Yoga is both a means and an end, a process and a state, of realisation (or recognition)
Modern yoga is often taught through the lens of Patañjali's Yoga Sūtras, but this is not the only perspective through which Yoga can be known
There is so much more to Yoga than the posture-oriented systems so predominant in the recent global transmission of this ancient tradition.
It is true that everything evolves based on its application in any given context, and modern Yoga is certainly reflective of this type of evolution. However, Yoga has become a highly commodified product for consumption in the marketplace. The vast knowledge, ancient wisdom and timeless practices acquired and cultivated by the great philosophers and devoted practitioners of ancient India are often taught in a way that sees them stripped of their essential foundations and divorced from the appropriate cultural context.
Despite the fact that postural yoga (āsana) has become synonymous with Yoga, there is an expanding global community of practitioners who study and practice in the traditional manner, who strive to learn and share the teachings as authentically as possible, and who use the ancient texts as both guidance and litmus test for practice, experience and understanding. There is now a growing cohort of teachers who have studied in academic institutions AND traditional gurukul environments sharing this ancient wisdom is a more authentic manner.
It is also essential to mention that as a Westerner exploring and examining knowledge and culture very different from my own, from a point in history far removed from now, that there are certain inherent biases and assumptions one cannot help but bring to the equation. However, an acknowledgement of the presence of such assumptions and biases goes a long way to getting us closer to (and eliminates errors we might make) understanding this knowledge and the culture from which it emerged, as authentically as possible.
Yoga as we know it today is can be traced back to śaiva Tantra, which was historically more aligned with householder practice (as opposed to ascetic renunciates) and thus lifestyles of modern humans. It is my experience that focusing mainly on sāṁkhya and Patañjali as the only means to understand Yoga provides the Western mind with a somewhat limited experience of what is possible and can, if not shared skilfully, result in further knots being tied in the modern being (as opposed to serving to unravel them).
It is true that the modern aspirant will find many beautiful opportunities to harmonise oneself with the nature of reality through Patañjali’s Yoga. The eight limbs provide a timeless pathway through which to recalibrate the stresses and excesses of modern life so as to bring the self back into balance. However, there are other lenses through which yoga can be understood, practiced and experienced.
The Yoga and sāṁkhya darśanas of Hindu philosophy offer a pathway to awakening (samādhi) that is distinctively different from the Tantras, and different again from the Buddhist tradition. There is even research currently being undertaken to examine how these differences translate into biochemical and neurological experience and the evidence indicates that the results are, indeed, quite different from each other. A simple look at the Sanskrit words that describe liberation in each of these traditions are the first signs of the differences; kaivalya (isolation), mokṣa (liberation) and nirvāṇa (extinction) respectively.
From the Tantrik non-dual (advaita) perspective, Yoga may be understood as a state of conjunction or union in which all dualities dissolve. Whereas the framework offered by sāṁkhya and Patañjali tend to define yoga in terms of the separation or disjunction of the dualistic categories of the spiritual principle (puruṣa) from the material nature of existence (prakṛti). Buddhism is, naturally, different. These distinctions may seem superfluous to the many practitioners, however, a deeper exploration reveals that knowing and understanding the differences between the various Eastern traditions is of great benefit when sharing Yoga with modern practitioners. It is helpful when sharing Yoga or Tantra to know how to explain whether a tradition is theistic or non-theistic, how to define the perspective on the self in the different traditions, and to also understand whether realisation is possible whilst living (or not). Being able to understand and explain these differences to the Western mind can have a significant impact on an individual’s process or journey of yoga.
There is a tendency in the modern marketplace to present things in a way that makes them palatable and profitable in the mainstream. It is also easy to encounter Yoga that is shared as a gymnastic pursuit for physical fitness and as a tool to reduce anxiety. Unfortunately, this can result in both students and teachers reaching a plateau beyond which expansion is difficult. If you find yourself yearning for more depth, more authenticity, that something else which your heart intuits lies beyond where you have journeyed thus far, then I invite you to consider a practice beyond that offered by classical Yoga.
Yoga is a vast tradition and I am by no means an expert. In fact, the more I study and practice, the more humbled I am by how little I know. Each new verse, text or encounter with someone or something that challenges my understanding, is an opportunity to experience existence with a beginner’s mind. However, I am confident that the Tantrik perspective on Yoga offers the perfect opportunity for each of us to dissolve the layers of conditioning that stand in the way of experiencing existence (and each other) as it is, in pure, unadulterated, blissful, glory. If you’re inspired to explore Yoga through the non-dual lens, join me for a class, workshop, course or retreat.