Are Traditional Yogis Pretentious Preachers?

Via on Jan 28, 2011

Yoga is whatever you make it, right? This is a line I often hear from people who also often call me—first a traditionalist, then a pretentious preacher. Or a purist. You have no right, they say, to tell us what to think yoga is or should mean.

Of course not. Only those who believe “yoga is whatever you make it” has the right to tell others what yoga is. See the hypocrisy; the contradiction; the conflation of yoga to mean and be only whatever you want it to mean?

Let me be a bit more specific. The same people who say that yoga is whatever you make it also like to quote Patanjali whenever it suits their conflated anything-goes worldview.

They seem not to have noticed that Patanjali himself said exactly the opposite—that yoga was the absence of an anything-goes attitude, that yoga was indeed the absence of anything but Spirit.

Now, think about it: If yoga is anything you want it to be; if yoga is being absorbed in Rock and Roll, your abs, your biceps, your near-perfect pose; if yoga is to be self-absorbed, period, then yoga is basically being one with your ego, your mind.

But that’s not what Patanjali said. He was, yeah, a freak’n purist for Christ’s Sake. He said that yoga was the absence of ego, the absence of mental disturbances, and the presence of Spirit.

This comes from a total yoga purist, from a fanatic traditionalist, from someone like me who thinks everyone should believe a spade is actually a spade and not a rake, from someone who actually has the wherewithal to believe there is a difference between what you think yoga is and what it is not (yeah, I am not a recovering yogi, you see!)

Here’s what I believe yoga, in its finest moment of ecstatic joy, is:  a singularity of mind that is absorbed in Spirit, that is One with Spirit in all its cosmic glory. That is Samadhi—total absorption in Bliss, Oneness, Spirit.

That’s why in Tantra it is said that yoga means union, a singular drop (your mind) being absorbed in the ocean of Spirit. How many of you yogis out there had that experience while listening to Rock and Roll? How many had it while doing asanas or biking down to the grocery store? Not many.

I am not saying it is not possible. I am simply saying it is rare. Because the ultimate experience of yoga is the crown glory of yoga practice. And it’s not an everyday occurrence.

Indeed, it’s  a lot more common people have Samadhi experiences in deep meditation than on a bike ride. A lot more common. That’s what lotus pose and half lotus pose are for. Hard to do those poses on a dirt bike down the mountain while still being able to meditate with your eyes closed.

So, if it’s wrong to say this, well then go and enjoy your average yoga moment of minor transcendence  all you want. Call it whatever you want. Believe whatever you want. But don’t say that what you believe is the same as I believe or have experienced. Because, not all experiences are the same. Not all yoga is the same, not all yoga experiences are the same. That is to cheapen yoga.

That is to make yoga no more than scratching your ass! That is to say a spade is actually a rake. And that’s plain yogic ignorance, if you ask me. That’s like saying Samadhi is like having a transcendent experience while bike riding. But I, the purist, the fanatic,  I the vain and mean yogi, am here to tell you that having Samadhi on your bike would most likely be severely bad for your physical health. And yoga is all about maintaining good health is it not?

Yoga asanas were traditionally meant to develop the body as a temple for that ultimate yoga experience of Samadhi. That said, you may practice yoga asnans all day long to get that Tara Stiles body and call yourself a yoga rebel. But if you have the right to do that, I, the yoga purist, the yoga fanatic, the yoga traditionalist, the out of the closet self-righteous yogi, I reserve the right to say that yoga is a bit more than that. I have the right to say that yoga is this, yes, but also this, and then be able to tell you what THIS is.

So, folks, all of you who believe that yoga is whatever you make it, I am sincerely sorry to have to ask you the following: if yoga is scratching your ass, how come I am not able to replicate that Samadhi I have been graced with a few times in this life while simply scratching my ass?

I am a mean, self-righteous fanatic, you see, and I really want that Samadhi back!

But hey, there’s another way. There is a state in yoga, some call this Sahaj Samadhi, some call it being a Siddha, some call it being Enlightened. In that state, you may scratch your ass, listen to Rock and Roll, stand in Head Stand, and still be in a state of Samdhi or spiritual Absorption.

To paraphrase some ultra-famous yogi: “I had that experience for 15 minutes and it felt like scratching the ass of God!”

Spirit, you see, transcends and includes your ass and your Rock and Roll. But it’s not the other way around. Your ass does not transcend and include Spirit. (Unless, that is, you are absorbed in Spirit. Because in that state, all contradictions dissolve in Oneness).

So, I’m sorry to have to tell you—you, the believer in yoga as whatever-you-want-to-believe-it is—you got that ass of yours mistaken for your brain!  Or maybe it’s the other way around. Hard to tell, the way your asana body twists and turns all week long!

Or maybe that’s simply because you’re too much of a self-righteous asana fanatic! That said, yoga is also about practicing asanas, of course. But the ultimate state of yoga, don’t tell me it’s the same as scratching your ass! Unless you’re Enlightened, that is!

About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes is the co-founder of the Prama Institute, a holistic retreat center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the Director of the Prama Wellness Center, a retreat center specializing in detox by incorporating juice fasting, ayurveda, meditation and yoga to cleanse, relax and rejuvenate. Bjonnes is also a writer, yogi and workshop leader. He lived in India and Nepal in the 1980s learning directly from the traditional teachers of yoga and Tantra. He has taught workshops in many countries and is the author of Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit (InnerWorld) and Tantra: The Yoga of Love and Awakening (Hay House India). He lives and practices in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.


