Patanjali Yogsutras were given 4500 years ago – they do not give description of any asana. There is only one line – ‘sthir sukham asanam’. That is, a posture in which you are still and at peace. So any posture that can be maintained for long hours without movement or discomfort is an asana. Sage Patanjali is called the ‘Fountainhead of Yoga’.
The purpose of asana is cleansing the body – nadis (etheric channels) and chakras (energy centres). 4500 years ago, there was no requirement for this cleansing, the thought, actions and environment were relatively pure and conducive to the practice of yoga. Therefore, no mention of asanas in Patanjali Ashtanga Yoga.
With passage of time, the bodies and minds started becoming polluted as did environment, therefore various forms of yoga came in and around 500 years back, Hatha Yoga was formulated by yogis like Matsyendranath and Gorakhanath which describes certain physical postures to cleanse the nadis and chakras. These were given because by then the karmas of man had started becoming polluted. It became necessary to improve these karmas to facilitate the onwards journey, thus several postures were prescribed. Asanas then may be understood as exercise for the purpose of removal of toxins. The purpose of yoga however different, it is self-realisation. Dog yoga, power yoga, hot yoga and other modern innovations are rooted in the physical, none of them lead to self-realisation. Only Guru knows what is best of the shishya and Gurus don’t teach enmasse…
There is no dearth of yoga teachers these days, advocating modern innovative exercises enmasse, on television or in camps, some even selling CDs, calling it yoga. There is a vast majority of population learning and practicing those exercises and paying a hefty price – not just for the course, but also in terms of their health and body.
Let me give you quotes here of a couple of people. “I along with a friend had attended a yoga camp two years back, where they taught us a rapid breathing technique. We were told it might result in a minor cold for 48 hours but will subside after. The cold for me started after a week and it prolonged for 8-10 months. I was extremely uncomfortable and could not sit in an AC room even during scorching heat because of the cold. I approached the organization many a times, the instructor told me, at times it becomes chronic, and they can do nothing about it! It was only after I was guided into the right practices of yoga on meeting Yogi Ashwiniji 8 months later, that the cold went. Yogiji explained to me that by rapid breathing, movement of prana in the body gets disturbed and based on the degree to which we have disturbed the prana, we contract a disease. There are five major pranas in the body, detailed in the Sanatan Kriya under the topic of Paanch Mahaprana. These pranas control vital functions in the body and have a specific location and direction, which gets disturbed owing to rapid breathing,” shares Dr. Prasan Prabhakar, MD and Proprietor, Lakshmi Hospital, Kochi.
Dr. Shalini Mishra, General Physician, Mumbai admits having had more than 20 cases of casualties due to mass yoga programs in her medical career, “I had patients with severe knee injuries, neck injuries and spinal problems having performed certain asanas after watching television or in a yoga camp.”
Yoga is never taught enmasse, it is an individual journey, disseminated as per the ancient Guru-shishya parampara, where the Guru has a one-to-one relationship with the shishya. Guru is not someone wearing a fancy robe or with beautiful beard, offering innovative solutions to your problems and asking for a fee in return, that is a businessman.
The problem is we are getting more and more embedded in the physical and trying to progress through the route of physical – the result is evident in the form of widespread pollution. If you take a look at three major ‘advancements’ in recent history – Industrial Revolution, Green Revolution and White Revolution – you can see for yourself. Today our rivers are filled with industrial wastes as is the atmosphere, the forests have been replaced by factories, the food is laden with chemicals and pesticides, and milk is a concoction of steroids and toxins. The same is the case with our bodies. Youth today is characterised by bespectacled eyes, bent spine, weak bones and joints, obesity – all these are a product of failure of the newer innovative forms of yoga and fitness regimes which have done more harm than good.
Modern yoga programs are rooted in pure commerce, guided by the principle of profit maximisation by cost cutting and innovation, disaster is certain. Just like disaster was certain in the three modern revolutions. Yoga is the science of giving back to Creation, for we owe a lot to it. The moment you tie the subject to maya (commerce), it loses its efficacy because the purpose of yoga is to open bondages, not tie you more into them. Yoga takes you beyond, something which very few understand and hardly anyone teaches, because there is no market for it, as there is no market for Divine.