Tag Archives: patanjali

Modern Yoga


Much of the yoga we have become familiar with in the West evolved during the mid to late 19th century. This was a period when the West was opening up to ideas and philosophies from India and the Far East.

This process was a part of the cultural exchange which went hand-in-hand with the imperial aspirations of the European nation states. The Europeans sold christianity (or a least a version of it) to their hosts and the western countries were sold yoga (or a least a version of it) .

In both cases, the vendors realised that their sales pitch had to be adapted to the local beliefs and customs, or else it had no chance of being accepted.

One of the early adherents of yoga to the west was a gentleman called Vivekananda, who’s book on Raja Yoga has become a classic work on the subject in the westernised yoga tradition.

Vivekananda’s teaching became a blend of selective hindu esoteric yoga teachings and western mystical thought. These western influences included the works of the theosophical society, Swedenborg’s ideas and mesmeric traditions.

As a consequence the western view of yoga is sometimes incomplete.

For instance, Raja Yoga focuses on trancendental ‘realisation’ to a degree which orthodox hindu yoga would find inappropriate and excessive for an ordinary house-holder or lay person.

An observation from Ramakrishna, a contemporary of Vivekananda, advises that to say “Bramaha alone is real, the world is illusory”, is fine while in a state of trancendental union. But it is inaccurate and misleading when in one’s normal body-consciousness.

Another example is Raja Yoga’s focus on energy (prana) and matter (akasa). These were popular western concepts for discussion at the time, but are of much less significance in the broader body of hindu yogic traditions.

Within the Raja Yoga movement, there was also a subtle and important shift in the view of the state of Samadhi (a trancendental mystical experience). In Raja Yoga it became interpreted as a fulfilment of human potential. Whereas Patanjali (one of the earliest yogic teachers) views Samadhi as a process of purification towards a trancendental liberation.

More generally, it is important for western students of yoga to understand that the works of Patanjali are very different for the limited form of Raja Yoga often presented in the West. In some ways, it helps to think of Patajali’s yoga as a summarised, or short-hand version, of the extensive hindu religious tradition.

Two great books on this subject are:
1. A History of Modern Yoga, by Elizabeth De Michelis, Pub: Continuum, 2004.
ISBN: 0-8-264-6512-9

2. A Study of Patanjali, by Surendranath Dasgupta, Pub: Motilal Banarsidass, 2nd Ed., 1989
ISBN: 81-208-0452-X

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Patanjali’s Yoga


Ripling down through the centuries to us is an age-old yoga philisophy of mind, body and spirit which helps us to reveal the true beauty of ourselves.

Within the diverse yogic sytems and traditions there echoes a simple and direct core message of who we are within the wonder of this universe.

At the heart of yoga is the experience of meditation. Around this, and to support our meditation activity, are other aspects of yoga practise such as the physical exercises (asanas), recommended life-style etc.

And woven through yoga is a timely reminder that we are not separate from our source and we never have been.

One of the key gifts of yoga is the way it has structured an approach to living which allows us to discover and express more of ourselves within a non-dogmatic experiential framework.

One of the main sources of this yoga structure or system, is an Indian sage known as Patanjali.

Mr P. provided a coherent body of teachings which aimed to relieve our restlessness, pain and agnst in our daily lives, and to replace them with peace, joy and an understanding of our true nature.

A summary of the basic goal of yoga is a realisation of Kaivalya or eternal oneness, i.e. a dissolution or seeing through the illusion of separateness from our source, and a freedom from identification with the modifications of the mind.

For us to accomplish this state, Mr P. elucidated 8 sections or parts to the practice of yoga, and these are:

1. Yam (Injunctions)
These are guidelines for healthy living, such as don’t steal, not hurting others, being truthful etc.

2. Niyam (Observances)
This encourages us to have healthy relationships based on cleanliness, devotion to source and inner contentment.

3. Aasan (Physical Postures)
These are the designed to cultivate our physical bodies in the persuit of kaivalya. This is the form of yoga which may of us are most familiar with. These aasans were designed to strengthen and purify the body for meditation.

4. Praaanayaam (Breath Regulation)
This deals with the cultivation of one’s life energy (or praan) through breathing.

5. Pratyaahaar (Inward Attention)
You learn to focus your attention on your mind, instead of unconsciously following the dictates of your senses.

6. Dhaarnaa
Focusing your mind.

7. Dhyan
Stable meditation practice.

8. Samaadhi
The state of oneness.

These last three are effectively one seamless activity called meditation, which we practice over and over again until its second nature. This meditation practice aims to reduce our unconscious distractions and lead to a simple focus on our state of oneness.

As you can see, there is an elegant simplicity to Patanjali’s formulation and one which is practical for us, some thousands of years after its formulation, to appreciate and follow.

More on these in subsequent blogs.

A book which you will find useful on these:

Sacred Texts: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

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