Never in my life would I have imagined words like lawsuit, injury, capitalism and even murder to be associated with yoga, a practice I’ve cherished my entire life.
Now, even if I don’t want to, I think about these things every time I unroll my mat. It takes more breaths than usual to calm my mind. I have to remind myself to let go a lot more vigorously than ever before when I sit to meditate.
It’s no wonder. Consider the news about yoga over the past two years:
“Now in the United States [the practice of yoga] has been tinted with…competition, status and sweat.” ~ The New York Times
“Yoga has developed a vigorous capitalistic side.” ~ The Guardian
“[Bikram’s] lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $1 million, as well as an injunction stopping Yoga to the People from conducting hot yoga classes.” ~ The New York Times
“Murder at Lululemon, yoga’s ‘heart of darkness’…a killing that seasoned homicide detectives have described as one of the worst they’ve ever seen.” ~ The Huffington Post
“The vast majority of people should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm.” ~ The New York Times
These days it’s harder than ever to be an authentic yogi. It seems the more popular yoga becomes, the further away it is from fulfilling its original goals—to unify the world, to end violence, to establish an enlightened society, and to bring peace on earth.
When Swami Vivekananda came to America in the 1890’s seeking support for his anti-British rule campaign, he found fertile ground here for a new spiritual frontier. As he voiced the first words of yoga philosophy—“Brothers and sisters of America!”—to the rapt audience in attendance at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, he unleashed a wave of yogic unity.
In the 1930’s Paramahansa Yogananda rode the wave all the way to Encinitas, California where he founded the first temple to yoga in the West, The Self-Realization Fellowship. By instructing crowds of open-minded seekers into Kriya Yoga, he fulfilled a chilling prophesy, which he recounts in his Autobiography of a Yogi. Yogananda recollected that years before the immortal Himalayan yogi, Babaji, had predicted:
“India can teach the universal methods by which the West will be able to base its religious beliefs on the unshakeable foundations of yogic science.”
To this day, Yogananda’s Autobiography of Yogi is the most read and inspiring book about yoga—and it has nothing to do with lawsuits, capitalism, injury or murder.
In the 1970s, while everyone was dropping out they were also tuning-in to the power of the mind—unlike today’s yoga, which is almost entirely focused on the body.
Millions of people the world over started meditating, in some cases just to see what would happen if thousands practiced together at the same time. Scientific experiments were conducted to investigate how meditation increases intelligence and expands the field of our brain’s perception. There was a large and collective interest in raising consciousness to establish an ideal society. We discovered that we are much more than the body and the thoughts in our mind—and proved it scientifically.
We know now that we are indeed unified on the level of collective consciousness and all our thoughts influence the whole—but especially those that resonate with the source of consciousness. In yoga philosophy these are the Sanskrit mantras, which were once studied by Harvard University researchers for their uses in developing psychic abilities, telepathy, and other related phenomena.
And doesn’t anyone remember episodes of That’s Incredible when Bikram was run over by a motorcycle and Swami Rama was submerged under water for 24 hours—and they were unharmed due to their mastery of yoga? No one cared about obtaining a luscious “yoga butt” then. We were more blown away by how yoga could achieve supernatural and miraculous states of the human mind.
Where has this spirit gone? To lawsuits, capitalistic greed, injuries due to ego, and murder over a pair of stolen yoga pants?
As a corrective, I believe we need to move back to move forward—like an archer pulls the bow-string back before releasing the arrow. Sincere and authentic yogis need to return to the roots of their practice before the east-meets-west yoga hybridization experiment went awry.
Classically speaking, the roots of yoga are found in samadhi, the state of awakened awareness beyond the thinking mind and feeling body. That’s why Patanjali begins the Yoga Sutras with samadhi.
In yoga philosophy, you begin with the end in mind. Attaining the goal of yoga, therefore, is not the same as gaining the reward of heaven after a life lived without sin. It’s easy for us in the West to adhere to the latter way of thinking—even unconsciously—because it’s how the dominant religious ideologies of Judaism, Christianity and Islam condition our collective way of viewing spiritual practice. We think we’ll get something by putting in our time on the mat. Perhaps that’s why yoga has wed itself so nicely to our capitalistic way of life.
Real yoga, on the other hand, isn’t about gaining something that you don’t already have. When you tangibly know without knowing the state of silent witness at your core, you don’t actually practice anything. You simply express a natural connection with things exactly as they need to be in this moment. You become the present moment. That’s why the Yoga Sutras begin with “Now.” Now is yoga.
Within the present moment awareness of samadhi, you can easily recognize how the mind slips back and forth—from the present to the past to the future. Like the rudder of a boat, a yogi constantly pulls the mind back toward a state of being untouched by any event—back to the state of innocent awareness.
The events over the past two years of yoga in the West necessitate that as an authentic yogi, you pull back to the present moment of your core being. Feel what’s arising from there. Listen to the rhythm of your breath and heart. Synchronize them.
As you notice the busy nature of your mind, remember Patanjali’s prescription to soothe the waves of thoughts. Chant the Sanskrit mantra, OM, with full attention on the syllables: A—U—M.
As each sound travels from the naval, the chest, and the center of the forehead, experience how their vibrations calm the inner core of your nervous system. Then as the mind reposes into the blissful “4th state” of no-mind, let your awareness sink beyond self-identification. Abide there until the thought of “you” re-arises.
When your subject-object awareness returns, begin again and again and “all is coming,” as Sri Pattabhi Jois once observed.
From this source, all sincere and authentic yogis should begin again. Recreate the yoga movement that has sunk to the bottom. Raise it up with the same practices yogis have engaged in for thousands of years by returning to the core teachings. Make it shine.
Abandoning the safety of her academic career for the less-traveled thrill of an infopreneur, Dr. Katy Poole has spent the past ten years serving as an author, teacher, Vedic astrologer, and tour-guide of what’s sacred and profane in India. She’s also enjoyed applying her very fine education (and many years spent geeking-out with crazy holy men) toward producing high-quality online courses on Sanskrit for Yoga. Recently, she and her husband got rid of their car and ride their bikes everywhere. It’s making her dream of living like a real Himalayan Baba one pedal closer. Check out her free 10-video mini-course and ebook, Awakening with Sanskrit, and find out how Sanskrit revolutionizes your yoga by turning off your mind and tuning you in toward your higher source, for more info visit her website.