Common questions about Yoga
What is Yoga and where is it from?
Yoga is a specific religious/cultural activity indigenous to Bharatavarsha (ancient India). The Sanskrit noun Yoga (योग) is derived from the Sanskrit root Yuj (युज्) “to attach, join, harness, yoke”. The word yoga is cognate with English “yoke”.
The word Yoga originates from the Vedas of India, which are a vast library of ancient scriptures said to be Apaurusheya (अपौरुषेय) – of divine origin. The Vedas are attached to the culture of Bharatavarsha and to Sanatana Dharma (eternal code of living and virtue ethics). This cultural and ethical stance based in the Vedas, is the shared basis and origin of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. The Vedas are the origin of all human language, mathematics, life science, theology and philosophy – it is said that in order to read Ved one must come to the table free of all dogma, which is the highest place of intelligence to learn from.
Yoga in this context, is a cultural, religious practice and discipline spanning many aspects of life from the physical and emotional to the psychological and spiritual. It is a 7000 year old science, philosophy, culture and way of living which has endured even to today, earning and proving it’s right to be associated to the “Eternal path of righteous living”, Sanatana Dharma.
Yoga presents a Universal method and science by which any person, no matter which creed or race, can access in order to break away from the conditioning, dogmas and ignorances we accumulate from birth into the material world. Yoga puts Soul at the forefront of the internal conversation to increase Self-awareness, eventually leading to the conscious realisation of the connection of Self with Source consciousness.
Once realised, the way in which we think, feel, plan, act and understand our daily lives and bigger purpose becomes absorbed in the ultimate reality and duty of Supreme Truth, which is not subjective but objective.
What is the goal of Yoga?
There are many, many benefits and reasons to do Yoga on all levels of life, but the original, divinely-determined goal of all the Yogas is to reconnect with the Supreme consciousness, which we call Krsna consciousness.
अनर्थोपशमं साक्षाद्भक्तियोगमधोक्षजे ।
लोकस्याजानतो विद्वांश्चक्रे सात्वतसंहिताम् ॥ ६ ॥
“The material miseries of the living entity can be directly mitigated by the linking process of devotional service to God. But the mass of people do not know this, and therefore the learned Vāsudeva (Divine Lord of Light) compiled this Vedic literature, which is in relation to the Supreme Truth.”
(Srimad Bhagavatum, 1.7.6)
योगिनामपि सर्वेषां मद्गतेनान्तरात्मना ।
श्रद्धावान्भजते यो मां स मे युक्ततमो मत: ॥ ४७ ॥
yoginam api sarvesam
sraddhavan bhajate yo mam
sa me yuktatamo matah
“And of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all.”
(Bhagavad Gita, 6.47)
What does Yoga include?
There are many Yogas since they are all specifically tuned disciplines which sit under the umbrella term of Yoga, but they all have one goal – liberation from the sufferings of material reality. Interestingly enough, all of ancient India’s varying cultural disciplines were built upon the same source of the Vedas and Sanatana Dharma with a view to the same goal – this includes all of its medicinal science, philosophy, politics, martial arts, classical/performing arts, language, routines and virtue ethics.
The true Yogas of The Vedas and the
Bhagavad Gita are;
– Hatha yoga (discipline/postures)
– Raja yoga 👑 (breathwork/meditation/tantra)
– Jnana yoga 👁 (Vedic knowledge)
– Karma yoga ⚖ (mindfulness of cause and effect)
– Dharma yoga ⚙ (dutiful living and work)
– Bhakti yoga 📿 (devotional service to the One and All)
The different schools of Yoga in existence today (which have been maintained through lineage all the way back to the source through Guru Parampara) teach a combination of these categorised Yogas in order to maximise effect and speed toward the goal. The most notable examples still taught today are Hatha, Ashtanga, Kriya, Iyengar and Kundalini.
Is Yoga religious?
Yoga is a spiritual discipline. It is universal in the sense that you do not need to be born into it and that it brings you closer to self-realisation and ‘God’-realisation. No matter what personal understanding of the Supreme consciousness we have, we can go deeper into that aspect of our intelligence and understanding to let it and our higher-Selves guide our lives over our conditioned minds and bodies. However, when following the practise of Yoga there is a philosophy, meaning and reason behind every single word and movement. It’s absolutely fine to use for instance asana (postures) from yoga and say that those things are yoga inspired if you don’t want to engage with the spiritual aspect of it. But we cannot call what we are doing yoga without referring to the spiritual plane – if we do, we are simply trying to overlay our own philosophy onto an established ancient discipline, and that is appropriation of a culture, not reciprocal appreciation.
