Is yoga progressing or digressing?


There is no doubt that, during the pandemic, yoga has gained more momentum around the world than before, and with its profound effect on immunity and the respiratory system, Pranayama is on the top of the chart for most yoga practitioners, teachers and aspiring yoga learners.

 Yoga has also emerged as the next finest lifestyle and health regimen to stay and almost everyone you know around has become a yoga teacher and practitioner. One can see the influence of it all over social media, especially amongst celebrities. Many yoga schools and teachers are now offering numerous forms of yoga training and short courses to become an instant yoga teacher are making it more easily accessible for regular households too.

Unfortunately, it is also a foremost cause of concern as instead of yoga progressing in its traditional form, it is been distorted.

 Currently, the practice is divided into Traditional Yoga practices and contemporary or Modern Yoga practices. We can only assume that a lot of yoga enthusiasts are not even aware of the relation of science to yoga and the ancient yogic texts. Even if they are aware of it, they have possibly never read these yogic texts, such as Hatha Pradipika, Gheranda Samhita, Shiva Samhita, Siddha Siddhanta Paddhati and Patanjali Yoga Sutra, which clearly define the purpose, role, foundation and principles of yoga as a discipline. Among the Modern Yoga practices, which are modified in nature, are Ashtanga Vinyasa, the Iyengar school of yoga, Sivananda Yoga, and Krishnamacharya Yoga which is in line with traditional Hatha Yoga practices but is still a modified version. There are others that we know of, like Aqua Yoga, Power Yoga, Hot Yoga or Acro Yoga, that have a lesser relation to yoga, traditionally and scientifically.

Traditionally, yoga is not supposed to use jerky movements, or be performed like an exercise. It is not supposed to use any force, exertion, power or challenges — or for that matter, any extreme use of one’s energy — which most of the contemporary forms involves. Therefore, many traditional yoga specialists consider these modern forms nothing but a physical workout.

These can still be respected, but what is shocking is how yoga is treated as a product, distorted completely to gain popularity and generate a newer audience in the market — with personalised branded versions like Nude Yoga, Couple Yoga, Beer Yoga, Goat Yoga, etc. This is a complete dilution of the purest gift left to us by our ancestors. In my various interactions with yoga educators from renowned yoga colleges, They feel disrespected when they hear of these forms. Moreover, the scholars also feel that giving a personalised name to the forms, as if yoga is one of their creations, is wrong and a complete digression of yoga from its purest form.

 As far as the modification of yoga is concerned, most traditional yoga teachers feel that it is fine and appreciate it as long as the objective of yoga is not compromised — which is to derive the benefits and impact of the asanas. They also feel that perhaps modification is necessary by citing examples of asanas which cannot be done in its complete form by a student who is a beginner with a stiff body or someone with an injury or health issues. These simplified and modified versions of the asanas can help build strength, stamina, and immunity, and so, for therapeutic purposes, the modification is accepted. However, traditional practitioners feel that this is no longer the purpose in the case of Modern Yoga teachers.

This brings me to the point that teachers today are trained in yoga but not educated about yoga. This is also a major cause of concern and can be injurious. It has become significant that yoga teachers today must have knowledge of human anatomy and physiology to understand the structure and function of the various internal systems of the body. This knowledge will empower a yoga teacher and make them a more mature yoga teacher, who is more capable of evaluating students, understanding the dos and don’ts and comprehending contraindications. Most yoga teachers today ignore the aspect of contraindications in their teaching and are not able to guide students in the appropriate directions. This does nothing but causes injury and defames the safe practice of yoga. The injuries are also named after the practices sometimes — like the latest Ashtanga Shoulder denoting a shoulder injury. This is not a part of the tradition or culture of yoga since yoga by its nature is not injurious at all!

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali define the purpose and definition of yoga as “the inhibition (nirodhaḥ) of the modifications (v tti) of the mind (citta)”. In simpler terms, the ultimate objective and definition of yoga would be that it is a science for the development of the brain for the highest experience. 

Sheetal Kharka is a former banker, writer, and yoga enthusiast who has completed PG Diploma in Yoga Education from the Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute & Research Centre.