Yoga: How The West Has Missed The Point

Radhika Vachani | Founder, Yogacare Healing Arts

In Karen Heller’s article published earlier this year in The Washington Post, Andrew Tanner of the Yoga Alliance was quoted saying: “If adding cats and bunnies to yoga introduces more people to a positive physical and mental experience that leads them to pursue a deeper study of yoga, then it’s all for the good.” 

The Western world has certainly been busy, creating numerous forms of “yoga” and athletic programs that produce endorphins. A multi-billion dollar industry of yoga studios, teacher certification programs, hip clothing and convoluted posters have been churned out at a rate that seems to compete with the rise of insomnia, depression and pill popping. And yet despite the introduction of hot, naked, acro, beer, goat and weed varieties of the discipline, the majority of yoga practitioners still have not been been directed toward yoga’s goal: inner stillness.

Humans live in a complex environment that is fraught with uncertainty, impermanence and volatility. Life is difficult, and often challenges us to our very core. We could not be confronted with more uncertainty and impermanence in this particular moment: the inevitable role of artificial intelligence in our lives comes into focus, our worth as a human race is up for debate, and the gap between the have and have-nots widening each year. This is precisely where the practice of yoga comes into play. 

Challenges and difficulty lead to a chaotic, restless mind — a mind that spins us into a deluded world fraught with fear based thinking. This mind, not only determines our experiences of pain and pleasure, but it can also prevent us from facing our challenges with full consciousness, living a happy and fulfilled life, and reaching our full individual potential.

The ultimate goal of yoga is to attain a state of no mind. A mind that is non-critical, non-judgemental and devoid of incessant fluctuations, is a steady mind that is present and alert. This state of steadiness enables us to access deeper levels of consciousness and a large reservoir of intelligence, creativity and wisdom that lies within each one of us. This mind, enables us to live our lives with fullness, to solve all our problems and to evolve into a more expanded state of being. A deluded and chaotic mind, remains just that, prevents us from moving forward, and embracing the gamut of life’s experiences in a manner that supports our well-being.

When Westerners visit India, they are often taken aback by the absence of yoga studios. I am often asked, “how can this be possible, India is the birthplace of Yoga. Don’t Indian’s do yoga?” The reality is that yoga is not an exercise program that serves as an alternative to pilates or going for a run, so that you can release endorphins and feel good. Yoga is not something that you do, but it is a practice that you live by, just as you would choose to be a Buddhist and live by its teachings. It is a practice that takes study, focus, discipline and perseverance, under the guidance of a master. It is a process that involves first knowing oneself, so that we can master our minds and learn the art of skillful living, despite the trials and tribulations we are faced with.

In the physical practice of yoga, known as hatha yoga, the body is used as a gateway to regulate restless energies, and to prepare the student for the higher practices of pranayama, breath regulation, and eventually meditation, a state of no mind. However, even hatha yoga, practiced by millions in the modern world, has thus far failed to inspire the masses. Student readiness occurs, according to the Yoga Sutras, through the successful mastering of the yogic disciplines of yama and niyama from the Eightfold Path. These disciplines involve mental and physical cleansing, guidelines with which to live one’s life, and require no fancy tools, acrobatics, goats nor ganja. It is these preliminary practices that prepare the student for a deeper study of the self, and determine the student’s readiness for the path of yoga and the physical practice of yoga asana. 

Yoga is a science, a cohesive system, that must be followed with un-adulterated precision, if the student is to succeed on this path and attain a state of stillness. But as long as practioners fall prey to the never-ending marketing ploys, and the restlessness of the clever mind and the ego, that keep them believing that this is better than that, the student will remain in external pursuit, on a treadmill to nowhere. Westerners need to consider that the true meaning of this ancient art is greater than just another consumer practice.

Radhika Vachani is the author of Just Breathe, a motivational speaker, yoga and holistic wellness expert, and the Founder of Yogacara Healing Arts in Mumbai, India. A devoted student of the Iyengar School of Yoga for 15+ years, Radhika quit her successful corporate career in San Francisco, to start Yogacara in 2010, after having experienced life-transforming changes with the practices of Iyengar Yoga and Ayurveda. Connect with Radhika at radhika.vachani@yogacara.in and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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