1. Just doing yoga asanas is not yoga
The branch of a tree is not the entire tree. Yoga asana (or yoga postures) is just one of the eight branches of the full system of yoga. Just as a tree does not grow one branch and then another, the tree of yoga also grows by practicing all its eight branches simultaneously. No one branch supersedes another and progress in the growth of one branch supports the growth of others. Practicing yoga postures is a fabulous way to get started with the journey of yoga. This will give you great immediate results in terms of improved emotional and physical well-being. But just relying on yoga-asana alone will not get you to the yogic destination of your journey.
2. Remaining in the ego is not yoga
The biggest obstacle on the path of yoga is the knot of consciousness that we call as ego-identity. A key goal of yoga is to dissolve this knot of ego-identity. This is done by progressively calming down the mind-body system and practicing meditation. When this begins to happen it gives the yogi quick gains in terms of improved memory, better emotional health, improved physical well-being, deeper spiritual intuition, and increased levels of calmness. But the ego can pick all this up and say, “I am such an awesome superior spiritual being!” Once this thought takes hold the yogic path ends in a fruitless dead-end with resulting frustration and disillusionment. To guard against this the yogi has to practice increasing level of detachment and humility.
“After the demands of the ego and its greed surrendered, the struggle for fulfillment of personal desires lessens; life takes on a new zest like a breath of fresh air.”- Swami Sivananda Radha
3. Attaining spiritual powers is not yoga
The goal of yoga is not to gain spiritual powers and then use them to show others of your spiritual superiority. This is in fact a danger that shows up along the way as you make progress in your journey into yoga. The reason why spiritual powers known as Siddhi is even discussed in the yoga sutras is that it shows you that you are on the right path. This makes yoga a repeatable and objective scientific process whose progress can be monitored using these milestones. The other reason it is discussed is that it acts as a warning that tells you, “Yes you will experience these powers along the way. Stay the course, don’t get too excited. This is just a sideshow.”
4. Yoga is not difficult or complex
The process of yoga, once you get started, is a natural process of unfolding. Just like water flows downhill naturally, consciousness too gravitates towards its source without any special effort. What yoga does is that it removes obstacles from the way. Some people are put off by what they see as restrictions that are laid down in Yamas and Niyamas (These are two of the eight branches of Yoga and these require you to make some basic life-style changes). Other are put off by the difficulty of doing meditation or breathing exercises. It is important to understand that in Patanjali’s yoga system you work simultaneously on all 8 branches, so baby steps are okay. Progress in one branch helps and supports progress in other branches and you will make steady progress if you keep at it. Just as a tree grows naturally outwards, the process of yoga unfolds naturally. The process of yoga is the steady removal of obstacles in the path of the natural evolution of our soul, so let us not create mental obstacles by thinking it is too difficult or complex.
“Yoga is about clearing away whatever is in us that prevents our living in the most full and whole way.”-Cybele Tomlinson
5. Yoga is not exclusive
A key element of the yoga system is that it does not claim exclusivity. It does not say that it is the only way to make spiritual progress or understand deeper aspects of consciousness. Because of its openness, yoga has been adopted by many religions as part of their toolset. On the same lines, it is not hard to imagine, that as the scientific exploration of consciousness continues, that science will slowly adopt some aspects of yoga to aide in its work. We see that certain aspects of meditation are already being studied scientifically and we should expect the convergence of science and yoga to accelerate in the future. As this happens we could see aspects of the yoga system as part of curriculum in schools and colleges. We should also see aspects of yoga system being adopted by medicine and medical practice.
6. Running away from responsibility is not yoga
As long as we have the ego we are part of duality. Yin and Yang are part of our lives. The flow of happiness and sorrow waxes and wanes in our lives. Sometimes we want to flee away from our difficulties and responsibilities and for some there is a false belief that yoga may provide such an escape route.
The practice of yoga makes our minds clearer and our bodies fitter so that we become more efficient at what we are doing. Yoga should not be associated with running away from our responsibilities. Instead adopting the yoga system in our lifestyle should make us better integrated into society and improve our work. Running away from responsibility does damage to the ego-identity and gives a set-back to the larger goal of yoga. This is therefore definitely not part of the yoga system.
“Meditation is not what you think it is. It’s a method of accessing unerring wisdom from the superconscious mind so you can experience a happy, healthy and creatively rewarding life.” -Leonard Perlmutter
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