Updated: Feb 9
THE CURRENT SCENARIO
Yoga and mindfulness is huge, it is going through a renaissance here in the West! Some say that we are on the edge of a global spiritual revolution, the momentum is building, especially here in London. There are many of us practising Yoga and many of us are living more consciously and compassionately, many are eco- friendly, plant based or vegan! Yoga is a very welcome and beneficial edition to our modern world and is not longer thought of as something distant, weird or exotic, it is no longer a man meditating in a cave that we think of when we think of Yoga. Today there are so many different styles to suit so many Yoga consumers, different types of studios for different budgets or tastes, and endless Yoga spin-offs like clothing, mats, props, retreats, oils and music. This revolution collides with a fashion trend for sportswear too and everyone is wearing mindfulness quotes on t- shirts, Yoga leggings to the shops, or carrying a fashionable reusable water bottle. I am constantly seeing ads appear on my Instagram account for Yoga clothing I would love to own but simply cannot afford as a Yoga teacher! Our classes and workshops and events are designed to do anything from open your third eye chakra to ground you on a bad day, to practise Yoga with your baby or to help you do the splits, I could go on and on…..there is so much to choose from! I have felt the stress often over which class and teacher to choose much like choosing a stage at a festival! Not as well that these classes are all group classes and all led classes (excluding Mysore Style Ashtanga).
Remember the original paths of Yoga must all lead to Raja Yoga whether you practise Tantra, Karma, Bhakti etc, Do all of these new styles of Hatha Yoga still do that? Do you really believe that Pet Yoga, Baby Yoga, Beer Yoga, Gin Yin are doing that? Do we care? I think these are in the nicest possible way diluting the pond and confusing people about what Yoga actually is… i’m not sure how much soul searching would happen in these classes although they are fun and harmless and probably attract people who otherwise might not arrive to the mat!! But the truth is that a spiritual quest is anything but fun!
Can a spiritual journey even be taught? I believe there is great value in modern generic group and led classes but the real path of Yoga can only be walked by the individual journeying within themselves, like any spiritual path. If we do not practise Yoga for Spiritual reasons is it still beneficial? I will discuss how yes it is, even if we only step onto the first rungs of the Yoga ladder, and establish ourselves in the Yamas and Niyamas of Patanjali, that is the advice for moral ethics and behaviour.
Yoga has had to change in order to get our attention and make us feel we can approach it but has it bowed its head too far? Is Yoga becoming a reflection of our fast flashy world? My fear is that as Yoga becomes over commercialised and trendy it loses it’s purpose, it’s point and we end up going outwards pleasure- seeking instead of going heartward. Really all one needs to practise Yoga is a quiet space, comfortable clothing, the body, mind and the breath. Let’s look at the modern day scenario in the West to help explain why this is happening.
'The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of material energy'
THE TRAP OF SAMSARA
'The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind'
'The deluded do not see the self enjoying sense objects or acting through the gunas'
'Bound by greed and entangled in a web of delusion, whirled about by a fragmented mind, they fall into a self made dark hell'
- Bhagavad Gita
So Yoga like anything over time has evolved, but Yoga has diversified a great deal in order to meet the modern day scenario and consumer. So let’s start by looking at the world most of us are surrounded by, the material world. In Yoga texts material includes everything that is not the soul, so if you don’t realise you have a soul you would think the whole world is material, which is the cause of much suffering. Avidya is a Yogic term that explains suffering from a false state of understanding, it includes Ego, Attachment to pleasure, Aversion to displeasure and Fear of what is to come. Through Yoga we come to see the sources of suffering for what they are; impermanent.
People may start to question their purpose in life when they realise that no amount of wealth, power, status, comfort or pleasure can make them truly content or happy. We can’t simply be here to work, do our best, then die, or to make money, swap money for things or places until it is gone, or to prove to the world that we are important? Is this why we are so negligent with the world and it’s resources too? We become constant pleasure seekers in a fast paced world always looking to the next thing. Sound stressful? Remember that true happiness and peace comes from within, not without, it is already there, all of the time, but many of us do not see it!
Once we start to understand this idea of Self and Yoga we come to realise that which prevents us from reaching it, and that which tempts us and distracts us outwards and away from the path; Samsara, the ever changing illusion of reality. It is irresistible, fast- paced, exciting and stimulating, but as we end up whirled around out there always chasing the next best thing, is it too stimulating? Will it never stop? modern material world and instead of going inwards we spend all of our time going outwards. Are we so tangled in the material web of Samsara, that we can no longer distinguish ourselves from it?
