Tag - Yoga

New book may “shake the world” of Yoga practitioners

Contemporary yoga teachers and gurus have mistakenly made the Yoga Sutra into the ubiquitous foundation of all yoga practice, stretching and extrapolating it into a complete manual for living. Now the man behind the curtain is exposed. White mines the truth from hearsay and stands contemporary yoga beliefs on their head. This remarkable, colorful, and engaging book will rattle a lot of cages and hopefully enlighten the enlighteners. I highly recommend it as required reading for anyone interested in yoga.
—Ganga White, author of Yoga Beyond Belief and founder of the White Lotus Foundation

In the latest offering from The Lives of Great Religious Books series, David Gordon White (Sinister Yogis, Kiss of the Yogis) relates the biography of The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali (pub date: June 25, 2014). Virtually forgotten in India for hundreds of years and maligned when it was first discovered in the west, the Yoga Sutra is now one of the most popular Buddhist and yoga texts in the world and occupies a revered place in popular culture. The story of its rise, fall, and modern-day resurgence is filled with twists and turns and includes some of the most colorful culture brokers in history.

A mere 195 verses in length, the Yoga Sutra is arguably one of the shortest classics in all of world literature. Written in the first centuries of the Common Era in an obscure if not impenetrable language and style, the work rocketed to the status of cultural icon and has been translated into over forty languages in just the past few decades. Its collection of aphorisms is extolled by the yoga establishment as a perennial classic and guide to yoga practice. Yet, as Gordon White demonstrates, the contemporary, cosmopolitan success of the Yoga Sutra belies its rather humble origins.

To begin, the Yoga Sutra was never considered to be the definitive guide to yoga or yoga philosophy in India: over the centuries, other works, such as the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Vasistha and Yoga Yajnavalkya, were far better known. In fact, until its “discovery” in the early nineteenth century by the British Orientalist Henry Thomas Colebrooke, the Yoga Sutra had lain in nearly complete obscurity for several hundred years.

Since that time, its revival has taken place mainly in Europe and America and in the English language medium. The persons responsible for that revival include an improbable cast of characters and it is their interpretations and (mis)appropriations of the work that are presented here, together with those who wrote during the Yoga Sutra’s heyday, the period between the eighth and thirteenth centuries. They include a Hindu king, a Mughal prince, an Indonesian commentator, a Muslim intellectual, several Jain writers, three German philosophers, a sampling of Indian freedom fighters and reformers, a gaggle of Theosophists, a German member of the SS, numerous Hindu commentators and theologians, and dozens of scholars and modern-day yoga gurus.

In language that is “elegant, erudite, and crystal clear,” according to Joseph S. Alter, White tells the complete “life” story of this enigmatic text. He begins with a tongue in cheek list of dramatis personae and a quick reading of the aphorisms before moving quickly to meatier subjects. In a series of brief, powerful chapters, White complicates our understanding of the tensions between the Yoga Sutra and Islam, revealing that one of its greatest commentators was an eleventh-century Muslim intellectual writing in the court of  Mahmud of Ghazni; explains why the Yoga Sutra is known as a work of Hindu philosophy even though it shares more in common with early Buddhist texts; and, perhaps most controversial, shows that many modern day yoga gurus continue to misinterpret the Yoga Sutra’s aphorisms.

The “Yoga Sutra of Patanjali”: A Biography is a magnificent volume. It is both the perfect companion for those who are studying the Yoga Sutra and wish to expand their understanding and a comprehensive introduction for the uninitiated.

About the Author:
David Gordon White is the author of three acclaimed books that trace the history of yoga from its Vedic origins down to the modern day. With this volume, he completes his masterful tableau, demonstrating yet again that the yoga of India’s past in no way resembles the yoga of India (and the world’s) present. It is far more complex and far more interesting.


Yoga and the Art of Meditation

There could be no art without the imagination. It is essential to the creation of any work of art. Our ability to imagine is what allows us to participate with God as co-creators on this planet. Everyone has the ability to imagine though some people are better at it than others. What many people are not aware of is that the imagination can be developed through Yogic practice.

Yoga is an ancient spiritual practice that can help one to develop the mind through the imagination. Yoga also helps to develop one’s creativity which can help one to become better at their Art. Yantra Yoga is a branch of Yoga that utilizes the powers of visualization to develop ones’ creativity. There are many visualization exercises in Yantra Yoga which uses the imagination to picture various colors, shapes and sizes. For example one of the visualization exercises is to picture a red triangle in your mind. Take a moment right now and visualize a red triangle in your mind. Can you see it clearly? It may be difficult at first but with practice you can clearly visualize a red triangle in your mind. After one becomes adept at visualizing a red triangle then you can move on to other shapes such as a yellow square, green crescent or a blue circle.

One interesting practice is to look at the place where you are right now. Look at the objects around you. Now close your eyes. Can you still see the scene clearly in your mind’s eye? By practicing these basic visualization exercises you can improve your imagination and your creativity as an artist.

One of the most interesting artistic practices that I have seen is the Tibetan Sand Mandalas. This meditative practice has its’ foundations in Yantra Yoga. I have had the privilege to participate with some Tibetan monks in the formation of a Sand Mandala. The Tibetan Sand Mandala is a sacred art form utilizing ancient Yantra Yoga principles. Every color and shape represents certain divine creative energies. The Tibetan monks tap into these divine energies as they create the Sand Mandala. What I find very interesting is that the final creation of the Sand Mandala is not important as the process itself. After the Sand Mandala is finished, it is dismantled. They do not save it. It is the process or formation of the Sand Mandala that is important. This is quite a different orientation than the majority of people in the West. Most people tend to value the finished artwork as what is important or valuable. But for the Tibetan Monks, it is the process of creation that is most valuable. I think that we need to learn to appreciate that the process of creating art is just as important as the finished art itself.

Yoga can help us pay more attention to the process of creativity through the practices of Yantra Yoga and Meditation. Yoga is more than stretching of the body in different poses called “asanas” that we see in Hatha Yoga. Yoga is a pathway to improving both your mind and body. Yogic meditation brings peace of mind and self-realization which is really the ultimate art form. Art is the expression of our creativity. Yoga brings Art to its’ fullest expression by revealing the divine nature within each of us. God has created this universe like a portrait that we live and breathe in. We are born like an empty canvas and we paint it with the various experiences throughout our lives. How is your life being painted? If someone could look at your painting, what would it look like?

Art is the act of creativity which uses the wellspring of the imagination. What a beautiful world this could be, if we would take the time to imagine it.

Jill Lowy is a local author who recently completed a new book, “Yoga and The Art of Astral Projection” and her website is: www.TheAstralYoga.com.