Is it Yoga if It’s Just Stretching?

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Meditation and other characteristics are essential to yoga

“Yoga is the cessation of the turning of thought. When thought ceases, the spirit stands in its true identity as observer to the world.” – The Yoga Sutras

The Historical Yogic Path

Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not merely a special kind of prolonged stretching with the occasional mantra thrown in—the use of asanas is in fact a very recent evolution to the Yogic path. That path is at its core a spiritual one, where radiant physical health is but one of the many benefits a student of yoga earns.

In the cosmology of yoga, we have several bodies: the mental, emotional, and physical bodies as our main spheres of consciousness and existence. As you can infer, that was done through meditation. Meditation isn’t necessarily just sitting in lotus position and chanting a mantra, but those are but some of the tools used to reach out to your higher consciousness, which, you guessed it: is practiced in yoga.

Cosmology and Consciousness

There are a number of yoga teachers and studios who cater to students who come from a background that isn’t particularly spiritual and are hesitant to chant mantras or use terminology related to nature, animals, and prefer to call pranayama something closer to technical sports terms, like “single alternate nostril breathing” instead of Nadhi-Sodhana or Aniloma Viloma, and may not even use mudras, let alone even delve into meditation in order to cater to the niche that avoids spirituality and prefer technical descriptions instead of names that reflect a metaphysical world view they have either no interest in or disagree with entirely.

Here’s the problem: that’s not yoga anymore. What makes yoga is not the asanas, but the intention behind them, as is the visualization used to fit into the form. Granted, translations from the original Sanskrit may vary, but try doing cobra pose while visualizing the majestic creature, then do the same physical movements, and instead, call it “lower abdominal stretch”. Do you see the difference? Not only is the flow of energy different, but also how your body reacts to intention in your mind affects the movement itself!

Surya Namaskara or The Sun Salutations: Radiant Health and Elevated Consciousness

As we’ve talked about mantra yoga (Japa Yoga) before and how not only are the sacred sound of mantra and its meaning important, but how your body is physically positioned in order to generate the flow of prana through your physical, mental, and emotional bodies. This is an age-old practice across cultures, for lack of a better word, a form of sun worship as the name implies. Raising your hands in prayer position upwards, bowing down, and laying on the earth and rising are not just submitting before the sun, but also invokes the cycle of the sun’s nourishing rays: as you receive the light of the sun, it goes into the earth, and out of the dirt, life is born, like a tree sprouting from the ground.

Knowing this and feeling it as you are in motion, you can feel the flow and elevate your consciousness to perceive energy around you and within you. This euphoric feeling is the core of yoga, and without it—you’re just doing a fancy stretch.

 Yogasync Me!  Here’s your chance to tap into the resources at Yogasync and try Surya Namaskara with Mantra.  Do you notice any difference to your usual Sun Salutations?

Surya Namaskara with Mantra

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About John Chuidian

John (known to friends as Johnny) is a lifelong vagabond and specialist in international development, whose primary work has been social enterprise in Southeast Asia and East Africa. When he's not busy trying to make the world a better place, he's writing fiction (along with his soon to be released first novel, The Durian Diaries), playing guitar, filming short films and taking pictures or training in martial arts and parkour.

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