79 Responses to “Are Traditional Yogis Pretentious Preachers?”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by theyogatrap, Red Fox. Red Fox said: AreTraditional Yogis Pretentious Preachers? […]

  2. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    Yeah this sort of stuff seems to be a hot topic right now, huh?

    Spirituality (yoga, prayer, and meditation) has a certain posture to it… A type of dignity, because it is inextricably connected to the dignity it is meant to uncover, namely the wonder and majesty that underlies life.

    Any attempt to negotiate with spirituality is an action of the ego… In my opinion! But this is to be expected, as the ego perishes in the face of spirit or breath. The ego cannot breathe, it goes stale. It is revealed to be a fake in the face of reality. Negotiating with reality it is an attempt by the ego to remain sealed up in its air tight compartment called the memory…

    True spirituality offers no such allowances! Spiritual Materialism is the attempt to transform spirituality into an idea or air tight after thought that conforms to some contrived image.

    I was pretty clear on my thoughts about spirituality and spiritual materialism in the first post of my online exploration of Buddhist Spirituality here on Elephant Journal. Here is the link to that post:

  3. TamingAuthor says:

    Ben and Ramesh together on one topic. Top-end commentary. Yea for Elephant.

    Typically, I would agree with the view you express, Ramesh. (And also with Ben.)

    But lately I have been seeing another side of the discussion. There are Christians who practice the asanas. Their route to spirit, to union, however, is different. If yoga studios insisted on "the complete package," they would lose a high percentage of their clientele. (Most would be surprised at the number of post practice discussions in the studio about parish life.)

    As it is, there are (intolerant or judgmental) Christians who are squawking about the need for other Christians to bail on the yoga practice because the spirituality is different. But a good thing is happening as a result of the common and shared love for the asanas—they provide an unparalleled opportunity for interfaith dialogue.

    So, my usual "crash the gates and head for enlightenment and do not stop to check your tush in the mirror" position has been slightly modified lately. Maybe we simply need to be there and let people seek their own "higher ground."

    • Ramesh says:

      TaminAuthor: Of course, Yoga has no monopoly on spiritual transformation…. the ways are many, but the end is the same, I believe. Call it Samadhi, Christ Consciousness, Satori, whatever… the point is, you don't get there without the inward journey, without going beyond the body and the mind (ego)…

      In traditional yoga, the asanas are just means to an end, toward deeper meditation and a richer spiritual life. If that richer spiritual life is Christian or Buddhist, that does not matter…. different, but ultimately we are all moving in and toward the same Spirit.

  4. Carol Horton Carol Horton says:

    I think that a healthy spirituality will be big enough to hold all these contradictions with equanimity, compassion, and grace. You can and should preach your thing and Tara Stiles hers, and you can absolutely disagree, and still love each other. Right?

  5. Scott Robinson YesuDas says:

    Well said, Ramesh; I couldn't agree more. When I was teaching music theory, my students would say things like "Why do I have to do it this way? Why can't I write a fugue my own way?" And I'd answer, "You can write whatever you want, but if you don't do it this way, it isn't a fugue–it is something else."

  6. David lincecum says:

    Having read "Yogabody," and taking it's findings at face value (appears quite well researched,) I wonder what an outcry there may have been when Krishnamacharya starting teaching Danish military exercises and calling it yoga? There must have been real yogis coming out of their caves to protest! Did the "great yogic mistake" occur at that moment, paving the way to the relative watered down yoga soup we have now? Or did it occur earlier than that when certain yogis became side shows like Ripleys Believe it or not?

    Ramesh, have you come up with a criteria for what yoga is? What is the minimum acceptable threshold by which one may lay claim to a "Yoga Practice?"

    • Ramesh says:

      David, as you now, yoga is a body, mind, spirit path. So, simply put, yoga asanas are physical yoga exercises, pranayama and tratak are physico-psychic exercises and pratyahara are psycho-spiritual exercises and dhyan are spiritual exercises. In others words, there is yoga for all levels of being. It is all yoga. So holistically speaking, physical yoga helps synchronize the body, helps harmonize it so that it does not disturb the mind by being sick and unwholesome and out of balance. Thus, asanas helps the mind more easily move into the higher realms of subtle mind and spirit, Similarly, mental yoga synchronizes the mind, so that is does not flow toward the body, toward the physical, the material, or is cought up in its own inner ego games, but can instead move inward, toward spirit. So yoga is a body/mind/spirit practice. If you only practice part of it, it is still yoga, but there's more to it. Moreover, there are philosophical insights that we have to reckon with, and according to yoga philosophy, yoga is inner union, spiritual union, not physical union.

    • Baba Rampuri says:

      Excellent, David. I'd like to see more of this awareness!

  7. nathan says:

    As I wrote over on Sadie's post about Tara Styles, it isn't so much about the various forms of yoga present, it's the commonplace sentiment of what I see as anti-intellectualism amongst many yogis and yoginis. Critical analysis, commentary, judgments about ideas – all of this is often dismissed as "unyogic." That's sappy, feel good bullshit. In societies dominated by individualism and consumerism, like the U.S. – people feel entitled to take everything, including ancient spiritual practices, and do what they want. And beyond that, they expect others to just say "to each their own" – which a classic cop out in my opinion. We wonder why we can't sustain our communities, spiritual or otherwise? We wonder why we can't get along well enough to handle differences without trying to destroy each other?

    It's all linked together. If anything, yoga is about paying attention in a wider sense. Not just what's in front of your nose, but that's a good place to start. But instead, what I find is that when some yoga practitioners bring up the tough issues around finances, spiritual materialism, social justice, possible loss of spiritual traditions, etc., there's a whole shit-ton of people appearing to say "stop your judging" and "stop being unyogic" and whatnot. It'd beyond predictable at this point. And to me that's indicative of the level of influence privatized, consumer culture has sapped into the general yoga community.