'They believe that to gratify the senses unto the end of life is the prime necessity of human civilisation. Thus there is no end to their anxiety'
'Although burdened with fears that end only with death they still maintain with complete assurance gratification of lust is the highest life can offer'
A favourite teacher of mine once said that Yoga is like waking up when you didn’t know you were asleep, and the profoundness of that gives me goosebumps! In the Bhagavad Gita we are reassured that even the most discerning man can be led astray by his own emotions, and the ancient teachings of the ’Upanisads’ also warn us to be vigilant, let’s come back to those word we heard earlier in Part 1,
'This calm steadiness of the senses is called Yoga, one should be watchful because Yoga comes and goes'
We yearn for safety and control and to have everything organised and in it’s place, jobs, money, things, cars, but have we got this wrong? As we gain control of our things are we losing control of our minds and the connection to our true nature? Have we gone too far???? We now accept the consequences of living too fast as normal, for example feeling there is never enough time in the day for all you want to do, or think you must do, your energy is low, you are stressed, you can’t sleep at night, you have headaches or poor digestion, you feel tired, you feel overwhelmed or suffer panic attacks. These are signs that the nervous system is not coping! People are also more isolated than ever, we were isolated even before Covid 19, many people are concerned only with their own personal situation and things, and with technology we have lost the need for a close community. Sickness and mental health issues and addictions are more common than ever and our younger generations grow up taking this fast paced, materialistic, image and tech obsessed world as perfectly normal. Many young people come to Yoga and begin with fast dynamic styles, but more often than what they realise they need is calm and rest. I am honoured to teach University students each week as it may be the only time they get away from their phones, peer group and social strains.
Don’t get me wrong, I also get sucked in but I recognise when it becomes frantic and purposely take time out to come back to my centre, slow down, recharge. This might just be sitting on my cushion, setting a timer for ten minutes and observing my breath. In fact it is usually when I meditate or practise consistently that I have a peaceful day, and so Yoga could be seen as a prevention as well as an eye-opener. When I practise in the morning I always have a good day, I am calm and grounded, my observation skills are fine tuned, my mind fresh, I do things more slowly, whether it be walking to the food shop or taking pleasure in preparing my usual breakfast more carefully and slowly! I am more present and life is richer!!!!
To be able to observe for long enough to assess the situation one must slow down or stop, and nowadays this can be seen as lazy or idle or worse, boring! Both in the Yoga world and the everyday world we often don’t slow down or stop for long enough to observe what is happening, (I will talk later about the importance of stillness ) we are so swept away with the external experience, and seemingly getting a thrill out of it that we have become ignorant of the other option, the internal experience. If we stopped to consider, as many of us have, would we honestly ignore a method that could give us unbound health, vitality and peace?
'When the yogi sitting in Padmasana leaves the ground, know that to be mastery of air, the destroyer of the darkness of Samsara'
Yoga teaches us gradually to get over our selves ! That is, the external self; it breaks through our exterior and journeys inwards and it is a fascinating and even miraculous discovery! It has an instant effect on us and that effect grows and grows if we stay with it, and it seeps outwards again, into your daily choices and habits, you see more clearly! I have heard the term that Yoga ruins your life, jokingly of course, but yes! Yoga will make you start to question everything, how you use your body, how you sleep, it may change your social life, make you read product and clothing labels, drink less alcohol and eat more kale, but not because it is trendy, because you feel it is good for you!
'Convert everything into yoga with the magic wand of right attitude'
PURUSHA VS PRAKRITI & THE GUNAS
With Covid 19 amongst us we find ourselves having to deal with a huge and unexpected change, and this seems to be bringing out people’s true colours if you will, and as a Yoga student I find it very interesting to observe this. True colours are not always our true nature. Any difficult situation will demand a certain amount of asking questions, problem solving, faith, willpower, tolerance and adaptability, and a balanced and strong mind is a good place to start. And more so is a clear perspective.
'They alone see truly who see that all actions are performed by prakriti while the self remains unmoved'
'Yoga is the selective elimination, or selective choosing, of the activities of the mind...
