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Yoga Unplugged

Jul 29, 2013

Has spirituality become a commodity? A victim of the consumer society? In an age of mass produced food, music and people, can a 200-hour certificate guide us to the same enlightenment as 200 hours of solitude?

Yogis Mass-Produced

Madonna, The Beatles, Oprah and Jennifer Aniston share far more than iconic eminence. They share a desire that propelled the spiritual movement of the 21st century to the masses—a desire for selffulfillment, happiness and inner peace. Yoga was the vehicle used to embark on this journey.

“Yoga has become to 21st-century America what, say, automobiles were to 20th-century America (something everybody has, but the wealthy have the fanciest),” jokes Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. in an article in the The New York Times. But any car should get us where we want to go. Not every stretch or breathing exercise leads us to spiritual awakening, if that’s the goal. So, while the wealthy get taught by yogis—advanced practioners of yoga who have experienced spiritual insight, studied ancient scriptures while spending years in a remote ashram in India—what do the masses get stuck with? A suburban personal trainer that wants to add yoga to their resume, taking a 200-hour yoga course at a community college or private studio because he/she works as a business administrator full-time and socializes on the weekends? Now, I’m far from being a yoga snob but I call it like I see it and sometimes that yoga class offered at the gym or the drop-in class around the corner is just not yoga, it’s a stretching and breathing class. And the instructor is far from being a yogi, no matter how much green tea they drink, incense they burn or how placid their voice is. In fact, what we know in the west as yoga is actually a distant mutant relative of Hatha Yoga (the physical branch of yoga) and without all branches, the yogic experience is incomplete.

The Yogic Experience

“According to the mystics, the search for divine bliss is the entire purpose of a human life,” writes Gilbert. And religion provides the means to unite us with this divine bliss, or God. Of course what constitutes as God is debatable at a minimum and worth killing over at the other extreme. Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism believe God is in everything contained by the vastness of the universe, including us. Oprah’s much loved, New York Times best-selling author, Eckhart Tolle believes “everything is not only connected with everything else, but also with the source of life out of which it came. Even a stone, and more easily a flower or a bird, could show you the way back to God, to the source, to yourself.” It is this realization, acceptance and connection with the divinity within us, that yoga was designed for back in 5000 B.C. The naked truth: “You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state,” say Sharon Gannon and David Life, the founders of Jivamukti Yoga School. This is what is believed to be nirvana, enlightenment, spiritual awakening or communion with God. And it’s no coincidence either that members of the influential grunge band chose Nirvana as their name.

The Limewire Version

In the west, the idea of yoga revels in exercises and postures that are isolated from their spiritual functions. It’s about keeping physically and emotional healthy and living a balanced lifestyle. Many claim to see results from reducing stress, to even the curing of serious ailments. Professional athlete, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar claims that yoga allowed him to play as long and as strong as he did. “The link between insufficient oxygen and disease has now been firmly established,” says Dr. W. Spencer Way, in the Journal of the American Association of Physicians. Why? Because oxygen makes the world go round! It’s brain food. And we only get around 21% of oxygen compared to civilizations thousands of years ago. That rationalizes today’s human behavior doesn’t it? Or at least explains the Paris Hiltons and George Bushs of the world. And stretching not only eases muscle tension but increases blood circulation, which in turn increases oxygen flow, so you get the point. However, as Sting was quoted saying, “It really is not just physical. The deeper I get into yoga I realize it is indeed a spiritual practice.” Malaysia's top Islamic body seems to agree. The Council's chairman, Abdul Shukor Husin, notes, “We are of the view that yoga, which originates from Hinduism, combines physical exercise, religious elements, chanting and worshipping for the purpose of achieving inner peace and ultimately to be one with God.” Now if only nirvana was that simple, the world wouldn’t be recognizable.

Husin doesn’t have much to worry about as spirituality doesn’t seem to be the goal of the masses which are ignorant to yoga’s purpose anyhow. After all, we wouldn’t be a consumer society if we didn’t fall for yet another marketed ideal. The multibillion-dollar beauty industry is a pro, founded on our desire for idealistic beauty. And the spiritual and health industries are merely following suit. Yoga is a $225 billion dollar (USD) industry. People are profiting from the idea of yoga in droves from yoga-wear to classes. Self-styled, western ‘quack instructors,’ called out by The Times of India are promoting their own schools of yoga and attempting to copyright exercises from ancient Hindu scriptures. Imagine someone trying to copyright a biblical verse or creating spinoffs of the Bible. Not only is it lunacy, but it is expensive and costing India almost $100 million dollars (USD), which could definitely be used to support its population of one billion. So if the western yogis are cashing in on the very practice that perpetuates relinquishment of materialism, and the part-timer isn’t even aware of its spiritual function, is there a ifference between a 200-hour certificate and years of solitude? Perhaps everything, most probably nothing.

Bottom line: determine what you’re looking for—stretching and breathing exercises or enlightenment. If you’re looking for the latter, do your research. There are many yogis and ashrams in the west and in India that will offer yoga classes at no charge. Because let’s face it, achieving enlightenment in ourselves is fulfilling, but helping others, is more than selfless, it’s priceless.

Yoga dates back to the ancient Hindu scriptures. Because of the mind-body relationship, yoga consists of psychosomatic exercises, disciplining the body in order to prepare for the purification of the mind. Combined with the scriptures and their own experiences, many yoga gurus have facilitated the progression and perpetuation of yoga through the ages and across the world, focusing on the true essence of the practice.

BY SHOBANA LAKKAVALLY
PHOTOGRAPH CREDIT: FOTOLIA.COM

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