    • Ramesh says:

      Great points, Nathan, about anti-intellectualism! Yoga is not just about various schools of hatha yoga, yoga is about many schools of yoga on all levels of yoga, including the yoga of spiritual practice, the yoga of ethics (yama and niyama0 etc.

    • Baba Rampuri says:

      Thank you, Nathan. Sometimes I wonder if modern yoga is anything but an exercise in self indulgence.

    • Scott Robinson YesuDas says:

      Well said, Nathan; it seems that in a consumer culture, the attitude is, "It's my money–let everything adapt to me." God forbid that I should be expected to show humility and adaptability in the face of received wisdom.

  8. GRK says:

    If it doesn't look like a duck, talk like a duck and walk like a duck, is it still a duck?
    A common defense I hear of reductionist styles of yoga is that it is still of benefit to people. This is true, it is of benefit to many people. However the issue is not whether it is of benefit but whether it is Yoga. If an Indian were too drink wine and eat bread, could they credibly call themselves a Christian? If it is a work out class that uses some asana, why not just call it asana practice instead of Yoga. This would clarify the intention and focus of the class. Yoga necessitates attention to meditation and Self discovery. Without this focus, it can hardly be considered Yoga. There is no classical style of Yoga in which this is not the central focus. Even the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, our first true asana manual reveals in what utter service asana is to the awakening of prana and consciousness itself. If its Yoga to slim down or Yoga for the butt, or Yoga to get into your summer bikini, or even yoga to reduce stress, why not just be honest and call it asana for said purposes. In this way it is not such a cheap, degraded cultural appropriation of this spiritual science.

    • Ramesh says:

      GRK, I basically agree, but in all practice it is too late to do that, as the posture folks have already co-opted the term to such an extent that it's beyond repair. I still think using the term hatha yoga is ok for asana practice, even yoga, as long as one knows it is asana practice. But the problem is, many have no clue about what classical yoga really is all about and they thus want to reduce every aspect of yoga down to the level of anything-goes-yoga.

      • Sherry says:

        I had a knee-jerk reaction when I first saw the book, "The No Ohm Zone." I felt the same way you did and said as much to friends of mine in the yoga community. Why not just call it a yoga-inspired stretch class or workout? That would be great and would appeal to those who are uncomfortable with the non-physical traditions associated with (and define) yoga, while giving them all the benefits. It troubled the place deep in my heart that reveres this practice and looks to it as a life-long discovery. I have a good friend, a beautiful yogini, whose main interest is getting people on the mat with the hope that they may choose to go deeper. Yes. And no. And why not?

        At least we're talking about it.

  9. Ramesh says:

    From facebook:
    Hmmm…I thought he called his own egotism into question right up top, in the title! ~ Way

    Mary Taylor Oh he did all right, but that was political correctness. After that, he conveniently dropped it. 'Cuse me, I wasn't born last night.

    • Ramesh says:

      You both missed the point. The whole piece was sarcastic, and me taking back my right to call a spade a spade from those saying it's a rake!

  10. Patrick says:

    I started yoga in a fitness center for the physical benefit. I had no knowledge of what was yoga at that time. I had not read any eastern philosophy books before that. For 3 months, I took a class a week at the center, then add another class from a yoga studio, while keeping my training regiment at the fitness center. Now, I read on yoga, starts a meditation practice, participate in kirtan and having a daily meditating practice, and searching for enlightenment, state of yoga, whatever we call it.

    So the reason why I start yoga was for physical purpose but now I do it to purify my physical and subtle body, to let the Prana to flow, to uncover the Divine in me.

    Yoga as enable me to unearthed the my spiritual dimension and I am so grateful to yoga for that I am feeling that when I am on the mat, it is like if I reach home, my own truth, my real Self. And a bout of meditation is always fruitful when done after asana, l feel that asana clear the mental body and leave more receptive to be in a meditative state.

    So I will never suggest that yoga is a spiritual practice to someone that ask me what is yoga because I know that if I say so, I may harm that person by prevent her or him from a practice that has its benefits. And by entering for the physical benefits, maybe she or he discovers the other aspects of the practice.

    • Ramesh says:

      Great points, Patrick… the great thing about yoga, as you say, it may take you from the physical to the spiritual and once enjoying the spiritual aspects of yoga, the physical and mental practices will keep supporting your spiritual awareness. Asnana is a great preparation for meditation, indeed.

  11. Patrick says:

    Is it Babaji in the picture?

  12. LOVE it… Great stuff! & I'm copying & pasting right now to create my next workshop. Preach on great warriors, preach on!!!

  13. In all due respect, Ramesh, sounds like sadly you've never fully experienced Derek and the Dominoes or a Mozart opera.

    Here's my rebuttal to your passionate "Yoga is a special highly exclusive state that only I and a handful of other people know how to reach" blog:

    Yoga and Mozart

    I’ve decided to dispense with Yoga
    And just listen to Mozart all the time.
    It gives me the same sense of wonder.
    It fills me with the same infinite cosmic joy.

    It collapses my entire being into the present moment
    Where the music is divine
    I am divine
    You are divine
    The whole world is one and divine.

    I’ve decided to dispense with Yoga
    And just listen to Mozart all the time.

    But then again
    Why not have both?
    For are they not one and the same?

    In further rebuttal, I present to you the splendid philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita, which is in most ways the opposite of the highly restricted "Yoga as an exclusive exalted state" way you describe the Yoga Sutra. (I refer readers in contrast to the very expansive way Desikachar sees the Yoga Sutra in his Heart of Yoga.)

