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Just Because You Do Yoga That Does Not Make You a Yogi

As I have passed through my life, periodically I have witnessed when there were times when yoga rose to the center stage and many people became practitioners. Yes, there were some who truly understood the true nature of what yoga is but most never did.

I would think that yoga probably had its first rapid rise to modern notoriety, at least here in the West, in the 1960s. Though certainly referenced in western literature long before this period of time, I do not believe that it truly grabbed hold until the time of the rise of the counter culture. I know this is the era when I found my way to yoga.

As a young child, who was a latch key kid, long before that term was ever invented, I would watch a man named Richard Hittleman on PBS and practice the techniques of yoga and meditation guided by him. That early schooling never left me and throughout my childhood and early adolescence I would seek out more information about what yoga truly was.

By the 1970s, yoga was everywhere. There were numerous books on the subject. There were centers that taught the various aspects of yoga all across the globe. At sixteen, when I got a car and could drive, this is where I began my association with Swami Satchidananda’s Integral Yoga Institute. Prior to owning a car it was difficult for me to seek out and investigate the various spiritual centers around L.A. It was at the Integral Yoga Institute that I was truly ushered into the true practice and meaning of yoga.

The understanding of what yoga truly is becomes the break point for absolute comprehension of this spiritual science and provides one with the ability to delve deeper into one’s self and the truth of yoga.

Many people, when they hear the term, “Yoga,” immediately associate it with the physical aspects of yoga. But, those are actually known as, “Hatha Yoga,” which is a very small part of the overall science of yoga. When you tell people what the term, “Yoga,” actually means, “Union with god,” and how it is based in Hinduism and possesses a Hindu understanding of reality; some may argue this point, some refuse to believe it, others simply dismiss it. But, the fact of the fact is, what yoga truly embodies is understood by very few modern practitioners.

Yoga has come to be embraced by different generations in somewhat different ways since it was introduced to the West. I think back to this girl I came to know, who was a server at a restaurant I used to frequent. We got to speaking a lot and it turned out she was a recovering crack addict and her mother, who was also in the process of recovery, ended up becoming initially involved in yoga via the postures which later lead her to move to the ashram of Baba Hari Dass near Santa Cruz, California. Her daughter, my friend, dismissed all of the emersion of her mother into the true techniques of yoga but liked to practice the postures; though she never did one of the most elemental parts of all branches of yoga, embracing a healthy body. She never stopped smoking.

There was also a male server at this restaurant that I came to know, as well, during this same period of time. It was one of those things that she was into me but he was into her, so it was a little weird. Due to his being into her, he went with her to the hatha yoga classes but completely rebuked the meditation segment of the class as, “Bullshit.” But, he liked the stretching of the yoga postures.

Time went on. I would go back into the restaurant where I found my female friend to be tweaking again. You can see it in their eyes and witness it in their behavior. Eventually they were both gone. Did the yoga help them? Maybe? Did it save her from drug addiction? No. But, was she actually practicing yoga or simply going through the physical motions? Again, there is a large difference between the physical postures associated with yoga and true yoga.

I think back to a conversations I had with a couple of extended female family members, who were both very much into, “Yoga,” a couple of years ago. Again, during another period of time when yoga was highly embraced by the masses… I got to talking to them about the true meaning of yoga but all they could say was, “Let’s see you do what every hatha yoga posture they called up.” “That’s not yoga,” I exclaimed. “Yoga is a pathway towards union with god.” But, more than that, my body is so torn up from my decades upon decades of involvement with the martial arts that my hatha yoga postures could not be performed with any grand level of excellence any more.

Speaking of the martial arts, this is a
something that is similar in yoga. In the martial arts, there are some people who develop into great technicians. Some do not. Though all can learn and practice the various techniques, some simply excel in their beauty. This is the the same with the physical aspects of yoga.

Many years ago, when I was still in high school, one of the Swamis from the Integral Yoga Institute asked me to go and give a hatha yoga demonstration with him at a high school in West Los Angeles. I was happy to do it. He gave the talk, because he felt I did the postures better than he. At the time, I always thought that was strange. There I was a novice doing the postures in front of the class. There he was, a Swami wanting a novice to demonstrate the techniques. Shouldn’t he do them better than I?

This takes us to the point of the point of all of this. Yes, hatha yoga is a branch of yoga. But, it is only a physical brand of yoga. To the true yogi, it is one of the lowest levels of yoga as it is
only physical. True yoga is about a person’s emersion into the spiritual realms of consciousness. It is about leaving the physical body behind. Though hatha yoga may be a gateway of introducing a person to yoga, it is never the end-point. As it is physical, it is only physical. Doing the physical postures of yoga is not a pathway to god or enlightenment. At best, it is a meditative practice which allows the practitioner to come to master their body.

Here lies the conundrum in all of this. Many hatha yoga practitioners become ego-filled with the fact that they can do the postures with some level of excellence. But, ego is the pathway to nothing more than self-embellishment. It is not the pathway to god or enlightenment. So, the next time you encounter a person who proclaims their prowess in yoga—perhaps someone who hopes to teach you yoga, ask them what yoga truly is. If all they have for an answer is the physical postures or some breathing or meditation techniques to offer you, you can clearly understand that they do not know what, “Yoga,” actually mean.