Friday, January 4, 2013

Yoga Fire!

Please pardon the tacky reference to the Street Fighter series of video games in this post title (look up "Street Fighter Dhalsim" on Google, I'm too lazy to explain it right now), but I had to get your attention somehow. :-) This post has to do with - you guessed it - yoga.

For many readers, the first thing that pops into one's mind when yoga is mentioned is complex sequences of body-stretching, physically taxing poses. Believe it or not, while that is part of yoga, it's only a fraction of the whole equation. Yoga, at least as I understand it from what I've learned over time, I can best describe as the ultimate expression of faith in Hinduism. The word "yoga" is derived from the Sanskrit word yuj, which loosely translated means "union." (I've heard some sources say it's more literally translated as "yoke," as in when you attach a beast of burden to what you want it to pull it is a union of sorts, but that's beside the point.) So yoga can be explained as a way to unify oneself with God. And just as the many Gods in the Hindu faith are manifestations of one Supreme, so there are multiple paths of yoga that all accomplish the same goal. There are four paths to be precise, and while my explanations may be oversimplified, I think they suffice:

-Karma yoga, or service to others
-Bhakti yoga, expression of devotional love
-Jnana yoga, study and contemplation
-Hatha yoga, the physical exercise form of yoga that many Westerners are familiar with

As far as myself, I mainly follow bhakti and karma yoga. I consider this blog to be a form of bhakti sometimes...I know I sometimes post devotional messages to Lord Ganesha in this blog. And as for karma yoga, I try to serve others through my writing and journalism...and I have found ways it can be of use to others. (My Hinduism Today article in the Jan/Feb/Mar 2013 issue, for example. :-) )

One thing I want to stress - just as singing Christmas carols doesn't necessarily make one a Christian, practicing hatha yoga doesn't necessarily make one a Hindu. It takes more than the ability to contort oneself to be considered a true Hindu. Likewise, one should definitely be aware of the Hindu roots of hatha yoga. While I'm not of the mindset that hatha yoga should be practiced exclusively by Hindus, those who do practice it should always remember where it comes from.

And as for Dhalsim from Street Fighter...I don't know where he gets the ability to elongate his limbs at will or what he has to do to spit fireballs, but whatever it is, it's not real yoga. Sorry. ;-)

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