    Yoga to me and many others is not a separately achieved exalted state achieved thought many hours of meditation at all. It's everyday consciousness of the divine. Meditation is a tool to help us get there:

    Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon?
    How did it make you feel?
    Did it fill you with wonder and awe?
    Did it startle you out of your ego?

    Did you feel the infinite grandeur
    And timelessness Of the universe?
    Did it make you feel small
    Yet in a strange but unmistakable way
    Infinitely large, too
    As infinite as the universe itself?

    Spiritual enlightenment
    Is when we suddenly realize
    That we’re staring at the wonder
    Of the Grand Canyon
    Each and every moment
    Of each and every day.

    You say, "the ultimate experience of yoga is the crown glory of yoga practice. And it’s not an everyday occurrence."

    I and the my reading of the Gita say the opposite, in particular Experience Infinite Wonder in All Things.

    Think for a moment about what an unfathomable cosmic miracle it is that you can scratch your ass and be aware of it.

    • Ramesh says:

      Bob, if you scratch your ass and feel with all the cells in your being it is the ass of God, that is a different experience than just srcatching your ass and being aware of it. The first is a wonderful experience indeed, the second is beyond description. If yoga is conflated to just being aware of existence, even being awed by it, it does not contain all the levels of transcendence possible in yoga.
      My article was tongue-in-cheek, and those who get it, get it, those who don't, they don't. Yes, yoga teaches conscious awareness in every day life. At the 1 month retreat I am now, this awareness of daily awe is hightened manyfold. BUT I have also had deep samdhi-like experiences in meditation that make those experiences feel like, yes, just like sractching my ass. In one meditation experience early one morning I WAS THAT, and ALL THAT, I indeed felt I was with the all-surrounding GOD and everyday scratching-my-ass experience pales in comparison. In other words, there's yoga and there's YOGA. Both are important and all the everything in between experiences are important, but let's not conflate everything to the flatness of a used yoga mat, or a walk in the woods. For the Enlighetened, yes, it is all YOGA, for the rest of us, it is mostly yoga and sometimes YOGA.

      • Ramesh says:

        Bob, there are many levels of subtlety in yoga, in tantra, depending on the level of mind, or chakra you are at, depending on the type of samadhi experienced. . Here is a detailed account of one type of samadhi, from my guru, which is a bit more transcendent than scratching your ass and being aware of it.

        "To control the various propensities of human mind there are various glands and sub-glands which form certain nerve centers inside the spinal column. They are called plexii in Tantra. Each and every plexus regulates a certain number of propensities. The hormones secreted from these particular glands influence the concerning sub-glands, the other lower glands, and the vrttis controlled by their respective glands.

        The food and drink we take every day is converted into rasa (fluid), rakta, flesh, fat, bone marrow and lymph etc. Ultimately the lymph is converted into hormones of various types. The special hormone secreted from the spiritual aspirant’s pineal gland flows into the pituitary plexus. At that time if one’s mind remains engaged in pure spiritual thoughts that hormone flows from the pineal gland down the left side to the pituitary gland, and then to other plexii, glands and sub-glands, nerve fibres, nerve cells, veins and arteries, etc. This excessive flow of pineal hormone revitalises all the lower plexii. On the other hand, if one’s mind remain preoccupied with crude thoughts then the pineal hormone gets burnt up at the pituitary plexus. The lower plexii and glands, due to the lack of supply of pineal secretion, do not enjoy any spiritual bliss. But when the pineal hormone flows through the pituitary plexus to the lowest plexii, the undeveloped plexii of the body become healthier and revitalized. As a rule the upper chakras control the lower ones. So the svadhistána chakra controls the múládhára chakra, the manipura chakra controls the svadhistána and múladhára chakras, the anáhata controls the mańipura, svadhistána and muladhára chakras, and the ájiṋá controls all the lower cakes.

        At the time of pineal secretion if a sádhaka goes into samádhi – he or she visualises or experiences a kind of divine aura around the anáhata chakra. The sádhaka realizes that he or she is experiencing a divine dip in the holy aura, and feels indescribable bliss in the heart. In that exalted state of realization every object of this universe seems to be extremely sweet, and one derives immense bliss which no worldly object could ever provide. The sun’s rays, the moon beams, the land, the water, in fact everything appears to be emanating continuous stream of blissful nectar.
        Idaḿ mánusaḿsarveśáḿ bhútánáḿ Madhvasyá mánúśasya sarváni bhútáni madhuh Ayámátmá sarveśám bhútánáḿ madhvasya átmanah Sarvani bhútáni madhuh.
        Even a sworn enemy appears to be very sweet at that time. Everything is sweet. In Vaesnava philosophy this stage of samádhi is called madhura bháva. In Tantra it is called anindyánanda rasa samádhi."

        • Ramesh says:

          One very important aspect of asana, Bob, if practiced slowly and in the right sequence, is to control the various glands and sub-glands… that body and mind becomes more subtle, if asana is just exercise, you do not get the full spiritual benefit of your asana practice. Thus most hybrid asana practice today is not cultivating the practice for its full spiritual benefit, or as intended in traditional hatha and raja yoga. Saying this, will come off as pretentious to some, but I am simply supplying information….

      • Dear other readers. Please give us your thoughts. Which of these contrasting visions of Yoga makes more sense to you?

        • Ramesh says:

          They are not contrasting visions, Bob; they are complimentary, one transcends and includes the other.