Then, the seer remains as seeing alone'
-Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
The young are said to be suffering more than the older generations during this isolation period. My parents both have health issues and often spend all day at home, they are not depressed or sad because they know how to keep busy, giving importance to one simple task after another until the day flies by. I feel that the young, without responsibilities of their own, are struggling to have any self worth, or self importance, and have few ways of honing their attention or using their energy, I can understand they are irritable and bored and desperately frustrated. My heart goes out to them.
Living in the present moment, a fundamental part of Yoga is crucial to the way in which many people are coping psychologically as it means we are not becoming anxious or depressed by thinking about events in which we have no control over. Many people have been forced to slow down, and have the chance to step back and take stock, much like I do when I am sitting on that cushion. We have been thrown off the wheel of being overworked, overproductive, overworked and overwhelmed; or that wheel has stopped turning. People are finally arriving back to the present moment, appreciating the small things and valuing what it is to be alive and this is pleasing them in a simple natural way! Mother nature too is grateful, it is a beautiful Springtime and we have been blessed with flowers, birdsong and pure blue skies for the whole period in London. But our true colours are not always our true nature as we seek to navigate in this material world.
The Yoga scriptures define three forces at play in the material world of Prakriti, these are The Gunas; Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Remember that anything that is not the Self is said to belong to the world of Prakriti, this includes the mind and all of it’s activity or vritiis. Whilst Prakriti is ever changing, the Purusha is unchanging and eternal. Tamasic behaviour may show as ignorance, self-centredness, woe, despair, over- eating, lethargy, pining over what has been lost, drowning in individual sorrow, inability to see the vast picture. Rajasic behaviour may show as fear of change, panic, desire or desperation to maintain work wealth, status, power or control as this defines them or jealousy of others. I saw harrowing scenes from Africa, Philippines and Pakistan on the news last night where beatings, fire and chaos was rife amongst panicking leaders and their fearful people . Sattvic behaviour may show as acceptance of what is, they realise that which they cannot control and do not fear about impermanent change, they are steadfast, unselfish, kind, see with clarity, they perhaps look to help those in need, volunteer, or do what they can to stay calm and steady amongst the chaos. These individuals may not even fear death.
‘When Sattva predominates the light of wisdom shines through the gates of the body’
'Moreover one gains purity of Sattva, cheerfulness of mind, one- pointedness, mastery over the senses and fitness for Self Realisation'
-Patanjali Yoga Sutras
These states are found in different measures within all of us and I think we can relate to having recognised them all within ourselves and others. If this were a game of rock, paper, scissors, Rajas would defeat Tamas and Sattva would defeat both Rajas and Tamas! Of course it is very difficult to lead a purely Sattvic life but I a sure we know our right and wrongs, our morals, and simple important everyday things like for example you are feeling too much in your own head so you help another, or do an activity or exercise if you have low energy, don’t eat junk food and get enough sleep!
Even today Yoga can release us from toxic negative thinking and unhealthy behaviour patterns. During this time of Covid many great teachers are coming forth with lots of relevant and free online offerings and support. I have seen everything from mindful story- telling, meditation, pranayama, chanting, classes and entire workshops offered at this time. So much so that I was actually overwhelmed to begin with and started to feel stressed as my attention was pulled about and I didn’t want to miss out on anything!!!! Even today I have signed up for a course exploring the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and have also seen a Pranayama course by Gregor Maehle and a Sanskrit course that I would like to enrol on! I am so proud to be a part of this supportive and caring community!!! Amongst these offerings, and perhaps most vital are advice and exercises to strengthen the lungs. It gives me courage that I work in a field that traditionally was used to heal and this has not been forgotten, but not yet discovered by all either! I listened to the David Garrigues podcast recently where someone had actually written to him and asked Is Yoga even useful now? She had the opinion that it was perhaps a luxury or self- indulgent, did this person have the wrong idea of what Yoga actually is? Did she connect Yoga to poses instead of health and spiritual growth?!
In Part 3 I will discuss why this could be so. We look at the image of Yoga in the modern day and how this can cause people to get the wrong idea of Yoga and why this works against the path of Raja Yoga. It may lead people to think Yoga is something it is not, meaning many people may consider that Yoga is not suitable for them or attract others for the wrong reasons. I will also look at what Yoga really entails wants you arrive to the mat and get past these initial superficial opinions based on what our eyes see in the images and media. I'm talking hard work, discipline, faith, consistency and surrender...
Thank you for reading today. I hope this resonated with you and got you pondering this yourself. I would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences, remember my words arise from my personal study, practise and perception.