Contemporary perspective 

Over the past few years a trend has developed regarding exercise, everyone wants to be fit. Amongst these practices Yoga has re-emerged within societies with a capitalistic spin. Anywhere you go, everywhere you look you can see the promotion of Yoga as exercise. Stores have been capitalizing on ‘yoga pants’ and mats; they even make unique meditation playlists, playing directly into the greedy hands of consumerism. 

Origin

Before yoga resurfaced with a focus on its physical benefits, it was known primarily as a connection to the spiritual. That is precisely how this ideology was born. Many centuries ago yoga developed in south Asia, as a spiritual ascetic set of beliefs and practices. 

It is interesting to observe the parallels of yoga, which developed simultaneously around the world. However, in India yoga took on its most intense form, where it was practiced as a tool to gain insight and balance into one’s entire being.   

The period of 500-800 A.D was defined by two individuals: Mahavir and Buddha.  Mahavir came up with the concept of the five great vows, also known as Pancha mahavrata. The five lessons present in these teachings are non-violence (Ahimsa), truth (Satya), no stealing (Asteya), celibacy (Brahmcharya) and non-attachment/ possession (Aparigraha). Similar to these teachings was the Buddha’s Eightfold path, also known as Ashta Magga. This path consisted of; right understanding (Samma ditthi), right thought (Samma sankappa), right speech (Samma vaca), right action (Samma kammanta), right livelihood (Samma ajiva), right effort (Samma vayama), right mindfulness (Samma sati) and right concentration (Samma samadhi). 

While this was when the practice of yoga flourished, the period between 800 A.D and 1700 A.D has been recognized as the ‘Post Classical’ period. During this period the teachings of the great Acharyatrayas-Adi, Shankracharya, Ramanujacharya and  Madhavacharya were prominent.

Spiritual benefits 

“Yoga is about harmonizing oneself with the universe. It is the technology of aligning individual geometry with the cosmic, to achieve the highest level of perception and harmony.” (Mahalingam)

Yoga should not be associated with any particular belief system or religion. It has been a global phenomenon aimed towards the betterment of humanity, as a whole. The interconnectedness of each being is stressed, providing a holistic, communal, global perspective. Anyone who takes part in the practice of yoga can reap its benefits regardless of their faith, culture or ethnicity.   

Yoga works on multiple levels, not just to improve mindfulness or physic. It enhances one’s mind, body, energy and emotion. Every individual is a culmination of these four factors, making every system of yoga that is practiced, fall into one of these categories. This has lead to four main branches of yoga, Karma for the body, Bhakti yoga where we utilise our emotions, Kriya where we redirect our energy and Gyana for the intellect and mind. 

An underlying philosophy of yoga is, believing that God is a spiritual impersonal substance who coexists within all of reality. This stems from the idea of Pantheism, an understanding that the entire universe stems from and is related to God. According to the practice, men are ignorant of their connection to God. They do not understand that God is them and they are God, as the creator put a part of themselves in every creation. In order to reach enlightenment or understanding of the self, humans must strive and make an effort to accept and make the most out of their lives, however they see fit. 

Conclusion

While a healthy physic is essential for a content life, people should not only prioritize physical health. Mental health, as well as emotions and energy contribute significantly to one’s daily success. The key to achieving harmony within oneself is balance.

Striking that balance in a capitalist, contemporary society is increasingly difficult, however now more than ever people need to prioritize spirituality over physic. We should not let the practice or benefits of yoga mould according to current ideologies, we should reshape our ideologies to fit the spiritual practices it once successfully preached.