        • ARCreated says:

          bob….you complete me :p

          as my motorcycle license plate says "myom"….I think it's awesome Ramesh that you experience what you experience in meditation…but it can not be quantified therefore you cannot compare and say that moment when I am IN the music or the stream of life doesn't live up to your experience…you just can't know…hell bob's mozart may transcend your experience…I mean how could you tell?

          sorry Ramesh I have often loved much of what you have written — but recently it has all been a little too — I get it you don't for me…what retreat are you on??? and have you checked the Kool-aid??? :)

          What's funny is ultimately I agree that yoga is more than the asanas, however I don't diminish their importance, their qualities and I still contend that someone that has never meditated at all, or done a single yoga pose can experience samadhi….and I will contend that in head stand or supta bhadha konasana someone can experience samadhi as well as someone in lotus (I mean lotus is just another asana after all)

          • Eek... you! says:

            I scratch my ass. Just one inch off the ground.

            I really like this Bob guy. He knows the difference between a hawk and a handsaw.

            Mozart sandwiches!

          • Prem Dhan says:

            "I still contend that someone that has never meditated at all, or done a single yoga pose can experience samadhi…"

            As far as I know, there has never been a single Master in the known history of the East who has done this. Is this your personal assertion? Or is it your faith in Bob?

            There are insults in the above post. There is so much ego on display here and so much emotionality and disturbances of heart. Can you please back up your assertions with facts — this is for Bob and ARCreated

          • Hi, Prem Dhan. Thanks for writing. I stand by my original comment above, bolstered, if you like, by Elephant's two separate 16 session series on the Bhagavad Gita (see links in blog that follows). I hope you will join our new Gita Talk discussion and express your critique there, too, for debate:

            Look forward to seeing you there.


    • Prem Dhan says:

      Experience Infinite Wonder in All Things

      "Infinite Wonder" and "All Things" are to be taken together and not seperately as in the english seperated notions of an adjective that embelishes a noun. These roots are in sanskrit. If you have accomplished Infinite-Wonder in All-Things you are practising yoga. But if you can accomplish it in Mozart but not others, and in Grand Canyon but not NY, you are not practising yoga. There is nothing wrong with baby steps, feelings, experiences etc, but let all of us have sanity where yoga is.

      Lets not flex the Bhagvad Gita once again to our needs. Krishna was one man. His message is complete only if you take all of what he said as a path. Taking pieces of the path is misleading and an appropriation of the whole message to suit oneself. That was Ramesh's point with "Moderm" yoga, and now you are committing the archetype of that mistake with the Bhagvad Gita. Take pieces of what you want, to suit your "experiences" and discard the rest.

  14. Hanuman says:

    Perhaps our only mistake is thinking that a word, Yoga, can refer to a single thing. The Bhagavad Gita discussed Yogas, plural. As far as I can tell, the only thing which could be said to be truly one, would be beyond words, and hence, undefinable. As such, anything that defines something (such as the word Yoga) must no doubt be able to apply to multiple entities.

    Sometimes when I play guitar it is yogic. Hmmm…now its an adjective. What makes it yogic? It brings me towards the reduction of mental rays? It allows me to access higher energy centers in my Kundalini circuit? Who cares!?

    When we take words upon ourselves and use them to separate ourselves from others in the name of tradition, truth, or for the enjoyment of being right, does that help us to clarify ourselves, our desires, our transcendantal aims? If so, awesome. If not, awesome.

    This reality exists, this maya exists, because we are still having fun with it. When one is no longer getting off on duality, then all the rays of the mind will automatically seek unity, and enlightenment will happen of its own accord. Until that moment, beware of using yoga, or anything else, as a means to separate yourself from others, either in your understanding or your experience.

    Remember, what you see in others is also within your very self. Were it not, you would not be able to see it, or understand what it is could you see it. To me, Yoga is not any of these practices, rules, or dogmas, but rather just a willingness to walk ones own path how one sees fit, learning along the way as is inevitable, and heading towards the divine, as is inevitable. The suffering and pain of bhoga is a fine teacher. Few have come to yoga but through prior experience of what is "not Yoga". Learn, then, to see the yogi in everyone and the yogi within you will flower.

    • Hi, Hanuman. I like your way of thinking. Funny you should mention guitar because I came very close to adding this to my comment above:

      Flamenco Guitar as Yoga Philosophy (from

      Yoga is universal truth. It’s just one way of looking at ageless reality. The greatest Yoga thinkers say so. If that’s true, then one can be practicing Yoga without even knowing it, without even knowing it exists.

      I’ve been practicing Yoga all my life, even though I went to my first Yoga class relatively recently.

      When I play guitar it has all the elements of Yoga, and I’ve always loved it for those very reasons.

      I am completely in the moment for hours at a time. As I improvise, I need to suspend my ego, or nothing of interest will emerge.

      I relax all my muscles and breathe deeply to still my mind. I gently focus on the action of my fingers on the strings and the nuances of the sound they are creating.

      I feel the music in my bones, in my body, in my spirit, in my emotions, only secondarily in my head.

      I gently stretch myself to my limits, but not beyond. I lose all sense of time.

      Without any intervening thinking, I feel I am communing directly with the universe. I am purely aware in a way that transcends normal conscious thought.

      I’ve been doing this instinctively since I was 14. It’s what music has always been about for me. It’s the same universal truth that is Yoga philosophy.

  15. nathan says:

    Rico, as a member of the zen community (I have multiple hats) – there are plenty of challenges with the way "Zen" is being used. It's become a marketing gimmick. There are organizations that mostly are offering self-help, but toss a little Dogen or Suzuki Roshi or some other Zen teacher in and call what they're doing Zen. It maybe isn't as easy to make piles of money on, and so probably isn't as commonplace as what you see happening with yoga, but it's there.

