December 5, 2013

The Evolution of Yoga. ~ Ashley Cottrell

From Sage to Mini Malls.

Humans being aware and conscious of their existence, and actually curious about the question, “Who am I?” is of course what many consider the main difference between humans and any other animal species. What I find most interesting though is the evolution of this spiritual consciousness.

Essentially the belief in a higher existence had to start somewhere, and being so would mean that all belief systems essentially have the same mother thought. The question then becomes, not, “What is different about the diverse spiritual belief systems?” but rather, “What is the same?”

Many acknowledge that the continent of Asia held the first civilized communities of our species, specifically India. The evolved communities of India were very aware and concerned with the quality of their human experience and demonstrated spiritual practices, honoring the divinity of creation. Some of the first spiritual texts to come out of India were the Vedas.

The exact date of their manifestation is still controversial but is said to be between 1000-500 BCE. The Vedas are simply a collection of hymns honoring the ultimate divine power. These texts are believed to be composed entirely from divine consciousness and simply recorded through the vehicle of human form, but ultimately the wisdom comes directly from divine energy.  Interestingly enough, in the Vedas, we find the first yoga practice.

Through the practice of yoga, it is taught in the Vedas, that one may be liberated from the mind and illusion of the physical realm, and be returned to their wholeness in absolute consciousness or Supreme Being. The practice is described in the Vedas by doing specific pranayama; breathing techniques. Thus, it was around the 10th century that foundation for the practice of yoga was born.

So the practice of yoga, essentially, is directly rooted in one of the oldest and most sacred forms of devotion to divinity. Why then does yoga today appear to be a physical work out with a ton of status, sexuality, consumerism, and weird poses? This seems like the farthest thing from what the Vedic text first described the practice of yoga to be. But just as the earth has evolved, so too have our bodies as well as our lifestyles and roles on survival.

Yoga has experienced a timeless evolution that continues to evolve with the planet and people it dwells within.

Going back to the Vedic text, the teaching of liberating the mind from Maya (illusion) could only be achieved through certain disciplines or control techniques in order to literally reach a state of detachment from the physical form. Liberating the mind also called for intense concentration practices to help lead one into the place of no mind, and could be achieved through mantra or chanting. Then there was also the aspect of devotion and continued awareness in divinity, which could be achieved through sacrifice.

Because the understanding of human/divine consciousness concluded that the physical form was simply a projection (dream state) or the divine or God (really only condensed energy materialized), the breathing techniques evolved into physical poses created to lock and control that energy within the body.

Here the first physical yoga poses are born. Not for the benefit of the physical body, but rather to realize the divine ultimate state that is being projected into physical form. Awareness or consciousness is only energy. When energy is condensed it is materialized into a physical form.

So a human being is thus only consciousness condensed into a materialized body. The first Yogi’s goal was to realize this truth; break away from the belief that they were ‘a simple human’ and realize they were actually God, divine, Eternal, that was simply materialized.

Using the body became a tool to essentially liberate one’s self from the body entirely. The poses and breathing became an avenue to remembering the eternal being within and, through these practices, came the realization that one can never cease to exist.

All of these practices are later described in a second spiritual text born after the Vedas, called the Upanishads. The Upanishads take this practice even deeper and encourage the Yogi to begin mediation on chanting “Om.” So the “Om” you hear happening at the beginning and end of each modern day yoga class also began in the 11th century.

The meditation on chanting “Om” signifies the ever-present divinity existing in all things without separation.

So, essentially, if the human form is simply a physical manifestation of divine consciousness, the entire physical existence (earth, plants, experiences, people, places, and so on) is also only a projection of divine energy condensed. If everything is only a projection of divine consciousness in physical form, then everything is divine, everything is God, and everything is only actually one thing, creating an illusion as many things. “Om” is the vibration of all the essence of divine with no beginning and no end existing in all that is.  Chanting “Om” is to remember this truth and realize oneness.

So now we have an established foundation for a belief system;

  1. Divine creation exists.
  2. Everything that exists is only a physical manifestation of divine energy.
  3. People, and all other physical forms, are not separate from divinity but are actually divinity physically manifested.
  4. We are fighting against the illusion that we are our bodies and exist as a separate Self.
  5. The only way to be happy, free and live in eternal bliss is to liberate oneself from the belief in illusion.
  6. Practicing yoga is the way to liberation from the illusion.

Just like humans always do, this belief system was then essentially indoctrinated into a religion, Hinduism. Unlike Christianity, Hinduism does not have one specific book as their manual. This would only make sense seeing that the basis of their belief system is ‘all is one’. The belief that many is essentially only one thing is prominent in their religion.  Thousands of Gods are worshiped but essentially there is only one God. Exactly the paradoxical belief that there are billions of humans but really, there is only one because everything is only a projection of the self, and the self is actually only divinity.

The Bhagavad Gita was the next yogic text to be manifested and today is considered one of the most prominent texts of Hinduism. The story narrates an epic battle fought by a prince and an army of the world. Through the battle Lord Krishna teaches prince Arjuna many lessons of divine truth but ultimately the battle is only a representation of the battle between divine consciousness and the ego believing in the physical realm as ‘ultimate’. Lord Krishna teaches prince Arjuna the different practices of yoga to allow for liberation throughout the battle.