What are mantras and prayers in Sanskrit? What is “Om/Aum”?
Oṃ ( ॐ ) is a Sanskrit word/sound which represents the all-pervading frequency of the material reality and all beings within it. It is simply the energetic resonance of this Universe. When we use the word Om or other mantras which include more words and sounds, we are invoking the divine frequencies of the cosmos into our lives. These are transcendental vibrations encased in words/sounds which have a scientific, positive impact on our health, psychology and vitality. Some mantras are dedicated to certain aspects or principles (devas/devis) of the Universe, but the spirit of Yoga is that all diversity including universal forces stem from The One source consciousness – so it does not mean that we are invoking anything else in entirety, just that we are asking specific aspects of the universe for support and protection in the material reality. The Yogic philosophy qualifies this by saying that still, only the supreme consciousness is superior to all others, in terms of benediction or any other quality.
What does Yoga say about intoxication?
There are some people attempting to offer counterfeit and appropriated styles of Yoga including Gin Yoga (drinking alcohol whilst doing Yoga), Goat/animal Yoga (where you play with goats or other animals), and Booty Yoga (where the focus is suggestively shaking sexual body parts). Now there is absolutely no judgement in people’s personal lives outside of Yoga, but while we are in the middle of practising yoga which is a spiritual discipline, we shouldn’t do things which take away from our sobriety, distract our attention, or place us in ego. Why? Because these things are anti-yoga and obstacles to succeeding in yoga. So these appropriated styles of Yoga are completely missing the philosophy of the word and practise of Yoga, which amounts also to not respecting it and misrepresenting it.
Why is Guru lineage important?
In India, there is an ancient Vedic education system called Gurukul. In this system, the Guru (teacher) has Shisya (apprentices) who live with them for a minimum of 10 years. The Guru provides free teachings and lodging, and the students offer their services in return. This system has been designed to ensure comprehensive learning and passover of traditions, with the view of keeping the Yogic and Vedic sciences intact. The Gurus are the gatekeepers and protectors of the sciences, so that they will not be abused or misinterpreted/appropriated through ignorance or for personal gain. The lineage of any particular samprayada (school of thought) is called Guru Parampara. This system is increasingly rare to find in India and as such, Yoga is losing its authenticity in the West – severely underqualified people have been given authority by non-native institutions to teach Yoga when in fact they do not show the necessary knowledge, cultural immersion or embodiment of practise required in a Guru. This is not about India owning Yoga – this is about protecting Yoga from being distorted and disreputed by amateurs, which unfortunately seems to be the case now – we only have to look at the sheer volume of Yoga appropriation on social media to see it.
Do we need a Guru to practise Yoga?
A Guru is required for most people because they are not able to read and study the information sources (the Vedas and associated texts) independently. It is the study of a lifetime for a Brahmin (Vedic scholar) to translate and understand the vast amount of information in the Vedas. Brahminical qualification is not caste-based – it is knowledge and skill based. If you can show this knowledge or willingness to learn it, you can be accepted into a samprayada if that is how you wish to learn. Equally however, there are some rare individuals who through their cultural association with India can learn directly from the texts and from many Gurus over a lifetime. Without a Guru, we must find our own way – that is extremely challenging and also arrogant of us if we are to assume we don’t need one, but it may alternatively be a realistic understanding of our situation that we are not near a Guru. Atma Vidya means knowledge of the soul. Through this we can eventually reach Bhagavan Vidya means knowledge of the divine.
“The Guru does not bring about Self-realisation. He simply removes all the obstacles to it. The Self is always realised.”
Sri Ramana Maharshi
What does it mean to culturally appropriate Yoga or misappropriate Yoga?
