Most of the time when a concept gets popular, there are different view points on it and every one develops an opinion about it. However, mostly so many different opinions and view points tend to corrupt the very idea of the concept.I guess I won’t be wrong when I say that ‘Yoga‘ is one such beautiful concept which needs to be clarified and talked about in a more refined way. We are fortunate to share very insightful thoughts and advice from one of the wellness experts. Faraaz Tanveer is one of those rare guides and mentors who has truly healed and helped people with his work. Below is Faraaz’s much needed guidance and advice:
I am often asked, “What is the best way to do yoga? What is the real ‘essence’ of yoga? Where can I find ‘authentic’ yoga? These questions are becoming more frequent and relevant in the current scenario. Today ‘yoga’ is an umbrella term with a loosely defined set of components. Physical postures, Buddhist meditation, ecstatic dance, conscious sexuality, Ayurvedic lifestyle, Indian devotional music, weight loss, world peace… yoga seems to imply all of these and more. The terms ‘Guru’, ‘Yogi’, ‘Ashtanga’, ‘Karma’, ‘Avatara’ etc have become part of a new lexicon and have acquired new meanings in this context.
So is this a positive development or a corruption of the original, ‘pure’ yogic teachings? The answer is not available in black and white.
‘Traditional yoga’ has never been one set of universal teachings or practices that were agreed upon by everyone and published in a book. It is a diverse body of knowledge passed on orally and experientially from teacher to student. Most of the ancient teachings were in the form of ‘sutras’ – terse and precise points for reflection. The real meaning and application of the sutras was demonstrated by the teacher. The aim of all these practices was ‘spiritual development ‘ ultimately leading to ‘spiritual enlightenment’. Yogic practices were experiential tools of enquiry on the path towards the ultimate truth of existence.
The teachings and practices recommended for different people varied as per their inherent nature, level of dedication and role in society. The active/ energetic ones followed Karma yoga – yoga of right action. The intellectual ones were taught Gyana yoga – the yoga of knowledge. Those inclined towards meditation and quiet reflection were initiated into Raja yoga – the yoga of meditation. Emotionally driven individuals found themselves delving into Bhakti yoga. Those who were sensitive to their energetic bodies were most suitable for Kriya yoga. The physically adept followed Hatha yoga. And so on…
Some traditions combined these practices in ways that were most effective for a given situation. So, for a long time yoga was a bespoke, one-to-one instruction led lifelong practice. There were no yoga studios with drop in classes and weekend workshops. The aim was slow and steady progress towards a spiritual goal.
In modern times there has been a disaggregation of the different parts of this system and now people are free to pick and choose which ever part they like and use it towards the fulfillment of their own personal goals. Also, there is a lot of improvisation and ‘invention’- some purely from a commercially motivated angle ( eg. hot yoga, yoga trance) while others that have genuinely added to the evolution of the practice ( eg. Iyengar yoga, Yin yoga).This is an expected outcome in our capitalist, individualistic society.
Most of the modern asana ( physical postures) practice is derived from recent developments in ‘physical culture’ movements and gymnastics. This does not take away from their health benefits – it just gives the right context to understand the origin and aims of the practice. Yoga sutras of Patanjali, one of the most often cited texts these days, contains only a passing reference to asana/ posture practice: ‘Sukham, Sthiram asanam’ – comfortable, stable posture. That’s it. The rest is an elaborate exposition on the subtle states of meditative awareness that has little to do with a 90 minutes vinyasa yoga class in your studio next door. Other texts like Hatha yoga pradipika and Gherand Samhita also contain references to only a dozen or so asanas. Most standing poses have come about in the past 100 years.
This does not in any way take away from the value or effectiveness of modern yoga practice. The ability to move and feel one’s body and breath and in the process explore one’s own thoughts and emotions is still a goal worth striving for. The balance lies somewhere in between dogmatically holding on to allegedly ‘traditional’ systems while ignoring modern anatomical inputs & societal demands and on the other end calling any and every form of contortionist art as yoga.
So, what is authentic yoga in the modern context? It is a practice that can intimately connect you with your own body and breath, in movement and stillness. It is a framework of practices that makes you pause and wonder at your own fascinating existence. It is a series of movements that make your body and breath and mind and heart come alive. Is that what the traditional texts had intended? Maybe not. Is it a desirable goal? Absolutely yes.
So my advice is to keep one’s eyes and ears open at all times, be vary of any unsubstantiated claims of authority and to be honest about your expectations and goals. The best way to practice any form of yoga is to use it as a means to delve deeper into your own being – physical, mental, emotional, energetic and spiritual. From outside that could look like sitting at the feet of a traditional master in rural India or sweating it out at your local studio or quietly doing your daily asana practice in the privacy of your bedroom or maybe hiking up a mountain and feeling one with nature.
Yoga will give you what you are looking for. What are you looking for ?
Faraaz is one of the handful yoga instructors whose deep understanding of the concept has helped people tremendously. He specializes in awareness-based deep relaxation and meditative therapies like Yog Nidra, Yogic breath work and Yin Yoga. Faraaz is also a renowned wellness expert .You can contact Faraaz here