read in recently.
Westeners unlike yourself often think of yoga as a set of postures that improve mind and body….but yoga goes way beyond that.
I enjoyed reading your post.
I came across this riveting book ‘Pilgrims of the Stars’ written by 2 Indian mystics or Yogis (as we call them in India), Sri Dilip Kumar Roy & Ma Indira devi.
I thought you might like to read about them:
The website has life sketches of the yogis as well as some beautiful photographs.