What Is Yoga: Modern Misconceptions

Yoga — a modern trend or an old spiritual practice? It is universally known as a life-changing and healing discipline, which nowadays is advertised at fitness centers all around the Western world. The authentic idea of yoga has become commercialized, using it as a profitable business. People associate yoga with an exercise routine, which improves flexibility, balance, and strength. However, yoga offers more than physical benefits.

Yoga originally comes from the East. It was first mentioned in India about 5000 years ago. Yogis used to verbally transmit their traditions from one generation to another, therefore, there was no strict definition of yoga.

Ancient texts define the following eight limbs or steps of yoga practice: Yama (universal moral rules), Niyama (personal moral rules), Asana (pose), Pranayama (breathing techniques), Pratyahara (exclusion of physical senses), Dharana (focus on the moment), Dhyana (deep state of meditation), and Samadhi (complete harmony of the mind and the body).

Eight Limbs Of Yoga. The image is extracted from Olga Karpovich’s AUBG capstone project “Yoga in Eastern Europe: From the Popular Culture Back to The Unity of Ancient Tradition”, 2014.

Yoga was introduced to the Western world in the 19th century, as the Indian monks shared their knowledge while traveling to other countries. The difference of cultures and traditions has affected the interpretation of yoga. Nowadays, most of the yoga classes offered in Western countries focus only on the physical benefits of practices. However, a true yoga is a union of the mind, body and soul.

“Yoga in fact is a lifestyle,” says Olga Karpovich, a yoga enthusiast from Sofia, Bulgaria, who was recently certified as a yoga teacher. “It is about breath control, regular meditation practice, nutrition, self-care, communication with people and acceptance of the impermanence. And this is just the tip of the mountain.”

Due to health problems, Karpovich had to start her yoga journey four years ago with philosophy and meditation, and only then got into asana practice. She found it very helpful, and recommends every beginner yogi to get acquainted with the philosophy of yoga before stepping on the mat.

“I use power poses from yoga to get confidence, and focus on my breath to stay calm,” says Aaron William Dozier, a yoga instructor on Martha’s Vineyard, the USA. He also works at a busy restaurant and shares that the breathing techniques from yoga have helped him survive the insanity of summer seasons.

“Breathing deep allows me to concentrate on my inner self, and separate from the outside stress,” says Dozier. As yogis of the past used to say, “Often you need yoga most when you want it least.”

Karpovich shared that yoga has helped her to be more present in daily life. Like many of us, she used to spend a lot of time thinking about the past or making plans for the future.

“At the end of the day life is only here and now,” Karpovich says. “Being present brought me so much joy — I became more productive, unified with nature and my body, attentive to little things. I realized that happiness is not always big achievements, but small things that happen to us day to day.”

Yoga also has health benefits. Aside from toning your body, it is believed that yoga reduces health problems. Asanas help stretch your body, reduce tension from the muscles, facilitate the work of the spine. The 2017 “New York Times” article Back Pain? Try Yoga by health reporter Nicholas Bacalar claims, “Yoga works as well as physical therapy for relieving back pain.” In the article Bacalar cites a study by the Annals of Internal Medicine that shows that people with back problems who start doing yoga tend to achieve reduced pain and disability, which leads them to reduce their drug use.

“Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition,” says Narendra Modi, the current Indian Prime Minister. “It embodies the unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and nature.”

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