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In The West
Here in the West we are inundated with pop culture. This multimedia barrage shapes our views on a variety of topics, including Yoga and yoga teacher training. Through Brands advertising campaigns (think Lululemon) to stereotypes in movies and TV shows, Yoga has been characterized as a physical exercise or a path for hippies to “find themselves”.
All We See
Regardless where live, Toronto, New york, Vancouver, all we see are the physical poses, and perhaps some vague form of mediation. To the West, Yoga is the physical practice. In actuality however, these poses are known as Asanas, and comprise but a small part of Yoga.
There are many forms of Yoga, most of which are unknown to the West. The most common paths are: Jnana (Wisdom) Yoga, Bhakti (Devotional) Yoga, Karma (Selfless Service) Yoga, Raja (Royal) Yoga, and Kriya Yoga. You may also hear terms like Hatha Yoga, or Ashtanga.
Each of these paths is Yoga in one form, yet not all of them contain these physical postures. For example, Karma Yoga is the yoga is selfless service for the benefit of all living beings. To be charitable, kind, compassionate, and giving without any expectation of reciprocity is Karma Yoga. Further, Bhakti is full hearted devotion to God (in your chosen form).
All yogic paths aim towards Union of the Soul with the Divine. We know this because the word Yoga means “To bring together, or Unify”. How then, you may ask does a physical exercise achieve this? Well Asana is not meant to be a path in and of itself, rather it is meant to be practiced along side other methods.
Asanas prepare the body for meditation. They assist in channelling and unblocking prana as well as purifying the mind through Tapas.
Using Raja/Ashtanga Yoga as an example: Eight Limbs or sections make up the Path of Ashtanga; only one of which is Asana. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a book that outlines the Path of Ashtanga Yoga, it is stated that all limbs must be practices together in order for the goal of Yoga to be attained.
One can practice Asana and benefit greatly without ever caring to learn about the other Yogas. However, when we look a little deeper it is clear that Yoga is much more than just a bunch of poses.