    "So many writers on EJ, including Waylon, the editor, stand up and scream load and clear in support of those yogis who tout their organic bars and their toe-sox to make sure they are treated as the holy cows they are–the true reps of modern yoga, the real hatha deal, the true rebels. BUT if someone like me comes along and says that yoga is more than that, that yoga is also about spirituality and enlightenment, then that's self-righteous. That was my point in the article to put the finger on that hypocrisy." Right. I actually wish people would spend less time defending whomever teacher, whether they are more "traditional" or more "experimental" and more time considering the potential causes and effects, individually and collectively, that come with whatever forms of practice and teaching are occurring. I love innovation. I've always been interested in blending the ancient traditions with the "new." But if it ends up being just an "anything goes," "I'm ok, you're ok" sugar-fest, then it's kind of pointless.

    As the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Saying yoga practice can take any form, or that everything is yoga is true in one sense, but it's also missing something. Specifically, a sense of responsibility for what's being done in this moment, and how that might impact the next and the next. Even if one is just doing asanas for good health, there is still a call to pay attention, to see how that practice is embedded in the rest of their life, and also how it might impact others. What irritates me about the anything is yoga view, and everyone has a "right" to practice as they please, is that it eliminates or greatly downplays the ethical dimension of life. Which leads to people like Bikram standing in front of classes spouting sexist nonsense while he rakes in millions of dollars and is seen as a great teacher. That's absolutely warped as far as I'm concerned.

  16. […] as yogis, we are susceptible to pushing ourselves beyond our limits. Many of us beat ourselves up physically […]

  17. denvergirl says:

    I guess I shouldn't say yoga is whatever you make it. My only problem with this article is that everyone is different. Everyone has different life experiences, so everyone sees things differently. This means that everyone has a different path to Samadhi. I hate it when you go into, say, an iyengar class and the teacher pretty blatantly states that other styles that are more phsical, are not true yoga. This kind of thinking is the complete antithesis of Samadhi! Who is anyone to say that I can't find "absence of ego, the absence of mental disturbances, and the presence of Spirit" in a super sweaty vinyasa class, or on a long bike ride, because those are some of the only places I can experience this. I don't like to meditate. I find it to be a complete waste of time (for myself, others may LOVE it). I don't think I should made to feel guilty that I don't meditate. I feel like meditation is, as the lovely Sadie Nardini said in an interview with yoga peeps, something that people are pressured into doing because they feel like it is "zen". If I don't recieve any benefits from meditation, why should I waste my time.
    Please see part 2 of my comment below.

  18. denvergirl says:

    The problem in the yoga community today is the whole "yogier- than- thou" attitude. Everyone has a different view point due to their past actions. People should do whatever resonates with them. If going to a yoga class entitled "sculpt and stretch" (which obviously would not have chanting or any readings from the Gita) makes you a happier, nicer person go for it! I don't practice yoga to become "enlightened" or to impress other yogis. I practice so I can be happier, and make other beings happier. We all need to get over ourselves and spread the joy!

  19. Ramesh says:

    From Facebook
    Yogini Shanti Giri commented on your link.
    Yogini wrote: "YOGA is a complex system of active striving, mental discipline, and dutiful action. Yoga also introduces the conception of God (this is a standard definition you can find anywhere)…For being of abstract nature and having many meanings it can be grasped from any point one stands (so I guess we can say that the beauty is in the eye of the beholder) as well as practiced and taken to a high level of attainment. Hatha being the baby steps… ever engaging while training “to be” stabilizes and purifies the body and have a very important role especially in the western frame due to the nature of our social conditioning, mental state and life style… It’s not a science in itself; it is a branch…an aspect of the whole…I see it similar to what Tai chi chuan is to the way of the Tao…its function is to prepare the body to deal with higher energies by cleaning and opening the channels/nadis. Without securing a steady Asana one cannot further in meditation. The steadier you are in your Asana, the more you will be able to concentrate and make your mind one-pointed. The process of deepening our understanding is referred to as the three levels of prajna which are called hearing, contemplating and meditating. The quality of hearing reflects attunement, refined alertness and attention (in this state we see knowledge as something separate from us). Contemplation relates to pure view…”to see it as it is”, after picking it apart from many sides/options/angles/origins we will find it clear of distractions, labels and judgment, etc…But till then, (at this point we should be able to express the teachings in our own way to anyone because there is a deepening in our understanding that goes beyond the very way it was translated and given to us in the first place…we are able to grasp into the nature of the knowledge itself without the need to know where it is coming from and it starts coming to us from the source unexpectedly and anytime). Meditation is when we become “one” with it…we become familiar with "that" which is the penetrating insight that leads us to direct experience. As human beings we could create credentials out of anything we do including spirituality or Yogic tradition or even Meditation…yet! To say I am spiritual is easy and to experience Yoga even easier based in the assumption of what it could be and do created or manipulated by the individual mind and need to belong…Prajna does not allow us to create such an identity or grounding or even give us that comforting sense of "I" as belonging here or there trying to be special. Prajna is the sun shining everywhere… remove the shadow and "I" can no longer hide."

  20. dan says:

    "Beholder, you are not the eye" -problem solved!

