Why Sri Sri Ravi Shankar believes yoga is for everyone
The success lies in the ability to convey the essence without the orthodoxy.
- Total Shares
As the second International Day of Yoga approaches, mats are rolling everywhere. From UN headquarters and New York’s Times Square to hundreds of locations in India and abroad, there will be no shortage of space to stand on one leg for a while. And for sure, one would be able to do that with or without chanting Om or some other mantra.
The point is yoga has adapted itself quite well to the changing preferences of the world. From being an ancient spiritual pursuit for those seeking enlightenment, yoga has been absorbed into mainstream lifestyle by people from all cultures and backgrounds across the globe. And with the United Nations earmarking a day for it, even those who are a bit hesitant will also shed the prejudice.
The journey - from being a domain of the hippies to the most-chanted lifestyle mantra of the masses - isn’t without twists and turns. Many think it has lost its way while going places. Some openly lament that yoga has sold its soul to the demands of the market and bartered its cerebral or spiritual side. It’s true that the West got too obsessed with its physical aspect (asanas) as yoga was initially popularised as a solution to lose weight, or, as a physical exercise.It’s true that the West got too obsessed with yoga's physical aspect.
The protagonists on the other side argue that to welcome the greatest number of people, yoga has to dilute itself. They think its original incarnation carries too much baggage. The truth, however, is somewhere in between. Yoga can be taken to every corner of the world without diluting its essence. At the same time, making it acceptable and appealing doesn’t have to mean dilution of its core.
By presenting it in simple and pragmatic formats, the streams of yoga like Art of Living have shown yoga can be programmed into a 21st-century app without selling its soul. This approach has also helped yoga establish its universal and secular credentials and draw people from all faiths and beliefs to practice it without the fear of sacrilege. That is also the reason behind the Art of Living gaining huge popularity as a stream of yogic and spiritual wisdom even in countries which are considered not so flexible.
The success lies in the ability to convey the essence sans the orthodoxy. The strategy is to tailor innovative offerings that encompass the eight limbs of yoga and conform to Maharishi Patanjali’s definition of yoga as a vehicle for stopping the vrittis or modulations of the mind.
"The eight limbs of yoga are like the four legs of a chair. Each one is connected to the whole. If one limb is pulled, everything else will move. Those who start doing asanas are most likely to get interesting in something beyond. If their interest for meditation gets kindled, then they are on the right track,” explains Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who has globally popularised an inclusive brand of yoga by combining asanas with other practices like the sudarshan kriya, pranayamas and meditation.
Adding a sense of pragmatism to it, Sri Sri says even if one stops at exercise, it’s not bad, though he or she will not experience the union of the different dimensions of life, which is the ultimate goal of yoga. He even supports bringing yoga to the Olympics as a competitive sport.
"If people start doing yoga for whatever reason, I am satisfied with that," he opines. He is particularly buoyed by the experience of Art of Living in running yogic programmes in prisons. "The moment they get a taste of meditation, their whole thought process and behavior pattern change. They start on the path of non-violence, become truthful and overcome the tendencies to cheat. By attending to Dhyana (seventh limb), Yamas (first) and Niyamas (second) get manifested in one’s life," he assures.
"Yoga would be incomplete if even one limb is absent from it. Our programmes attend to it all. There are asanas, pranayamas, breathing exercises and meditation that lead to samadhi, the eighth limb. We see yoga as not just as a practice, but a state of consciousness that transcend the gross,” he elucidates.
Unfortunately, people think that the eight limbs are eight steps, one after another. The limbs are not sequential; they are parts of the whole. Sri Sri draws the parallel of the human body. "The whole body develops together. All the organs develop together, but their own suitable pace," he decodes the sublime secret with the lightness that’s his trademark.
The eight limbs of yoga are so interconnected that it doesn’t really matter where one starts. Be it the physical or mental, lofty or ordinary, the practice of one complements the others.
It all boils down to having the skill of making it rock on eight limbs. How aptly Lord Krishna said, "Yogah Karmasu Kaushalam!"