The Two Yogas

There are two parts because I felt the need to tell this in two ways. The first is a little silly, and the second I thought was a bit more rigid. The first wiggles, and the second prickles. 
Having two parts to this is a fitting analogy for perspective. There are at least two ways to see the world. For me, Yoga provides multiple perspectives by clearing away the things that would block multiple perspectives. In this way Yoga can be a purely mental practice. 
Yoga also cures my sciatica, and can be a purely physical practice. I dig both ways.

Part I

There are two Yogas in our world! Two totally, completely, wholly different Yogas. They are not mutually exclusive or incompatible, but nor are they identical, or even similar.

The first is the Old Yoga. It's the Yoga of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. This Yoga realizes unity with the Cosmos. Can you dig it? All for is one, one for is all.

Patanjali's Yoga rids the mind of its numerous thought patterns (preconceived notions), allowing the practitioner (me!) to see the world as it is, and not as the mind would have it. Old Yoga is meditation. It's clear perception, cutting away the thicket to see the meadow.

Clear perception is not for everyone.

It seems Americans don't really dig this Eastern mumbo jumbo. They want what's physically practical. Forget that metaphysical stuff.

So there is another Yoga. This Yoga is like a beautiful woman who came to the West and was stripped down. We have taken her red dress off, looking under the hood if you will, to see her bare flesh.

Stripping this beautiful woman down to her skin, we get rid of personality, the entangling fabric, and we commune with her physically.

It's not a stretch to think of Yoga this way, and then again, it is.

Stretching. There's nothing very spiritual or metaphysical or philosophical about that, right? This Yoga, call it New Yoga (though there's nothing new about it, except the way we practice it here in the West, without its philosophical trimmings) is more or less naked. 

Yoga as stretching, and only stretching. Some breathing, too, but mostly just stretching. It doesn't require meditation or an Eastern bent, so it's safe for Western consumption.

Now, Patanjali's Yoga is great. It can unlock the Universe's secrets and let us live with a chill perspective on life. But that doesn't cure a backache, increase flexibility, prevent injury, tone muscle, burn calories, or bond us in a large sweaty group.

They're different, for sure, but one Yoga is not more important or less viable and valid than the other.

With its dressings off, Yoga is still really amazing. It's so amazing, even dogs and cats, cows and cranes, snakes and trees practice it.

But what happens when the two types of Yoga are put together? What happens if, in the middle of a pose, I suddenly wonder what it would be like if I and everything else were the same, as if everything I do effects everyone else, and every other one and every other thing effects me?


Part II

Americans have made the very ancient art of Yoga into something that suits our culture, our needs. Our Yoga is no longer the Yoga of India, but something else entirely.

This isn't the only change we've made to the old world. We've turned martial arts into Tae Bo and have given up monasteries altogether. Not that people don't still practice martial arts or live in monasteries in the West, or practice Indian Yoga for that matter, but these aren't what you'll likely find when you look for them.

No, we have ten-year-old black belts and Yoga classes are filled with middle-aged housewives, and few gurus. We also decorate our tabletops with plastic fruit.

We have, generally speaking, a different purpose for living than did the ancients. For better or worse, our culture isn't suited for doing anything slowly, with care, for the purpose of the act. We are always asking what we'll receive in return. We run not so much for pleasure as to outrun future heart attacks.

So we practice Yoga, not for its spiritual benefits (which can only be had in the moment of the act) or for sheer enjoyment, but for what other needs it can help fulfill. We have little need for the spiritual aspects of Yoga, so we've quietly gotten rid of them. Yoga and Yoga products are marketed and sold like fast food and soft drinks. Not that this is a bad thing. It's just different.

But it's not what I'm after.

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12 Responses to The Two Yogas

  1. I loved both parts, JR! You explain the differences and the whys so clearly. Informative and entertaining! :)

  2. A good job of the way we westerner water down about everything we touch. I enjoyed your informative and humorous narrative, explaining to a tee the commercialism that is in every aspect of our lives.

    1. Thanks, Jan :)

      I don't think of it as watered down, but more stripped down. Yoga hasn't been diluted, it's been dismembered. It's taken on a minimalist feel. Could be a good thing, still...

  3. I love the way you describe things. For sure, our Western world has a way of altering the potency of what yoga offers the one who seeks to practice it. Practicing it as merely an exercise, like so many do at gyms, still has benefits, but to add the spiritual component gives one the opportunity for deep spiritual growth and even transformation.

    Great article!

    1. Yeah! Yoga is, I think, the best exercise anyone can do, but just doing it as exercise doesn't bring its "full" effect ;)

  4. JR, great post on the two Yogas. I've taken the American version of Yoga before, and my favorite part was the breathing. There was something about slowing things down and getting everything in sync.
    I wrote a blog on my first Yoga class... it's really a parody;)
    Well done JR!

    1. I find it interesting how the East teaches us something we in the West often forget breathe! Yet so much of what we do is and should be centered around the breath, whether it be running or meditation. Breathing is just about the best part of Yoga, whether you're doing the postures or just laying like a dead body on the floor :D

  5. So true. The 1st books I bought on Yoga were from when I was a kid and they very much focused on the old world yoga. The new books I've bought are very, very different and it took a while for me to figure out why I could not find much on the shelves that was like what I had. Your article would have helped a lot a couple of years ago when I got interested in trying yoga again.

  6. JR,

    Thank you very much for your explaination and for sharing your love of the real yoga. I have not really done yoga, but i do tae kwondo, and I love it! I love doing the patterns and many of the modern places here in the US concentrate on sparring more than patterns. When in reality the patterns that are done are more beneficial. They build the moves done in sparring, when done right I really liked your analysis of how the West takes things and manipulates them. You have great insight and an interesting way of comparing.

    1. The patterns are the best. I wouldn't want to actually fight anyone ^_^

      Thank you!

  7. I religiously practice Yoga since the age of eight .It was mandatory at school too.It helps me keeping healthy and focused.Now many TV channels in India are promoting /airing a lot of power yoga .It is gaining popularity but I am an old school follower as far as yoga is concerned .
    Hi Nova , I enjoyed my visit here .


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