Myth is misrepresentation of the truth or an idealized conception and a fallacy. Know the myths we carry when we begin or are doing yoga practice.
- Yoga is a physical exercise/practice/culture
- Hatha Yoga means physical exercise
- Meditation is different or separate from yoga
- Age, gender flexibility are important for practice of yoga
- I am ill and suffering, I cannot practice yoga
- I will begin following another religion if I practice yoga
- I have to perform rituals to practice Yoga
Myth-1 yoga is a physical exercise / practice/culture
Yoga originated more than 6000 years ago have more than 3000 teachers lived before 300BC and more than 1000 texts.
No definition of yoga as physical culture
Nowhere in any text or by any master, yoga is defined, referred or explained as physical culture, exercise or practices.
Lord Shiva mentions that there are 8.4 million references. But one can achieve the highest state of yoga by the practice of single most important asana or posture known as Siddha Asana (perfect pose) which is a meditative posture.
Based on the temperament of an individual practicing yoga, one may / should practice 32 or more postures, but progressively reduce the numbers in order to give time and space for other higher practices. It goes exactly against the common understanding of the physical exercise system were set of practices are gradually increased, but in yoga for the sake of physical practice, the advanced practitioner like Buddha reduced the number of postures to one in which he could sit for hours for meditation.
Earlier commentators of Patanjali yoga Sutra refers 7-9 postures in their comments.
To convert yoga physical practices as set of physical exercise system is totally different but will not bring all the benefits of what yoga masters declares in their teachings.
The physical practice of yoga is a part of whole yoga that aims at awakening, realization and transformation.
Thus, it is hard to read a man practicing part of yoga (physical practices alone) can be said that he/she is doing yoga. Like right arm is only a part of the body not the whole body.
Myth-2 Hatha Yoga means physical exercise
The greatest myth is that Hatha means force, or physical exercise. When I started doing yoga long back in 1980’s, being Indian, I also considered Hatha Yoga as doing physical by force until I become flexible.
False and real meaning of the word ‘hatha’
The literal meaning of ‘hatha’ is ‘force’ but real meaning of ‘Hatha’ yoga is different. Later when I read Upanishad under the guidance of my master. I came across the real meaning of the word, ‘Hatha’.
The word ‘Hatha’ in yoga is made of two alphabets, “Ha’ in Hatha represents ‘sun flow’ or ‘ male principle or energy’ and “Tha” represents ‘moon flow’ or “female principle or energy”.
The Upanishad clearly defines Hatha Yoga is the union of male and female principles or energy by groups of practices. These groups of practices vary from one tradition to the other, based on the master and disciple. There are normally six or seven groups of practices in Hatha Yoga but some other literatures and tradition explain about 29 groups of practices in Hatha Yoga.
Do you practice Hatha Yoga
When you practice all seven groups of practices, then only it can be said that you are practicing Hatha Yoga. However, a single group of practice i.e. The practice of physical practices cannot be said that you practice Hatha Yoga
Hatha Yoga practice does not mean, physical practice alone as is commonly understood. The other groups of practices are – Sat Karma (Six purificatory practices), Asana (Physical Practices), Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), Pranayama (breathing regulation), Mudra (physical and breathing practices are done in combination but not the hand gestures), Dharana, Dhyan and Samadhi.
However, master understanding your body, mind can recommend to skip any group of practices and help move you directly into higher practices also.
Myth-3 Meditation is different or separate from yoga
It is very common myth that meditation and yoga are separate, independent and different from each other. If physical practices of yoga are compared to your legs, then meditation is your head or brain. How legs can be separated from the head or brain.
When you practice physical practices of yoga, you always use your brain and the mind. But you use it with awareness of the body, it becomes physical yoga. Hence we cannot separate brain and mind from even physical practices
Yoga aims at the discovery of the higher states of consciousness beyond body, life and the mind through meditation. Physical practices is and may be a preparatory step of the ultimate goal of yoga. But one thing is sure and certain that meditation is essential and mandatory step while physical practices are not.
There are people who directly enter into meditation without doing any physical practice at all.
Physical practice/s is/are optional, but meditation is mandatory and essential to all practices of yoga. If you practice physical with awareness of stretching, sensation, feeling in the body, it may help you to raise your awareness level and support your meditation practice. My master says that physical practices of yoga aims at awakening to physical consciousness- a term we normally use in meditation.
Myth-4 Age, gender flexibility are important for practice of yoga
Everyone has his/her own opinion about the age, gender, state of body to practice yoga. The myth comes from our own understanding of yoga. If we consider and understand yoga as physical practice, then, our criteria of practicing yoga at tender age does not arise at all. Other consider yoga as mental change, hence, can be practiced even at a tender age. Still others, consider, yoga cannot or should not be practiced when there is illness etc.
All myths above are based on our perception about yoga. But what about perception of masters who founded yoga. It is said, Astavakra learnt yoga in the womb of mother. Prahalad was hardly 10 years old when he meditated upon god. Shankar, another great master who started yoga at the age of 11-12 years and became one of the great masters.
My masters used to say that ‘self-awareness is the beginning and end of yoga.’ Sri Aurobindo says, “Self-conscious finding is yoga”.
Understanding the entire spectrum of yoga
We grow into awareness after birth and begin responding to outer environment, conditions, and also inner feelings specially pain and sufferings even when we do not ‘name’ them. There is practice done before birth of a child that induces positive impressions in the mind of a child in womb. That too is practice of yoga.
Hence, yoga can begin at any age. I have taught yoga to thousands of kids just after 11- months. When my son was hardly 3 months old, I started chanting long OM and other single syllable mantras for an hour every day for about six months. I was amazed that first word he uttered, was ‘om’ and other mantras.