By this time yoga has become a prominent practice in a religion. Actually, a religion has evolved out of yoga. It does not stop with Hinduism, yoga actually spreads into Buddhism, Jainism and, I will now argue that it is even ever present in Christianity.

One of the tools to achieving ‘God realization’ was chanting mantra. A tool to help allow for concentration during mantra chanting was a set of 108 mala beads on a necklace. Each time a mantra is repeated the fingers guide themselves to the next bead on the necklace until the recitation has completed a full circle around the beads. This is interestingly similar to the Catholic version of a rosary and reciting prayers or Hail Mary’s. Again, proving the evolution of the mother thought, “who am I?” in the Vedas and the practices used to reach an answer, evolving into a number of diverse belief systems.

One of the ultimate pioneers, and first gurus of yoga, Sri Ramakrishna declared that, “the world’s religions are but various phases of one eternal religion.” It was believed that the eternal truth, the one that would not rise and fall like the kingdoms of the world, could only be realized through self-study and not through organized religion. Thus, the way to self-realization could only be taught from one man’s personal experience directly to another, by mentorship.

The ways of a yogi began being taught through a teacher/student lineage, from one man to another, out of India and eventually crossed seas and made its way into the US. A disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, left India and traveled west to share the wisdom of yoga with Americans in 1893. With the new quota being posed on immigration of Indians to the US in 1924, it made it extremely difficult for gurus of India to travel and teach to Americans. Thus, a new craze began for Americans to begin traveling east in search of this knowledge.

From this point on, yoga began blossoming in the United States. With many Americans traveling east and bringing home inspirational teaching that would later manifest into books and yoga studios. Even the teacher/student lineage caught on in the US and still, to this day, the most successful and prominent teachers in America are recognized from learning the practice from a guru of the lineage.

Although the first intent of traveling east was to seek the way to enlightenment, it soon became clear the growing interest in this held knowledge had above it dangling dollar signs for the US market. Yoga, once again, evolved into its present stage of, what I call today, “mini mall yoga.” 

Today, in larger populated areas you will find yoga studios every five miles with hip juice bars, fashionable yoga clothes and all the added yoga accessories you can image. Yogis are now not considered to be the devotional Sages they once were but an actual householder that participates in the real world whilst maintaining the paradigm view that the first yogis taught ‘all is one.

The teachings are no longer expected to be handed down from guru to student, but rather are threaded into the physical yoga classes in the studio environment. The yoga experience has now became a daily practice of normally one hour of practicing control of breath, mental or verbal mantra, and a flow of continued yoga poses lead by an instructor at the front of the room.

So while it may appear that the ‘mini mall yoga’ has leaped far from its roots, I argue that yoga today is exactly the way it was intended to be. 

The teachings of yoga are now more available than they have ever been, with over 20 million practicing in the US today. The wisdom of yoga was meant to be shared, and has now evolved, into an abundance of available knowledge and accessible teachings. While yoga teaches liberation from the world, it never teaches that you should try to escape it. Many of the early sages renounced the world and spent the remaining years of their lives in complete solitude.

Rather than living, they only existed. To be truly liberated is to feel freedom. If you feel imprisoned by the material world, like many of the early sages did after obtaining realization of illusion, how so then are you actually free? You are just as imprisoned as the one believing in the illusion. Therefore, the true teaching of yoga is to liberate oneself from the attachment to the physical world and, because of that detachment, be able to dive into it, play in it, and explore it without fear. For the fear that once existed was only the belief that this life was real, making it serious. Realizing the world is not real, and is only a projection, makes it like a dream.

If we are the dreamer and this is our dream, then should we sit in nothingness or should we create the most epic awesome dream imaginable?

If we are truly liberated we can do so without fear of failing because we know it’s not real. Thus, the physical world becomes a playground for us to experience all it has to offer, if we so choose to.

The ‘mini mall yoga’ takes a much lighter and more practical approach on the deep teachings first established, relating them into our dream world. For example, if you can hold a strenuous pose in the heated room of 105 degrees and 40% humidity while maintaining peace of mind and a smile of your face, then you can do so too in any stressful situation in life. This concept teaches us that happiness is a choice and nothing external (including discomfort of the body) has control over that choice.

‘Mini mall yoga’ has taken the question, “Who am I?” and answered it with the question, “Who do you want to be?” It was answered without the dogma of religion. If you want to experience material abundance and buy fancy yoga clothes, so be it, it’s your dream.

If you want to sit in solitude with material detachment, so be it, it’s your dream. Whatever your bliss is, follow that. But do it all with the intention of serving the highest you, with the purest of love, knowing always there is nowhere to get to, nothing to keep, for this is all just a dream.

So let go and simply be Om. 


Like elephant journal on Facebook.

Assistant Editor: Ffion Jones/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Stuti Sakhalkar

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Ashley Cottrell