  21. nathan says:

    Denvergirl – it's very true that any experience can be a gate to awakening. It can happen anywhere, in any situation. This is one side of the equation. However, without a strong framework from which hone your body/mind, chances of having such illuminations in everyday events like bike riding (a favorite activity of mine as well), are very slim. In Zen, we call the various forms – sitting and walking meditation, bowing, chanting, sutra study – as the "practice container." They aren't better than drinking a glass of orange juice, smiling at a baby, or biking. However, regular engagement of these forms hones the mind, develops discipline, concentration, and other attributes necessary to experience joy, bliss, etc in everyday moments on a more regular basis. So, whether one digs in deeply into a more traditional Iyengar yoga practice, or digs deeply into a sweaty, secular vinyasa practice, without some rigorous, regularly engaged forms, good luck developing a more consistent, easier to access sense of joy and happiness – one that can be accessed even if outer conditions kind of suck.

    "I think many of the yoga purists don't want ordinary people in the yoga community." I'd agree. There are some people trying to keep the gates closed. But it's not just this "traditionalist" issue. There are huge class issues that come when yoga becomes a tool to make piles of money. Poor folks are constantly left out, regardless of whether they want spiritually focused yoga or health/body centric yoga. This is why I'm saying it's very, very important to consider the ethical dimensions of what's being done. You say you support ordinary people having access, but the lack of questioning of yoga studio economics, yoga superstars charging exhorborant feels to study with them, and other issues leads to lots of ordinary people being left out.

  22. ARCreated says:

    OH and the short answer might just be YES :p hehehe

  23. dan says:

    How can there be recognition of sameness if there is no understanding of separation? It is ignorance that the seer, the instruments of seeing and and the seen are a jumble.

    • Ramesh says:

      Because Oneness, or Cosmic Sameness transcends yet includes duality, or separation. That is essentially the state of Enlightenment, you are in this world of duality, you know it is real but you are not of it. You are the One Eye of the Cosmos that embraces all duality, all separation. Hence, it is an ordered level of transcendence, not a jumble.

      • dan says:

        It's ordered when it goes in order, not when spat out as a bunched bundle; why slam the breaks when you can downshift?

  24. Ravindra says:

    A profound mystic and a Yogi Sadhguru Jaggi vasudev talks about the way Yoga is being imparted in the world and the consequences of it. I think its very important that Yoga is taught in the right way not just to cure back ache or stress or reduce weight. It is a tool for deciphering the greatest mysteries of life. Here is a video relevant to this thread.

    and to hear him live today…

  25. jody says:

    There's one yoga where anything goes: bhakti. It's all between you and your Beloved, and it renounces enlightenment in favor of surrender.

    Folks should understand that we all have our own lanes to the Self. Each of us. In that way, it kinda IS anything goes.

    • Prem Dhan says:

      Bhakti is far from anything-goes. It may start from anything-goes like all the other yogas, but it purifies you along the way and does not encourage being stuck at the start. At the end it is also union, not anything-goes. The bhakti literature related to Meera vividly helps one to understand the consequences of the fire of Bhakti, operating in a very similar way to the fire of Yoga mentioned in Gheranda Samhita. It is a very definite path as much as hatha yoga. Differences are only in minor personal adjustments and its not anything-goes. It purifies you, melts you and makes "you" disappear. You progress surely to that singularity, objectivity, enlightenment and again certainly not anything-goes. And ofcourse it has its own set of very definite unique samadhi experiences such as bhava samadhi.

      And Bhakti is one path where nothing is renounced formally certainly not enlightenment. And it is not just singing kirtans!

  26. Donna Davidge says:

    I have seen other articles by this author and I really like his thinking..thank YOU!

  27. Donna Davidge says:

    had to add a bit..I don't think yoga purists don't want regular people in yoga! Most yogis say we should be householders and show our yoga practice off the mat too with yama and Niyamas, how we live/act..are we there to please students or show them what yoga IS?
    I do agree though that spirituality cannot be does come to you!

  28. L. Gould says:

    Maybe the reason Ben can’t reach Samadhi very often is because he is too angry, intolerant, and worried too much about how others are doing their yoga to calm his mind.

    The difference between people like Ben and me is that I don’t care how anyone does yoga, how they view yoga, or how they reach a state of Samadhi. Ben, in contrast, not only feels compelled to tell me how to experience yoga, but he also feels compelled to be insulting if I disagree, then revels in the fact that he is “a mean, self-righteous fanatic.” None of that is in the spirit of yoga, Ben. So you keep ranting, and I’ll just go enjoy my yoga practice in my own style.

    I never thought much about Tara Stiles, but it is people like Ben that make me support her out of principle.

    • Dharma says:

      well, to not care about what the others are doing, usually shows a not very high level of compassion, a not very developed awareness that we can help others also trying to give them proper information about how things are in the reality, instead of let them play with easy illusions. So, in other words, to not care about what others are doing and passively accept any possible mistake made by the people around is just showing that probably who feels in that way has not experienced Samadhi at all, because Samadhi makes people feel closer to the others, without separation, an so makes people feel also the will to help others when is possible, even writing information that may be considered provocative or even offensive from the point of view of a proud ego-oriented mind.
      If people like Buddha or the Bodhisatvas, or the avatars, or the sadhus, would not have care about what other people were doing, all the cultural and spiritual treasures that we are discussing here on Elephant Journal would simply not be there.

  29. Bhaeravii says:

    Inner journeys are envisioned and described in many vernaculars due to cultural and language programming. Any word, idea, concept, or practice can be used in any way, at any time, in any context since knowledge and truth are relative to the level of understanding.

    I agree with nathan…""I think many of the yoga purists don't want ordinary people in the yoga community." There are some people trying to keep the gates closed. There are huge issues that come when yoga becomes a tool to make piles of money."

    But spiritualists and professional yogis are into making money off yoga as well, which also contributes to the gates being closed…so there are not any fixed boundries and it depends on your mindset if you think there is not enough to go around…

  30. I think other web-site proprietors should take this website as an model, very clean and wonderful user friendly style and design, as well as the content. You are an expert in this topic!

