Monthly Archives: November 2011

Yes, Yoga Is Wise!

I recently had lunch with a few old friends. While sharing our current goings-on, the fact that I teach Yoga was met with general interest: I would love to take Yoga…It seems so wise, one woman said.

Well, that’s an understatement, I thought! It is wise—but how? What does it mean to be wise? Something that is described as wise, conveys the suggestion that by practicing it, you’ll become privy to a better way of living.

Yoga is defined as a technology and set of practices that are employed to enable human beings to achieve Self-Realization. Will this Self-Realization lead one to a better way of living?

Firstly, what is Self-Realization?

It is a state in which one is profoundly aware of his/her true nature. And if that is vague it is because it has to be, for it is a state that must be experienced. According to Yogic traditions, it is a process by which one ceases to identify with the ego-self, and the sense of separateness that characterizes this ego-based, state of illusion, known to Yogis as maya.

And so, as for the first question, how this awakening may improve the quality of life, we must remember that this condition of maya is plagued by a roster of negative emotions, like fear, suspicion, envy and anger. Accordingly, a practice meant to bring us back to a realization of wholeness, and away from this false sense of separateness, would restore a feeling of inner peace, while removing the adverse emotions. If we can speak in terms of goals, we might say the ultimate goal is increasing the joy in our lives.

Of course, like any noble and worthy goal, true practice takes work, but as my dear teacher Gurudhan is wont to say, life without Yoga takes even more work.

This worthy goal involves the pacification of our thoughts, emotions and habituated reactions—nothing short of the management of the mind—that unruly, rebellious thing, that does not want to be managed. Yoga offers us various tools to help us do that. And the many diverse Yogic traditions emphasize different tools. Like trails that lead to the summit, all will lead you there. In my own practice of Kundalini Yoga, we make copious use of kriya, mudra, eye-focus, powerful breath work and mantra meditation, all of which are often enhanced by sound modalities.

In the language of Yoga, the process of awakening is just that—a process, meaning that on a subtle level, you start to approach life in a different way, relate to people through new perspectives, see through open eyes, perceive with a clearer, less reactive mind. Problems may not be interpreted as problems any longer, and when they are, you have the clarity and presence with which to approach them more skillfully. All of this results in a higher quality of life.

Yes, Yoga is wise!

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On the Farcical Nature of Patriotism

I was always uncomfortable with patriotism (Germanic: Obeying the “father”). I thought it was just that little spark of rebelliousness I always had. But I have come to see it as a legitimately objectionable idea. And that’s just it. It’s an idea, a story, a fiction. The whole notion of national borders and cohesiveness is a comfortable and politically necessary, but nonetheless illusory, myth.

Not only is the diverse and multifaceted population in a continuous rise and fall, but the ideologies that these varied people hold are in constant flux. Due to uncountable reasons, the inhabitants that occupy the geographical space called a country, are inconstant, in all their disordered habits and in all their contradictory beliefs, and are thus, anything but cohesive…in anything. Is there a status, or position, at all? And if there was, what would it be?

I found comeradeship when I discovered political scientist Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. Communities are imagined, since none of the members of even the smallest nation will ever know, or even meet their fellow-members. The members have only a mental idea of their membership in this group. The curious, and perhaps most disturbing part of this fantasy, is that these imaginings make it possible for millions of people to die on behalf of this community.

Breaking down the fallacy of the entity called a nation, is a bit like breaking down the entity habitually called a person. It is convenient to think in terms of a unified self, but upon investigation, there are but scores of systems and processes. Nervous systems, circulatory systems, digestive systems, all in flux, creating our bodies, minds, flickering consciousness, ever-changing moods, and endless desires—all in flux, which is to say, in a process of dying, but we are uncomfortable with that word, and with the very idea.

So, just as the fiction of the nation provides us with a sense of fraternity and belonging, the familiar concept of selfhood and personality supplies us with the needed sense of security and identity.

Can we give up fiction at the cost security? Even a false sense of it?