My son was hardly 3 years old when my family visited great master Swami Gitananda, Founder of Rishi Culture Yoga in south India. He was very happy to hear the ‘long chanting’ from my son and said, ‘you have implanted a very strong mental attitude in him. He will always fights the odds of the world, wisely.’ Yes, I see the same attitude in him as he is now 26 year old.
The same is true of gender as any one irrespective of gender can practice yoga.
The yoga is all about change of consciousness, evolution and self-discovery. It can start at any age provided we should be aware of hundreds of groups of practices that can be given at particular age.
There are subtle, simple, easy practices if given at tender age, can bring about tremendous change in child’s consciousness.
Physical practice, which is a part of yoga, not the whole of yoga, cannot set any criteria for age, gender, or illness.
It is better to ask a master what practices can be given to a person of any age; gender based on his/her state, conditions and level of consciousness.
Myth-5 I am ill and suffering, I cannot practice yoga
This myth is totally unfounded and without any basis. Yoga declares we are ill as long as we do not awaken to our ‘real-self’ or ‘highest state of consciousness’ or awakened. Secondly, anyone ill may be severely, can at least practice relaxation practice or meditation that is passive and simply directs the mind inward. Anyone suffering can surely practice to induce relaxation.
Yoga is all about change of consciousness. It aims at end of all sufferings. For example, anyone has pain due to cut or wound; the modern medicine is the best to take care of the wounds and pain. However, what about sufferings that manifests from mind and emotion. Yoga is the best to take care of sufferings in life.
I have been advocating for simple, easy, effortless practices of yoga for severe illness like heart attack, Parkinson, Muscular dystrophy, psychological illnesses; I introduced simple, easy and effective practices aimed at minimizing the impact of illnesses, relieving the symptoms.
I was amazed at the relief of symptoms in Parkinson patient in NYC by long practice of passive meditation practice. She always started walking normally after meditation session. In addition, one day, she became extremely happy over the result and she drove me to Penn Station to drop me there from her home, which was about 12 miles from her home. Rather I was scared to allow her drive to Penn Station in NYC, New York.
Any illness has two main components – one purely physical and other emotional and mental. The emotional and mental brings sufferings, guided by fear, doubts and unknown perception. Yoga can work at its best to alleviate the sufferings in any illness. And the best practice is the relaxation and meditation supported by eternal principle of separating the physical, mental and emotional with the higher principle , termed as ‘real-self’ will go a long way in helping person suffering from any illnesses. I would always recommend people must practice relaxation, meditation, preferably passive to speedy recovery, minimize the impact of illness, rehabilitation etc.
Myth -6 yoga is a religion/ cult, dogma
Many world famous dictionaries validate the confusion by defining yoga as religion or religious system or discipline, cult, dogma, belief etc.
If yoga is related to religion at all, then, it can be said that great master who founded their religions had first undergone higher spiritual experiences and realizations of what yoga speaks of as an ultimate goal of human life.
Many masters choose to scribe, speak or started the tradition based on their supra mental experiences which after some time, became religion.
However, yoga is neither a religion nor a cult nor a dogma or belief system. It is ‘self-conscious finding’ as great master Sri Aurobindo puts it. It a ‘process of compressing one’s evolution in a single year or few months or few hours of earthly existence’ as Swami Vivekananda defines it. It is science or conscious evolution and transformation aims at bringing an end of sufferings in life.
I once said to a group who attended my lecture on authentic yoga tradition.
If you are a Hindu and practice yoga, you become a better Hindu. If you are a teacher and practice yoga, you become a better teacher. If you are a student and practice yoga, you become a better student.
Yoga makes you a good – better-the best person. It never makes you a religious person or follower of a cult, dogma, belief. It brings face to face with the truth that is hidden within all of us and makes us free from dogma, belief and cult.
Myth-7 I have to perform rituals to practice Yoga
Rites, ceremonies and services were done at the time of origin of yoga to allow the mind to settle in the practices, later when era of Upanishad came, most of them have been replaced by mental, physical, breathing and other set of practices. One can do prayer physically with many articles and replace it with mental prayers without actually practicing rituals. This transformation is unique in the evolution of knowledge and practices of yoga.
Yoga is basically a technology that needs to be understood and applied in one’s life. Adherence to practices is a challenge and if one guides you to perform certain sets of practices to inspire your whole being for continuity, it is good and does well for you. However, if any rites and rituals are done to promote a cult, dogma and belief, then, it is not yoga at all. It is done to promote the cult, dogma and belief as yoga tradition aims at freedom liberty, peace and happiness and has no place for cult, dogma and belief.
If one says that they have to teach and create a belief to practice yoga, then they are wrong and their impetration is wrong too. Apple phone is a technology, what sort of belief you need first before you buy the phone. None at all, however, you need to understand the applications, how to use it and when and where to use it in life. The same way, yoga also works, you tell your teacher about your goal of learning yoga and also listen to him about the ultimate goal of yoga. You begin the practice, follow a discipline and you get benefit out of it.
If you are believer in god or any cult you follow, and open to yoga practice, fine. If you are agnostic and aspire to evolve, it is fine. If you are neither believer nor non- believer, it is still fine.
Yoga demands that you should believe in yourself, your potential, your chance and choice of evolution that can bring change in your whole life. It does not begin with any outer belief thrust upon you.
Well, the second point is very important is your notion of peace, happiness, love, wisdom, truth – all lies hidden within you. Whether you start with the belief in them or disbelief in them, regular and uninterrupted practice, one day, surely awaken you to all of these traits of real self – peace, happiness, love, wisdom, truth and more
Be in peace
Check out Acharya Girish Jha books:
Authentic Yoga Tradition-1: AYT1.1: History…
by Girish Jha
Yoga-Sutra 1.1: Major Questions of life ans…
by Girish Jha