Indian yoga is different from western yoga

Y oga has arrived in the mainstream of our way of life, and even those who have nothing to do with India, spirituality and meditation will probably admit that yoga is good for your health, or at least: if it's no use, it won't do any harm

Y oga has arrived in the mainstream of our way of life, and even those who have nothing to do with India, spirituality and meditation will probably admit that yoga is good for your health, or at least: it's no use, no harm.

However, an article in the “New York Times” recently cleared this assessment, which is causing heated debates in the USA. The title “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” lists countless cases in which the exercises lead to dangerous problems - herniated discs, torn ligaments or even strokes. The author himself, William J. Broad, a renowned science journalist, practiced yoga to alleviate his back problems and instead exacerbated them (for example with the Parsvakonasana position, in English "lateral angle"). "With my back," he sums up, "my naive belief also went down the drain that yoga can only heal and not harm."

Broad quotes Glenn Black, one of the most famous yoga teachers in Manhattan for decades, with the surprising statement: The vast majority of people who practice yoga should actually stop doing it. Black also came to this result because of his own problems. He recently had to undergo an operation for pinched nerves caused by excessive shoulderstand (“candle”) and “plow” practice. These positions, common for children, may be risky for older, less agile people; especially because the blood supply to the brain can be cut off due to the extreme curvature of the neck.

Since yoga became a popular sport in the West, the examples of yoga damage documented by doctors and in specialist journals have increased. An accident in 2003 caused a particular stir because it came from a yoga teacher. In the trade magazine “Yoga Journal” she described how she suffered a strain on the thigh muscle during an exercise in which you had to touch your toes with your leg stretched out. Only after a year of therapy and recovery was she able to straighten her leg again. The editor-in-chief of the magazine herself described how she tore a tendon in the shoulder area during an exercise.

With Bikram yoga, which is very popular today and is performed at high room temperature, the risk of overstretching is particularly high. A study at Columbia University summarized the reported cases of disease-causing yoga. Back problems were ranked first, followed by shoulders, knees, neck and stroke. After the topic was long denied in the yoga schools, it is now increasingly coming into focus in the circles concerned.

According to Glenn Black, one of the main problems in the West is that people of advanced age suddenly practice excessive yoga, for whom the traditional positions and exercises are completely unfamiliar, while in India even small children are used to the cross-legged position and then only the lotus position means a gradual continuation. In addition, there is an unholy alliance of difficult exercises and Western performance thinking. Ambition and competitiveness take over, yoga is becoming an extreme sport. In short, everything revolves around the ego, says Black, "while yoga is primarily about detaching oneself from the ego".

In fact, yoga, most of which is taught and practiced in the West today, has moved light years away from the original Indian teaching. Yoga actually has nothing to do with body cult, fitness or performance optimization, as represented by yoga fans like Madonna, Wolfgang Joop, Jerry Hall, Michelle Hunziker, Sting or Lady Gaga. On the contrary, it was traditionally about asceticism, about the idea that everything worldly is illusion, suffering and impermanence.

In the Bhagawadgita, one of the authoritative writings of Hinduism, it says: "The yogi should constantly strive in solitude, taming mind and self alone, hoping for nothing, without possessions." The aim was to control one's own body, feelings and thoughts, as the Sanskrit word "yoga" itself expresses, which means "yoke". Extermination of the ego, killing of desires and desires - one wonders how this should go hand in hand with the vain world of models, pop stars and fashion designers who are now raving about yoga.

Of course, one could argue that traditions change in the course of their journey through space and time; it is only natural that yoga has also changed and adapted to the new circumstances. In addition, Hatha Yoga, the branch that is mainly cultivated today, which is primarily about postures and sequences of movements, is not as primitive as it is often portrayed in a somewhat mystifying way by teachers, but has only existed for a little more than a hundred years. So what's bothersome when yoga continues to change?

It becomes problematic when things are combined that are actually incompatible. You can already see this in the interior of many yoga studios: How should all the mirrors go hand in hand with the envisaged spirit of selflessness? Most yoga positions require time, patience, humility and attention - in short, a meditative attitude. However, if these exercises are practiced under time pressure and pressure to perform, they often do harm instead of good. It is a mistake to believe that something comes from the East and is spiritual, be it gentle and harmless per se - this applies to alternative medicine as well as yoga.

By the way, Switzerland and Zurich in particular had an important bridgehead function in the transfer of yoga to the West. As early as the end of the 19th century, the life reformers who had a center in Bülach raved about yoga as well as nudism and vegetarianism. C. G. Jung and Birchermüesli inventor Max Oskar Bircher-Benner also held sessions. In 1935 yogis performed in the Knie circus, and in 1948 the Indian Selverajan Yesudian (1916–1998) founded the first yoga school in Zurich, which soon became the most famous in Western Europe and which was to be followed by others in the next few years. He landed a long-seller with the book “Sport und Yoga”. In this work he favored and popularized hatha yoga with breathing and physical exercises, which for most people today have become synonymous with yoga, but originally only made up part of the complex philosophical structure. Yoga definitely found its way into western popular culture when the Beatles visited Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in his ashram in Rishikesh, India in 1968. While yoga ironically ekes out a marginal existence even today in India, around 20 million people are now practicing it in the USA, and the trend is rapidly increasing.

It is no coincidence that Lady Gaga paid a visit to a yoga school in Zurich last year. While Zurich was previously known for its density of psychoanalysts, today it is considered the yoga capital; In Zurich alone, 20,000 students practice in around a hundred yoga centers that offer everything: Bikram yoga, at 35–40 degrees, power yoga, laugh yoga, hormone yoga, children's yoga, Kundalini yoga and tantra. And in many of these studios the atmosphere should not be any different from that described by William J. Broad in New York. Instead of the yoga adepts learning to let go of their stress, ambition and narcissism, they carry it into the practice rooms. The tranquility and performance thinking that yoga strives for do not go together. When yoga becomes a competitive sport, the body is the first victim of this incompatibility.

As the Buddha said: "Avoid two things, O wanderer: useless desires and excessive mortification of the body."