Blog Post

Trying to Separate the Physical from the Spiritual Aspects of Yoga - for Profit's Sake?

BY writes: "You mention yoga pretty often on your program, and there's one thing that I've never heard from you, that you might want to include in your arguments. It will help you when talking to people who want to do the physical part only. The physical is Hatha Yoga and the meditative is Rajah Yoga. There is an old saying in yoga itself - "No hatha without rajah; no rajah without hatha". This clearly says that it is impossible to divorce the physical from the meditative, according to the philosophy itself. If they say it can't be done, then it definitely can't be done." Indeed, this very same maxim can be found in the Hatha Yoga Pradipka, which is a basic text on Hatha yoga dating back to the 15th century: "There can be no Raja Yoga without Hatha Yoga and no Hatha Yoga without Raja Yoga. Hatha is the preparation for Raja and Raja is the [ultimate] goal of Hatha Yoga.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with these terms, Raja yoga stresses the meditational aspects of yoga and is practiced to attain self-rule while Hatha yoga emphasizes the postures, breathing and cleansing processes believed to help one achieve spiritual perfection. Raja, which means "royal" is considered the "highest" or "royal" yoga because it is through this practice that one reaches the supreme attainment of consciousness or "self-realization." However, yogis agree that Raja yoga and its lofty mental practices are difficult for the average person. For this reason, it relies on the external practices of Hatha yoga to prepare the practitioner for the more difficult inner practices of Raja. As Swami Jnaneshvara explains on his website:  "Note that the goal of Hatha Yoga is not merely physical fitness. While the text describes asanas (postures), purifying practices (shatkarma), mudras (finger and hand positions), bandhas (locks), and pranayama (breath exercises), it also explains that the purpose of Hatha Yoga is the awakening of Kundalini (subtle energy), leading in through Sushumna (the central energy channel), and advancing through Raja Yoga to the deep meditative absorption called Samadhi." The bottom line is that every serious practitioner of yoga knows that the spiritual and physical aspects of yoga are inseparable. Consider this comment from Subhas Rampersaud Tiwari, professor of yoga philosophy and meditation at Hindu University of America. He was speaking about the sun salutation which is one of the best-known series of body postures in Hatha yoga. The sun salutation is literally a Hindu ritual, he said. "It is a whole series of ritual appreciations to the sun, being thankful for that source of energy." Swami Param of the Classical Yoga Hindu Academy said that to think of the sun salutation as a mere physical movement is tantamount to "saying that baptism is just an underwater exercise." While millions of Americans might be practicing yoga to stretch and strengthen their muscles, yoga experts say they are co-opting an ancient spiritual philosophy and thereby degrading and commercializing it. In fact, this is what prompted the Hindu America Foundation launched their Take Back Yoga campaign. As Param said, the very American practice of things like hip-hop yoga, yoga for pets, and using Hindu deities as fashionable knickknacks in their homes, is "hurtful and insulting" to Hindus. This trivialization of yoga into a kind of exercise program, which is being done largely for the sake of attracting a lucrative Christian market in the West, really has to stop - for the sake of both Christians and Hindus. Check out this story about how some Western yoga instructors are talking out of both sides of their mouth in an attempt to protect their yoga profits. Send your New Age question to