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The disconnect between tradition and contemporary practice in yoga Proposal


The practice of yoga dates back to ancient Indian philosophy. It uses a system of mind and body control to achieve liberation from the vices associated with the weakness of the human body and mind. Traditionally, yoga practices were meant to unite the human body with the divine.

The postures involved in yoga (asana) were a means to achieving this higher spirituality. In the late 19th century, yoga was introduced to the western world where it quickly took the form of physical exercises.

Modern yoga emphasized the use of yoga postures to achieve better health as opposed to traditional practice that emphasized achievement of a higher spirituality using the body and mind.

The purpose of this thesis is to point out the disconnect that exists between traditional yoga and contemporary practice. While traditional yoga is aimed at achieving spirituality, contemporary practice emphasizes yoga as a means of physical fitness.

In traditional meaning, yoga was seen as a disciplined way to achieve a goal. In simpler terms, it is spiritual training. To maintain the discipline, the body and mind had to be coordinated and geared towards achieving the kind of higher spirituality that would ultimately transform the human being from a normal chaotic state into a perfect ordered state.

In any religion, the sole purpose of spirituality is to be at peace with the inner self. Traditional yoga is the epitome of spirituality for it seeks to cease the agitation of the consciousness. To make that possible, one goes through a rigorous regimen of physical and mental endurance whose ultimate goal is to free the mind from the vices of humanity.

In this sense yoga becomes theistic. The spirituality of yoga is concerned with the human condition and how to manage the flaws of humanity. One trains to be in full awareness of these flaws and learns how to sustain their spiritual reality throughout any situation.

By going through the regimen of yoga, one learns how to discipline their inner awareness until such a point that they attain liberation to that place of perfection within the self.

Contemporary yoga came into existence during the late 19th century, with greater emphasis on the physical postures of yoga. Consequently, modern yoga has come to be associated with physical fitness. Modernists perpetrate yoga as a physical system with a spiritual component.

It therefore means that the contemporary school of thought holds in high esteem, the physical aspect of yoga as a means to achieving satisfaction that is deemed spiritual.

In order to understand how the traditional practice of yoga is linked to spirituality whilst the contemporary practice is a mere physical act, a look into some academic sources will help shed the light by outlining the meaning and purpose of yoga from a traditional point of view and from a contemporary point of view.

Anderson, Sandra, and S.Rolf. Yoga:Mastering the basics, Washington: Himalayan Institute Press, 2000. Print.

Modern yoga is centered upon the physical aspects of yoga. This book offers a comprehensive and practical guide to the essential elements of yoga. In as much as the authors recognize the contribution of yoga to the transformation of the mind, body and soul, much of the book revolves around the physical aspect (asana) and going into details about the postures, breathe training, relaxation, and meditation.

This is a classic example of how modern day yoga practice has been contorted to be the achievement of spirituality through physical activity.

Muni, Rajarshi. Yoga:The ultimate spiritual path, New York: Llewelyn wordwide, 2001. Print.

The author is an accomplished yogi who has written numerous books on the practice of traditional yoga. He describes yoga as the union of the body and mind for spiritual development.Muni traces the history of yoga to the philosophy and religion of ancient India and its decline to what is now contemporary yoga as a result of western influence.

This book opens up the mind to the fact that traditional yoga is more than slow, gentle stretching and breathing exercises. Rather, he points to the philosophy and metaphysics of the practice in seeking to harmonize the spirit, mind and body.

Muni’s approach is important in establishing the origins of yoga and the fact it has a spiritual aspect.it is also important to note that the author is aware of the use of physical exercises to describe modern day yoga.

Singleton, Mark. Yoga body:The origin of modern posture practice, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.

Singleton seeks to understand why the practice of asana (the physical exercises) has become the international face of yoga. Many people are misled into thinking that the physical aspect rather than the spiritual is the most important.

Despite this acknowledgement, the author makes a contradictory statement and thus reinstates the popular belief of yoga being the actual physical exercises by declaring that contemporary yoga is drawn from the more recent western influences in sporting activities.

Iyengar, Kelvin. Yoga:The path to holistic health, Maine: D.K Publishers, 2007. Print.

Iyengar is a world renowned yogi who shares the sentiments of contemporary yoga. Although he lauds yoga as a holistic experience that benefits the body, mind and spirit, he concentrates on the physical acts of yoga (asana) and how they can be adapted to counter the stresses of modern living.

This goes to show the extent to which modernity has influenced the true meaning of yoga to an acceptable norm of physical fitness.

Carpenter, David and W. Ian. Yoga:The Indian tradition, London: Princeton Univerity Press, 2003. Print.

Just like Muni, these authors share the same school of thought in which traditional yoga is viewed as having descended from Indian philosophy and hence religion. In this sense, yoga springs from Indian history and religion and its sole purpose is the affirmation of spirituality.

They do agree that contemporary yoga draws its mantra based on physical exercises from one of its disciplines but does not involve the spirit. Traditional yoga therefore transcends the physical by incorporating all the facets of the human body and mind to attain spirituality.

In conclusion, it is evident that there is a lack of connection between traditional and contemporary yoga practices. Traditional yoga is religious in nature and its main purpose is the attainment of spirituality within an individual.

This kind of spirituality is achieved through strict control of the body and mind therefore it is a spiritual as well as a physical and mental process. Contemporary yoga is far more widespread than traditional yoga.

Its use as a physical fitness or health guideline is far removed from spirituality and hence religion.it seeks to ensure the well-being of the physical body without involving the spirit. It would be safe to make an assumption that the goals of the two disciplines are far removed from each other.

Works Cited

Anderson, Sandra, and S.Rolf. Yoga:Mastering the basics, Washington: Himalayan Institute Press, 2000. Print.

Carpenter, David and W. Ian. Yoga:The Indian tradition, London: Princeton Univerity Press, 2003. Print.

Iyengar, Kelvin. Yoga:The path to holistic health, Maine: D.K Publishers, 2007. Print.

Muni, Rajarshi. Yoga:The ultimate spiritual path, New York: Llewelyn wordwide, 2001. Print.

Singleton, Mark. Yoga body:The origin of modern posture practice, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The disconnect between tradition and contemporary practice in yoga." April 22, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-disconnect-between-tradition-and-contemporary-practice-in-yoga-proposal/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'The disconnect between tradition and contemporary practice in yoga'. 22 April.

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