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Yoga, Ego and pleasure PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Massimo   
Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Is modern yoga the same as ancient Yoga? What place have ego and pleasure in modern Yoga?

As we all know, yoga is a very ancient system, and it is indeed fascinating how this ancient system survived invasions, climatic changes, political changes, religious changes, linguistic changes, developing from the pre-historic India until our modern times.  
But is the yoga that we practice today the same yoga that ancient people used to practice?

In the yoga exercises that we practice today there are for sure many correspondences with the ancient practices, but as far as I can see after exploring the world of yoga during the last 20 years, there are also many differences.
Some of these differences are just a natural and healthy evolution of some techniques, and this is something that simply goes together with the natural evolution of our human society. For example, in the ancient yoga text “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” is said that a yogi “should practise Hatha Yoga in a small room, situated in a solitary place, being 4 cubits square, and free from stones, fire, water, disturbances of all kinds, and in a country where justice is properly administered, where good people live, and food can be obtained easily and plentifully. The room should have a small door, be free from holes, hollows, neither too high nor too low, well plastered with cow-dung and free from dirt, filth and insects. On its outside there should be bowers, raised platform, a well, and a compound.”

Obviously, a modern yogi doesn’t need to do his practices in a room plastered with cow-dung, or in a place having characteristics similar to those described in those verses of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika…
Times change, social habits change and systems and techniques can change too.
But what should remain untouched, no matter how many years are passing, is the meaning and the purpose of the yoga practices.

Is the meaning that we give today to the word yoga the same one that the ancient yogis used to give to it?
In my opinion the answer is no.
Not always, at least.

In the ancient times the goal of yoga was to experience the state of Union between the Atman (the microcosmic mind, the self, the individual consciousness) and the Paramatman (the macrocosmic mind, the Universal Self, the Supreme Consciousness).

The goal of modern yoga, in many cases is just to develop a fit body.

Of course, to experience an authentic Yoga, an authentic union with the Universe, one needs a healthy body, a body flexible, which can seat easily in meditation (and during deep meditations one can merge his self in the Universal Self). So a proper training of the body is very important.
However, if the final goal is ONLY to have a fit body, that would not be yoga anymore, that is in fact just fitness. Maybe a subtle form of fitness, somehow, but still not yoga, not Samadhi.

In traditional yoga the body is an instrument to use to reach a goal. The body is in fact perceived as relative, transitory. So, to become obsessed with the body is something that doesn’t belong to the yoga tradition.

An obsession for the body reveals an identification of the self with something delusional, something that will change and eventually disappear, something that can not contain neither the microcosmic self nor the Universal Self. It can only be USED by the self, as an instrument, to discover the Universal Self.

So when we identify our self with the body we create an illusion. An illusional personality is what we generally call Ego.

It is not uncommon in modern yoga to see the so called yoga experts indulging in self-portraits where they show their bodies stretched and contorted in many glamorous poses. The body becomes the center of their attention. The body becomes the goal.
When we identify ourself with something so changeable and transitory like the body, the obvious consequence is to develop a deep sense of frustration when the body starts to become old, or sick. Which is of course inevitable for everyone.

So, the Ego starts to suffer. Our illusional personality cries for the pain of changing and getting old.

Attachment to something transitory, to something relative, depending on time, space and relationships, is the opposite of yoga. Authentic yoga is Union with the unchangeable, Universal, Eternal Self.

What gives more pleasure? An attachment to something relative, changeable, subjected to diseases and death or an attachment to something eternal, unchangeable, stable and peaceful?

The ancient yogis would definitely say that real joy comes from the eternal, peaceful dimension of the Universal Self.

Is this the same approach of the modern yogis though?

I kind of guess what many of you might think after reading this reflection. Many would probably think “well, samadhi or not samadhi, I feel pretty good after a modern yoga class”.
That’s great of course. I feel very good too after half an hour of swimming, for example. Nevertheless, that experience of “feeling good” is not exactly Yoga. It is another thing. It can be relaxing, temporaneously satisfying, but not Yoga.
Anyone that has some experience with a deep state of meditation can recognise the difference.

I think the time came to create a proper definition for this type of experience that is beneficial and often relaxing but not really yoga. Maybe we can call it pre-yoga or preparation for yoga. Or simply asanas-training, perhaps. I personally think it is important to clarify this point because the world now is full of yoga-experts that actually have no experience with the original meaning of the world yoga. They definitely have a very important role in our modern society, because in many cases they make a lot of people feeling good with their physical exercises, but they are not experts in yoga. The problem is, due to the fact that they are certified with the therm “yoga teachers” (through a commercial, private, organisation called Yoga Alliance), people believe that they are sort of mystical, enlighten people, full of wisdom.
This is obviously not true because the so called “yogic wisdom” comes after years (many years) of meditation and mindful living. And it is something rare. Even among the many, dedicated, traditional yogic monks that I met in my life I have to admit that I recognised few wise men.
So, to be a yogi doesn’t come with a certification from an American organisation.
Actually, a certification can just create another ego-trap, we might in fact identify our self with a definition written in the certification.

A definition that maybe has nothing to do with what we really are.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 01 September 2016 )
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