Unfortunately now, especially in the West, we have a large number of entrepreneurial organisations and people who have hijacked yoga. They have done this because the wholesome, holistic and spiritual aspects of Yoga attracted them to it and the West has now enabled them by creating a system by which anyone can become a Guru in 4-weeks, regardless of previous experience. This Western certification system wholly lacks the quality control, native perspective/teaching and authenticity that it should have – especially if we compare it to the Gurukul system, the West’s own version is highly flawed. This gives rise to arrogant, self-centred and entitled “Yoga teachers” who want to exploit Yoga for different reasons but continually fail to propagate it in the authentic way. Yoga is not a toy that can be picked up and adjusted using the lens of a Western person who wants to overlay their own philosophies on top – that is plagiarism and cultural appropriation, not to mention offensive if being done by a post-colony beneficiary. It is a spiritual art which is meant to be shared with the world, but not disrespected by mixing it with alcohol, sexualised messages, material gain, competitiveness and so forth. These ways of disrespecting Yoga do not allow people to experience the deep, personal, healing nature of Yoga to help relieve suffering and offer spiritual fulfilment.
What does it mean to plagiarise or appropriate Yoga?
Cultural appropriation is defined as; “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture”.
Plagiarism is defined as; “the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.”
Both of these are ethically immoral and often legal offenses. The non-native yoga teachers do this to astounding effect and when pulled up on it are defensive, dismissive and often attempt to be unaccountable and rude about it. The arrogance to dismiss something they know little about just to protect their little personal bubble of security or opportunity is loathesome in this instance, and beyond just ignorance – it becomes defensive ego and selfish, unconscious action. A native to Yoga (meaning an Indian) can also misappropriate Yoga if they are not learned, however it would not be cultural appropriation because they belong to that culture and thus are part of it, albeit uneducated in it. This is equally offensive and should not be supported. The full understanding and embodiment of Yoga must be known by the teacher and it should be respected and referenced. Those who take from Yoga and don’t credit the origins of their work, are simply plagiarists and they need no introduction because they exist in every sphere and are self-claimed opportunistic frauds.
What does it mean to amend and adapt Yoga into a Euro-centric discipline?
This means to take parts of the European culture such as prioritising economic industry over wellness, using alcohol as an accepted social drug, gratuitously showing skin in a suggestive way and further more try to overlay those onto another culture for personal gain. Without laying judgement on any of these activities, since India is also liberal, we do not accept the association of these things with the spiritual discipline of Yoga – they distract and hinder the progress of any spiritual seeker and thus should not be mixed directly with Yogic practice. What people do in the privacy of their own lives is not our business – but they should not be trying to overlay their own politics and opinions onto a 7000 year old cultural spiritual discipline. It is highly offensive, arrogant, misguiding and just plain disingenuous towards the people who are seeking the true information about Yoga.
Can we really be an authentic Yoga teacher if we are not native to India?
Since Yoga is a discipline created from an ancient spiritual order and civilisation, we cannot claim to know it or teach it unless we have direct reference to the source. How that manifests in teachers today is through visiting India or having contact with native teachers and learning from them, for they are ancestrally, authorised trustees and devotees of Yoga – not just admirers or learners. They are realised masters. If we are able to show cultural embodiment, experience, knowledge and approval from qualified natives, then it doesn’t matter what colour or race we are because we have then learnt the information technically, authentically and we have also realised it to be true through having actually done it and experienced the fullness of it. Only then can a non-native (or native!) claim to be able to teach Yoga.
What about Kemetic Yoga or Yin (Taoist) Yoga – where do they originate from and were they first?
Yoga is a Sanskrit word and is academically linked not just in language but in philosophy and culture to the Indian geography. The Indian people have bonafide scriptures and spiritual masters, lineages of teachers, philosophy, proof of practice, history of teaching the world and native claim to Yoga for over 7000 years. Many other cultures around the world had their own types of spiritual discipline which you could call yoga, because yoga means union with source consciousness – however the word Yoga only means this in Sanskrit and in India, which is already associated to a deep and rich philosophy and culture. So anybody who wants to propagate a different philosophy or practice, no matter how much they may claim it resembles Yoga – it is not Yoga. On top of this, many of the spiritual practices of Yoga are not compatible with other philosophies since in order to practice Yoga properly you must believe in or want to explore the nature of a higher consciousness. Some philosophies do not accept the existence of soul or source – these philosophies are absolutely not compatible with the philosophy of Yoga. To put to bed the issue of where Yoga originated – it was first mentioned in the Vedas and associated scriptures which date back to at least 5000BC, long before any other civilisation can show proof of even having language. Sanskrit is the first language of human civilisation. Any other discipline resembling Yoga is just that – resembling it, and as such they should not use the term Yoga to propagate their own philosophies – that is again plagiarism and cultural appropriation. They should call their disciplines by the names which the native culture gives them and that is certainly without room for doubt not the word Yoga.