Please, Call Them “Yoga-Inspired Exercises”



This morning, on my usual walking route with my dog, I noticed a new sign on the neighborhood gym that said “Yoga.” The word “Yoga” is everywhere, especially here in L.A., where, according to recent statistics, there are more people doing it than in its native India. The problem is, the activity that is actually being practiced is not exactly Yoga. More often than not, it is a simulation of the ancient spiritual technology, at best, thereby rendering the statistics irrelevant.

As Stated Elsewhere

Like many arts and sciences that are profound, beautiful, and powerful, yoga has suffered from the spiritual poverty of the modern world–it has been trivialized, watered down, or reduced to cliches. The deep and eternal essence of yoga has been misrepresented and packaged for personal profit by clever people. At the hands of some, yoga has been reduced to the status of just another exercise program available on videotape. In other contexts, yoga has been presented as a cult religion, aimed at attracting “devotees.” Such a haze of confusion has been created around the clear and pure concept of yoga that it is now necessary to redefine yoga and clarify its meaning and purpose.
~ Bhole Prabhu

While there are many holistic classes to be found, too often, all you’ll find in “Yoga classes,” are the postures, which are merely a preparatory part of the discipline as a whole. But this is the part that is most eagerly consumed here, due to our emphasis, or rather, obsession, on the body.

My Proposition

For the sake of maintaining the integrity of this ancient, and unbelievably rich tradition, here’s what I’d like to see hanging on the doors of these kinds of classes: a sign that says, “Yoga-inspired Exercises” in place of the sign that says, “Yoga.” After all, as Swami Bharati says, “we would not call a brick a ‘house’ even though it is part of the construction. Yet, this is what is often done with Yoga.” The postures are but a small part of the complete eight-part system known as Raj Yoga. So, the change would be done for the sake of clarity, dignity and truthfulness.

So, What Is Yoga?

It is not within the scope of this article to explain those eight rungs of Raj Yoga, nor the other ancient Yogic paths, such as Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga, since this information can so easily be found elsewhere (including via my own Youtube lectures). But, here is an overview of the inherent point and purpose of all the Yogas.

Yoga is about union. You could say that the goal of Yoga is…Yoga, since  that’s what the word means. It is the union of the self and the True Self, of the ego identity and the Supreme consciousness. It is a process of awakening to the divine reality that we were never separate from in the first place. It is the evaporation of maya, or, the delusion of separateness. It is the direct experience of the preexisting union between Atman and Brahman, or if you will, Shiva and Shakti. It is, as Paramahansa Yogananda describes it, Self-Realization. It is the awakened consciousness. It is God-consciousness. It is, as Sivananda has described it, Supreme Harmony. It is Samadhi—the final limb and crown of Patanjali’s eight rungs of classical Raj Yoga.

The many therapeutic effects of Yoga have been touted so frequently, that many people now realize that the purpose of Yoga is not to workout. But to think of Yoga as a form of relaxation is to still miss the point. It is to replace one misunderstanding with another!

Yoga Is Spiritual

On their website, YogaDayUSA.org listed the “Top 10 Reasons to Try Yoga” as, stress relief, pain relief, better breathing, flexibility, increased strength, weight management, improved circulation, cardiovascular conditioning, better body alignment, and focus on the present for health reasons. The authentic reasons for Yoga seem to be not even worthy of mention in their Top 10 Reasons for Yoga.

Yoga Alliance, the sponsor of Yoga Day, described itself as “the leader in setting educational standards for yoga schools and teachers.” However, while they claim this authority, they did not see fit to acknowledge or include in their Yoga Day promotions the fact that the roots of Yoga come from the ancient tradition of Sanatana Dharma, out of which has grown Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and other traditions.
Swamij 

The therapeutic effects of Yoga are many, but they are not the central intention of any of Yoga’s many paths, which are like the many rivers that all find their way to the sea. The different paths, or Yogas, intersect one another and often run in parallel. They accommodate the various inclinations and karmic propensities of the individual student who would find himself on a spiritual journey. Yet they all have the same goal of Self-Realization.

* In this article, as elsewhere, I have followed the tradition, as pioneered by the renown authority on Yoga, Georg Feuerstein, of capitalizing the word Yoga, just as we would capitalize Zen, or, Christianity.