CREDOS : Distortion — III

The word yoga is most often defined as a yoking, or union. Its practice strives to unite the individual soul with the “greater soul” of the universe, traditionally through four main paths: karma (action), bhakti (devotion), jnana (wisdom) and raja or ashtanga (mental and physical control). Hatha yoga is in fact just one aspect of ashtanga. The physical postures of hatha yoga are practiced by Hindu yogis to enable them to more comfortably meditate for hours, freeing the mind from the distracting pains of the body. But Americans tend to focus on fitness alone, perhaps because “as a culture we are extremely physically oriented,” as Hindu University’s Tiwari put it. Everyone agrees that yoga is physically beneficial. The Yoga Journal’s Jones believes these physical benefits can ultimately draw participants into a deeper, more spiritual understanding of the practice. “I’m more peaceful, I have more energy and more patience — but I certainly didn’t go into it looking for that,” he said. But Swami Param says, “Why be covert?” he asked. Participants should be invited upfront to “come study Hinduism,” which is what they’re doing when learning hatha yoga, he said. His New Jersey ashram does offer one non-spiritual class called “Stretch and Relaxation Based on the Hatha Yoga of Hinduism.” He urges other hatha yoga teachers to explain to participants that they’re taking a fitness class based on a religious practice. “Then, they could even charge money,” he said. —, concluded