By Brett Sculthorp
Susan Reinhardt’s Jan. 24 column “The Benefits of Yoga Outweigh the Risks” is typical of the imbalanced perspective of yoga that needs to be rectified by yoga professionals through clearer marketing and communication and better interviewing with/education of journalists.
Popularly yoga, or more specifically yoga postures or asanas, are propagated as a form of exercise and for some people, a sport with performance measures such as sweat, extreme stretching and a competitive environment. The word “yoga” and its holistic philosophy and practices have been narrowly defined, simplified for consumption, reduced to suit a western worldview. Materialistic science and culture has focused on gross anatomy and physiology and de-contextualized asana practice from spiritual development. Subtle anatomy, which includes nerve and glandular systems that are known as chakras, is the traditional orientation of this “innercise”. While there are musculo-skeletal benefits of asana, the neuro-endocrine system in particular is more important in terms of preparing the mind for spiritual practice – the original purpose of yoga postures.
As long as achievement on the mat is infused with group competitiveness, vanity and gross anatomical manipulation rather than the holistic needs of the individual, people will continue to get hurt. We need to bring yoga ethics, Yama and Niyama to the physical practice and understand that asanas should help balance or diminish the vritis (psychic tendencies) such as pride rather than exacerbate them.
There is no correlation between hyper-flexibility and/or physical strength and spiritual development – if there was, everyone in Cirque Du Soleil would be enlightened. Unless yoga professionals actively communicate a deeper message about what yoga is, it will be largely stay confined to the studio and gym and the modal attendance will be people of certain age range, socio-economic status, ethnicity, body type and gender. Further, such communication should be considered part of our service or seva. Without it, our broader ability to effect lasting and meaningful social change will be inhibited.