*Written by Maija Klamer -resident yoga teacher and retreat leader at Eden*
More than 300 million people in the world practice yoga today, according to the International Yoga Federation. Most of them attend yoga classes in a gym, studio or online at home. A smaller percentage of these people practice yoga on their own, without a teacher. Practicing physical postures (asanas) on a yoga mat is what most people consider to be yoga. The main reason for their practice is to improve their physical and mental health or simply to feel and look better. But what is yoga really about, and how did it develop into the massive wellness trend that it is today?
A brief history of Yoga
As most of you might know, yoga comes from India. The word ‘Yoga’ was first mentioned in the Vedas, in the ‘Rig Veda’ to be exact. The meaning of the word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit ‘Yuj’, meaning ‘yoke’ or ‘to unite’. The ancient Vedic scriptures trace back 5000 years ago and contain sacred songs, mantras and rituals that were performed by the Brahman priests. These rituals were refined and developed further over centuries, eventually documented in the Upanishads, another collection of sacred scriptures. The Bhagavad-Gita is the most famous of these works, composed around 500 B.C.E. The main theme here is the sacrifice of the ego through self-knowledge, action (karma yoga) and wisdom (jnana yoga). In all of these ancient works, yoga does not have much to do with any kind of physical practice.
The practice of yoga-asana is first introduced in the Yoga-Sutras written by the sage Patanjali, in what is known as the classical yoga period (between 500 B.C.E and 400 C.E). Patanjali is known as the father of modern yoga, and he is the first one who speaks of asana practice. And even in Patanjali’s system, known as ‘Ashtanga’, meaning ‘eight limbs’, the physical postures are just one aspect of this holistic practice.
The total eight limbs consist of Yama (attitude towards our environment), Niyama (attitude towards ourselves), Asana (yes, here it is finally mentioned, the physical postures!), Pranayama (restraint and expansion of breath), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (complete integration, or as some call it, enlightenment).
A few centuries after Patanjali, the yogis of that time developed a system of practices that focused on rejuvenating the body and prolonging life. As opposed to their Vedic ancestors, this new generation of yogis embraced the physical body to achieve enlightenment. This is when Tantra Yoga is born. Radical techniques that purify the body and mind are designed to liberate and expand from a merely physical existence to a higher state of awareness.
The Tantric approach of connecting the physical and the spiritual realm is what eventually leads to the body-centered style of yoga that is now known as Hatha Yoga. And from there hundreds of other yoga styles have sprouted.
Fast forward to modern yoga, a multi billion dollar industry
I wonder if the ancient yogis would recognize any of their sacred practices if they would stumble upon a yoga class in an urban yoga studio today.
The modern yoga industry has grown into a commercialized multi-billion dollar industry, selling happiness, sparkly bliss and perfect bikini bodies. This picture perfect happiness comes with a whole bunch of products and brands that should be purchased in order to do our yoga poses in the most fashionable way. Shiny celebrity teachers, models and influencers with thousands of followers on social media lead the way in the world of wellness and spirituality on demand. Sharing beautiful quotes to promote a ‘good vibes only’ culture, they make us believe there is no place for anything ugly, and negative thoughts and emotions should not be allowed. But we should definitely buy that chakra necklace infused with special reiki healing power.
Dealing with the shadowside: fuck those good vibes!
Although some of these beautiful influencers may inspire us to take steps and improve our health and mindset, the problem with this movement is that it does not represent reality. It is like the fashion industry, or Hollywood. Beautiful illusions and make-believe. The blissful state of Samadhi that we hope to achieve with Yoga can not be bought. It actually requires a lot of work, discipline, and persistence. It requires practice- and with practice I am not referring to the physical poses during a yoga class once or twice a week- although it can be a good start.
For real transformation, we need to go deeper. And deeper and deeper. We need to train our mind in meditation. This means we need to learn to sit with our frustration, our insecurity, anger, sadness.. whatever it is that we actually want to run away from. It means we need to open up all our senses to really feel what is present inside us. And then accept it instead of resisting it. And while we do this work, a shitload of shadows and demons come up to the service. And this, dear people, is not a ‘good vibes only’ show! And the truth is, it shouldn’t be.
The thing is, only when you learn to dance with your shadows, the love and the light can start to shine for real. Because when you learn to love yourself no matter what- despite the hurt and needy inner child that you also are, the jealous and insecure lover that you also are, the selfish, arrogant bitch that you also are… When you can look at all these shadow sides in the mirror and say “I love you” and really mean it… Then the doors to bliss will start to open.
Rooted in the mud, reaching for the sun
I am personally still on that journey, and I know I will continue to be for a lifetime. Thanks to many years of practicing yoga and tantra, I have been able to reveal layer after layer of beautiful and ugly realness. And as I learn to accept and heal myself more and more, I feel inspired to help others in their growing process as well. The most beautiful thing we can become, is our most authentic Self. Only then can we shine our true light into this world. And by doing that, we give others permission to do the same. This is how the light expands. The light that shines on anything, just like the sun. Not ‘gaslighting’, shaming or denying any aspects of reality.
The School for Yoga & Life-Art, modern yoga with ancient roots
With that in mind, a new project is being birthed as we speak. Here at Eden on the Chocolata we will offer a new Yoga Teacher Training program starting this November. For anyone who wants to dive deeper into Yoga and grounded, spiritual life-art. For anyone who wishes to deepen their own practice and become an inspiring teacher themselves.
More information about our school can be found here: https://www.maijayoga.com/school-for-yoga-and-life-art/
If you are curious to learn more, reach out to us. Let’s connect!