The Purpose of Yoga – Holistic Health

What is the true purpose of מורת יוגה? Yoga encompasses many holistic aspects, but Yoga’s true purpose is to prevent suffering in this life. Yoga is a system, which enables a practitioner to be pro-active about his or her complete health.

Each style of Yoga will have a subtle difference from a similar style, but health is always the aim in all forms of Yoga. Superiority of method is an illusion, since all Yogic paths lead to better mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health.

The need to sort, prioritize, and judge Yoga styles, and aspects of Yoga, is an example of our limited mental perceptions. The reality is we make these same mistakes when the mind is not disciplined and our comprehension is challenged to its limits.

It is possible to miss the entire purpose of Yoga, if the mind is not trained and tutored properly. How many students will discipline themselves without the guidance of a Yoga teacher? How many Yoga teachers see Asana as the “Holy Grail” of Yoga?

The “monkey mind” will not be disciplined without pranayama (Yogic breathing techniques), meditation, and japa (repetition of mantra). A Yoga teacher, or student, can practice an untutored form of Yoga, but to practice without guidance is not a holistic approach.

A Yoga devotee cannot usually transcend beyond the superficial aspects of Yoga without guidance. For example: Look at the covers of most Yoga publications. If I want to sell more Yoga magazines, I have to put Yoga on display. There is a saying: “A picture is worth a thousand words,” but one picture of an “advanced” Yoga asana, will intimidate some members of the public.

How many people, in the west, think that a Yoga teacher must be thin, young, extremely flexible, muscular, and physically gifted? Most of the non-practicing public believes this, and many Hatha Yoga students believe it. Worse yet, some Yoga teachers have a narrow-minded view of Yoga, as a stricly physical recreation, similar to gymnastics.

Recently, I was addressing an audience in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, about the benefits of Chair Yoga. One member of the audience raised her hand and asked, “What is the most important physical exercise in Yoga?” My answer was that if you are only looking at the physical aspect of Yoga, Pranayama is the most important exercise, but there is much more to Yoga than physical exercise.

Even though my answer went into great length about the aspects and benefits of Yoga, a gentleman later told me than he would have imagined the Headstand (Salamba Sirsasana) was the most important aspect of Yoga. My reply was, “Did you ever take a Yoga class?” He admitted that it was the fear of doing a headstand, which kept him away from trying a Yoga class.

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