Is yoga an invented tradition?

I recently went to Ayurvedic Man exhibition at the wellcome collection and it got me thinking about the history of yoga.

I was aware of Krishnamacharya from my training. I knew he taught Indra Devi, Jois, Iyengar and Desikachar. I knew he influenced our modern practice.

What I didn’t know until very recently, is that modern postural yoga (or yoga asana) is very modern. As in, the last century. 

Krishnamacharya (1888 to 1989) developed asana as we know it, at a nexus between yoga, bodybuilding and physical education in India in the early twentieth century.

So surya namaskar, downward dog, upward dog: all brand new.

Confused? Yep.

Not many people mention that the yoga asana we practice has nothing to do with the ‘ancient, centuries old’ system of yoga dating back intact to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in the fifth century CE. There were only 15 original seated poses. And yoga did not mean the physical practice we know it as today.

If anything, some yoga schools encourage the idea that asana as we know it has been passed down through the centuries. 

Do we need this ancient authority to believe in its effects?

As Sita Reddy writes in her essay ‘Who owns yoga’, the roots of yoga run deep, but modern postural yoga, including surya namaskar, is an invented tradition.

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Ouch! Yoga injuries and why we get them

Yoga injury is connected to the ego.

How many of you go to what you perceive as the last stage? Because you want to prove that you can do it.

But what if there is a misconception? For example, you think the ‘last stage’ of tree pose is to get your foot on the upper thigh. When actually the pose is a hip opener. The pose is about lengthening the thigh bone out of the socket. And you achieve that lengthening wherever your foot is.

What happens when we try and get to the last stage too early? I was obsessed with forearm stand. I used to practice and practice. I wanted to be able to kick up effortlessly into a beautiful forearm stand.

And yes, I find it easier now. But I think that’s because I’m stronger from my yoga practice, not because I repeatedly practiced forearm stands for months. And I pulled my right hamstring from all that jumping when I wasn’t warm enough. It’s still tender now. I have to modify my practice to accommodate it.

Is it worth it? No. Can I see that now? Yes.

Yoga does not cause injury. We cause ourselves injury. Because of our ego, because we want to see progression.

It is so important to let that go. It’s just noise. You will perform an asana when your body is ready to perform it, and there will be no strain.

That’s not to say don’t practice difficult asanas. They are fun and exciting, and if that’s what pulls you to yoga, then great.

But yoga is not gymnastics. We cannot let our mind get ahead of our body. We must learn to control our ego and be safe.