  31. […] my body to the will of the world. I am going back to the sages and yawning my vertebrae for the yogis. The road is always unfolding, laying down dominoes of demands. I have circled the block and come […]

  32. Denvergirl says:

    Meditation makes me unhappy. I find it boring and unuseful. Why should I waste my time. When I meditatie, I don't feel even an inkling of Samadhi. When I practice asana, on the other hand, I feel happy, and free and my mind is completely centered. This whole asana vs meditation debate is so so silly! If you get more out of meditating. Do asana if you get more out of that. Practice both if you are so inclined. Do what makes you a better person.


  33. Ramesh says:

    denvergirl, I already acknowledge above (see reply to Carol Horton) that Tara Stiles plays an important role, too… Blessings on your journey…..

  34. Tobye Hillier yogi tobye says:

    This is the point where I just keep quiet and smile…..


  35. Ramesh says:

    Jiivadhara, thanks for your wonderful insights, which I basically agree with.

  36. Ramesh says:

    Yogi Tobye, thanks so much for your contribution…. I am smiling with you on that on!!!! Big smile!!

  37. ARCreated says:

    and this is the point where I tell the you to mind your own business…of course yoga is MORE than asana…HOWEVER it leads people on their journey. When I started asana I could barely close my eyes in savasana, now I love to meditate…but I never lost my love of asana either — it was a path…but no one forced me on the path and for heaven's sake no one stood around going "you don't get it" — that would have probably just pissed me off anyway….I am really really tired of hearing what you can't do or should do or whatever…I still contend the closest I have felt to god is jumping out of an airplane (followed by motorcycle riding followed by kirtan) are you going to tell me that my pure state is bad or wrong or not real? or that denver girl doesn't experience some sense of connectedness??? shame on you. You have no idea what anyone else experiences…and how do I quantify that what you think was samadhi would be my experience of it?

  38. ARCreated says:

    When I teach my classes have intentions, meditation and asana…and each person has their experiences in each. Ultimately I tell my students when in lotus (or whatever approximation their bodies can muster) and breathing that they are "doing" yoga…just there nothing more…but in the end that's just so they don't feel they are missing something if they can't do poses as I am fond of saying "doing the splits doesn't make you more enlightened, just more flexible" "sometimes being "enlightened" is NOT doing something" blah blah blah…whatever, I'm kind of middle of the road gal…I am a purist "lite" I love my sanskrit and traditionalism and meditation but I dont' presume this makes anything else wrong or bad…(she says knowing she will never attend a class name yogafit…'cause she doesn't feel it's "yoga" LOL — but that's MY experience — I let others have theirs)

  39. Scott Robinson YesuDas says:

    No one says you have to do anything, DG–but if you aren't writing a fugue the way a fugue is written, you are writing something other than a fugue.

    Having said that, I think a lot more brilliance can accrue in 5.000 years than in 5 minutes.

  40. Dharma says:

    Well, this comment really shows how ignorant some people are about yoga.
    Let me tell you that YES, you CAN actually understand when somebody experience a real Samadhi and not an "ass scratching experience".
    If you would spend less time sweating on your rubber mat, trying to impress the girls with your acrobatic performances, and you would actually dedicate some time practicing a real sadhana or even just reading some traditional tantrik text you will discover that there are several forms of samadhi that can be recognizable even from outside. For example, some people experiencing the feeling of Union with the Divine Consciousness start having physical reactions like: crying, shivering, having the body completely cold except on the top of the head in the area of the Sahasrara Chakra. There are also post-reactions to the experience of Samadhi. In fact, if your subjective consciousness is merging with the Infinite Objective Consciousness even for a few minutes of pure Samadhi, after that experience you will feel totally transformed, you will be able to feel more not only your self, but also the others. You intuition will increase, and for somebody this "siddha" (special power) can even come to the point to be able to know the samskara (the past actions) of people. It can come to the point to be able to know basically everything simply thinking about it, like if your mind is in "connection" with infinite "psychic Wikipedia links", so to speak.
    Not only that, your Compassion will increase, you will care more about who or what is around you, you will feel it as part of yourself. Your sense of Justice will increase.
    You will even discover that your body will become naturally flexible even without practicing any acrobatic fancy asana, 'cause your nadhis (your internal channels of energy) have been purified, so your nervous system will be more balanced and your muscles more relaxed. You will feel and your will transmit to others a deep sense of bliss.
    And, in your specific case, even your cynicism will disappear.

  41. Ramesh says:

    Dharma, thanks so much for your detailed comments. I very much resonate with your views and insights!

  42. Eek... you! says:

    Not much of a difference between 5 minutes and 5000 thousand years. Or 14 billion years. Or a sandwich.

    None of the above is meant as a joke.

  43. Prem Dhan says:

    To pharaphrase it without emotionality:
    You are saying that asanas and nonjudgemental attitudes were paths for you and are paths for others. This is valid, but it does not exclude what the gentlemen above are saying – that asanas and non judgemental attitudes are not yoga. If yoga is the altar, the asanas and other attitudes are offerings to it. Without this clarity, the practisioner is lost in delusions.

    It is compassionate to keep this in mind for the students and uncompassionate to have a anything-goes attitude.

    A note on the feelings of closeness to god: "Experiences" is not yoga – yes even "experiences" of closeness to god … since yoga is the stillness of the mind … and not the thrill of the heart or overflowing of the heart. Even kirtan is not yoga. It is just as asanas, an offering of practise, so that yoga may happen in the silences of the heart. That is why Yoga is described also as the emptiness of the heart.

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