By Dr. Bharti Raizada
Attending Anesthesiologist, IL USA
The word Yog means union. Union of Jevatma with Parmatma. This concept is based on the belief that we are part of the Parmatma (Supreme power). We have the potential to become one with the Supreme power.
Patanjali says that Yog is Chit Vriti Nirodha, which means the elimination of mind modifications is Yog. Yoga is not a set of postures. Asanas are only a part of Patanjali's Yog.
Ashtanga Yoga has eight concepts: Yam, Niyam, Asans, Pranayam, Pratyahar, Dharna, Dhyan, and Samadhi.
Yoga is a lifestyle. It is an individual practice. It is in every action and thinking of the practitioner. It requires learning from the Scriptures and a practicing yoga guru. Even during Vedic times, not everyone was practicing yoga.
People who do not believe in Sanatan Dharm philosophy may not be able to practice yog as described by Patanjali, as the end goal of Patanjali's Yog is Samadhi which is a merger with the Parmatma. There is no duality.
How do non-sanatani people accept this concept? Their religious belief is in contradiction with this fundamental and foundational philosophy.
Are the concepts of the five layers of existence—Panch pranas, Nadis, and Pratyahar—scientific and secular? Many diseases arise in the mind; are these scientific and secular? Is this statement that everyone can do yoga correct?
Another Sanatan Dharma principle is the Karma theory. Everyone has to get the fruit of their Karma. Until their karmic balance is zero, no one can attain Moksha, merge with the Supreme Power, or with one unbounded consciousness.
Sanatan Dharma says that all beings are on their own journey. Everyone is at a different mark in his journey. So, not everyone is ready to practice Yoga or Dharana, Dhayana, etc. in this era. How right will it be to say that dharana and dhyan are for everyone, and all have the right to practice these? Traditionally, yoga was known only to Rishis. It was not for everyone. Rishis used to teach this to their students under closed supervision and guidance for many years.
What are Yoga researchers trying to prove? The basis of Yoga is a belief system. The final stage of Yoga is the merger with Parmatma. After the merger, nothing is left behind to explain, say, or describe anything. So how come any research is going to prove that Yoga is a real thing and that merger does happen?
Yoga is gaining popularity internationally. Some people are now coming up with the concept of side effects of yoga, mainly adverse effects of meditation.
The way many practice yoga these days is not traditional Ashtanga yoga. So many different versions have come up e.g. Christian yoga, dog yoga, beer yoga, hot yoga, etc. It has become a fashion and is fully commercialized, with a main focus on postures. So many exercises and dynamic practices have become a routine part of yoga.
People are practicing yoga without properly understanding the concept and without seeking a real yoga guru. Even reputed Yoga universities are not teaching traditional Ashtanga Yoga. Many Yoga therapy centers and Yoga therapists have come up recently. It is so paradoxical to see yoga teachers suffering from the ailments for which they are providing therapy and claiming cures as well as making sweeping generalizations about its benefits.
I do not think that any scripture describes mantra chanting, Om chanting, fast-paced exercises, loosening practices, sukshma vyayam, use of props, sectional breathing, relaxations, etc. as part of yoga. IRT (Instant relaxation technique), QRT (Quick relaxation technique), and DRT (Deep relaxation technique) are not described in the scriptures. The astang limb of yoga describes the eight components of Yoga but does not say that pranayam or breathing practices have to be combined with asanas. It does not say that inhale has to be in this particular body position and exhale in some other body position. It is unimaginable to prescribe Pratyahara practice to Grishasthis, or common people. If they practice withdrawing from the five senses, they can be in deep trouble. Imagine someone not listening to horns or ambulance/police sirens on highways, someone not smelling gas leaks at home, or hearing breakdowns in their home, etc.
Current yoga practices are not traditional yoga. These are a mixture of various techniques: psychological, physical therapy, exercise, behavioral, sukshma vyayam, loosening practices, dynamic practices, yi jin jing, OM meditation, cyclic meditation, guided imagery, etc.
Current yoga practices in the Western world (also to a large extent in the Eastern world) are a mix or conglomeration of various cultures, traditions, practices, beliefs, etc.
Musical therapy goes on with musical inhale and exhale sounds.
Every time Yoga instructors say, do it according to your capability. That capability is already there, so what new are they offering?
Famous saying: do not practice without consulting your physician.
Physicians do not get yoga training; many physicians know nothing about yoga. How are they going to clear patients to do yoga practices when they have no idea about it? It was not included in their training. There is a difference between physical therapy and Yoga.
Mindfulness, meditation, and enlightenment are not the same as Dharana, Dhyan, and Samadhi.
Dharna, Dhayan, and Samadhi are not done based on the predefined time or by setting up an alarm.
Samadhi is a journey to an unknown realm. Even to begin walking on it needs purity of body and mind. No being can attain Samadhi. When a union between Jeevatma and Parmatma happens, no being is there.
Different stages/types of Samadhi have been described.
Meditation, these days means relaxation and increased productivity after the practice. Traditionally, it was required to follow certain practices to purify the mind and make the body fit to sit in meditation.
Some people talk about the dark effects of meditation, like knowing their past lives/deeds, suicidal thoughts, recollection of old memories, thoughts of harming themselves, depression, demotivation, a noncaring attitude towards family, detachment from reality, etc.
People have started talking about the side effects of meditation without considering that there are stages of Samadhi and there is a gradual advancement in Samadhi under very close supervision of a Guru, and also that Dharana and Dhyan are not an isolated thing to practice rather these are just limbs of the Ashtanga limb of yoga.
Is not the practice of Yam and Niyam necessary before practicing Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi? The negative thoughts will not come to mind if the person is grounded in discipline, values, duties, responsibilities, detachment from karma, etc. Renunciation comes before Samadhi. Meditation is a very simplified version of Dharana in the Western world. The Western world realized the importance of Yog, but they do not agree with dharmic principles of it and therefore cherry-picked some parts and distorted those for easy and convenient practice while expecting the same benefits.
Meditation is being practiced by many these days with the belief that it has only positive effects and can cure many ailments.
In contrast, good health and mental well-being were a prerequisite before Dharana, Dhyan, and Samadhi and were achieved with Yam, Niyam, Asana, Kriyas, Sattvik diet, Pranayam, and Pratyahar practices. Dharna and Dhyan's practices give positive insights.
Meditation can give negative insights and the belief that nothing matters and that the practitioner is free to do anything as the acts do not matter in an impermanent world.
How Yoga is going to work if practicing people are still engaged in seeking lies, hoarding things, trying to deceive others, not working on contentment, doing so many things for sense pleasures, and not agreeing to the basic fundamental beliefs of Sanatan Dharma? What is the end goal for them if they do not believe in atma and jeevatma, believe that this nature is an illusion, the body is nothing but just a caring vessel for atma, atma is always peaceful and happy, all suffering is illusionary, etc.?
People with no training, online training, or with a few days of training are teaching meditation these days.
What in modern times is free of side effects? Are allopathy, adventures, walking, and driving, free of side effects? Which human is free of suffering?
Skipping some of the limbs of astang yoga and practicing only one or two limbs, and also in an improper way, should not be called yoga.
Yoga is a lifestyle for self, not to show off, earn money, set records, compete, etc.
Yoga and Samadhi are not work, activity, or event. It is the point of misidentifying with body and mind. It can take more than one life.
So, to answer the question- Can anyone practice Yoga? The answer is yes as long as the practitioner understands and accepts the basic Dharmic philosophy of it.
It should not be taught by anyone to any random person for materialistic goals.
The Western world is adopting Eastern culture without fully understanding and following the steps and vice versa is also happening.