By Yogi Ashwini
Patanjali Yogsutras were given 4500 years ago, they do not give description of any asana. There is only one line – sthir sukham asanam. That is, a posture in which you are still and at peace. So any posture that can be maintained for long hours without movement or discomfort is an asana. Sage Patanjali is called as the fountainhead of yoga.
The purpose of asana is cleansing the body – nadis (etheric channels) and chakras (energy centres). 4500 years ago, there was no requirement for this cleansing, the thought, actions and environment were relatively pure and conducive to the practice of yoga. Therefore, no mention of asanas in Patanjali Ashtanga Yoga.
With passage of time, the bodies and minds started becoming polluted as did the environment, therefore various forms of yoga came in and around 500 years back, Hatha Yoga was formulated by yogis like Matsyendranath and Gorakhanath which describes certain physical postures to cleanse the nadis and chakras. These were given because by then the karmas of man had started becoming polluted. It became necessary to improve these karmas to facilitate the onwards journey, thus several postures were prescribed. Asanas then may be understood as exercise for the purpose of removal of toxins. The purpose of yoga is however different, it is self-realisation. Asana is a preparatory exercise to condition the body for yoga, it is not yoga. Dog yoga, power yoga, hot yoga and other modern innovations are rooted in the physical, none of them lead to self realisation. Only guru knows what is the best for the shishya and gurus don’t teach enmasse.
There is no dearth of yoga teachers these days, advocating modern innovative exercises enmasse, on television or in camps, some even selling CDs, calling it yoga. There is a vast majority of population learning and practicing those exercises and paying a hefty price – not just for the course, but also in terms of their health and body.
In so many years of teaching yoga, so many have come up to me with ailments which they acquired due to wrong practice of yoga. To quote an example, Dr Prasan Prabhakar of Lakshmi Hospital, Kochi came to me with a chronic cold. He told me that he had attended a yoga camp where he was taught a rapid breathing technique and was informed that it might result in a minor cold which would last 48 hours. The cold for him started after a week and never subsided. He could not sit in AC room even in scorching heat because of the cold. When he approached the organization, the ‘instructor’ told him that at times it becomes chronic and he can do nothing about it! I explained to him that by rapid breathing movement of prana in the body, gets disturbed and based on the degree to which the prana is disturbed one contracts a disease. There are five major pranas in the body, detailed in the Sanatan Kriya under the topic of Paanch Mahaprana. These pranas control vital functions in the body and have a specific location and direction, which gets disturbed owing to rapid breathing.
Another doctor, Shalini Mishra who is a general physician from Mumbai told me that she has had more than 20 cases where people having performed certain asans after watching on television or in a yoga camp have contracted severe knee injuries, neck injuries and spinal problems.
Yoga is never taught en masse, it is an individual journey, disseminated as per the ancient guru shishya parampara, where the guru has one to one relationship with the shishya. Guru is not someone wearing a fancy robe or with beautiful beard, offering innovative solutions to your problems and asking for a fee in return, that is a businessman. Yama is the first limb of Ashtanga Yoga which is satya, asteya, aparigraha, ahimsa, brahmcharya. If you look at the first three yamas – satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing) and aparigraha (non-collection) – all three are flouted by these so-called yoga gurus. For the truth is, there is nothing called as solution to a problem, there is only karma, which when improved through service and charity, automatically ameliorates problems in your life. Charging a fee for a lie is stealing and building palatial ashrams with seekers money is collection. How do you call someone who fails in the very basics of yoga as a yogi? You cannot.
The problem is we are getting more and more embedded in the physical and trying to progress through the route of physical – the result is evident in the form of widespread pollution. If you take a look at three major ‘advancements’ in recent history – industrial revolution, green revolution and white revolution – you can see for yourself. Today our rivers are filled with industrial wastes as is the atmosphere, the forests have been replaced by factories, the food is laden with chemicals and pesticides, and milk is a concoction of steroids and toxins. The same is the case with our bodies. Youth today is characterised by bespectacled eyes, bent spine, weak bones and joints, obesity – all these are product of failure of the newer innovative forms of yoga and fitness regimes which have done more harm than good.
Modern yoga programs are rooted in pure commerce, guided by the principle of profit maximisation by cost cutting and innovation, disaster is certain. Just like disaster was certain in the three modern revolutions. Yoga is the science of giving back to Creation, for we owe a lot to it. The moment you tie the subject to maya (commerce), it loses its efficacy because the purpose of yoga is to open bondages, not tie you more into them.
(Yogi Ashwini is the Guiding Light of Dhyan Foundation and an authority on the Vedic Sciences. His book, ‘Sanatan Kriya, The Ageless Dimension’ is an acclaimed thesis on anti-ageing. Log onto to www.dhyanfoundation.com or mail to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.)