Author: Satyaraj Das
"It's at the top of its game," says Dan Gurlitz, general manager of Koch Vision, whose distribution of Yoga Zone DVDs and videos is a "serious seven-figure business." According to Kimberly Leonard, writing in US News & Word Report, "During the last decade the number of Americans who report practicing yoga has nearly doubled to 21 million." Other Western countries follow close behind.
If you ask the average yoga practitioner in the West what yoga is all about, you'll probably hear answers like, "It makes me feel good," "It's stimulating," "It's relaxing," "It's quite a workout," or "It keeps me in shape."
Nearly every response refers to the physical aspect of yoga practice. One would think yoga merely another exercise regimen, or at best a way to keep body, mind, and soul in some sort of integrated harmony.
The fact is, this body-centered focus is something new. Traditionally, yoga is a spiritual discipline. Even the ancient authority Patanjali deemphasized the asana (postures) and pranayama (breath control) parts of the practice, so popular for today's yogis. Patanjali's Yoga-sutras define yoga more in a spiritual sense than as the physical exercises popular today as hatha-yoga. He highlights meditation as opposed to postural exercises. Asana and pranayama are not goals in their own right but essential techniques to still the mind for achieving spiritual illumination. The second sutra (concise statement) of Patanjali's work defines yoga as yogash citta vritti nirodhah: "Yoga is the control of the thought patterns of the mind." In other words, yoga is the doorway by which we can go beyond mundane mental processes; it is a method to control the mind's discomforting fluctuations. In fact, the entire practice is meant to gain mastery of the body and mind. For what purpose? The great yogis of old wanted mastery of body and mind to pursue the spirit. That was the real motivation of yoga.
Modern-day yogi Swami Satchidananda confirms this point in his commentary on Patanjali's Yoga-sutras:
When the word yoga is mentioned, most people immediately think of some physical practices for stretching and stress reduction. This is one aspect of the yogic science, but actually only a very small part and relatively recent in development. The physical yoga, or Hatha yoga, was primarily designed to facilitate the real practice of yoga – namely, the understanding and complete mastery over the mind . . . This is how one reaches the spirit.