Non-traditional Schools of Yoga

The different types of non-traditional schools of Yoga are elaborated.

The schools of Yoga that do not adhere to all the characteristics of the traditional schools of Yoga are non-traditional even though they may have been developed in India by Indian teachers.

In the plains of India, there are many institutions and teachers that have adapted a truncated form of Yoga. These schools are not traditional schools of Yoga. Else where in the world, particularly in the USA and Europe new schools of physical culture going by the name of Yoga are cropping up.

What's in a name? Non-traditional or Modern Schools of Yoga

While exploring non-traditional schools of Yoga be mindful of the fact that these schools present only a part and not the whole system of Yoga. Many observers of and commentators on the Yoga scene often refer to these schools as Modern schools of Yoga.

I have delibrately moved away from the term modern, since it implies that these schools are complementary to the traditional schools. In reality most of these schools of Yoga are so far from the traditional schools of Yoga that their approach may not be called Yoga at all. However, since this shift in the popular language is unlikely to happen, I have opted to call these schools non-traditional in the hope that it will clearly indicate that these schools break away from the traditional way of teaching and practicing Yoga. 

a. Therapeutic Schools of Yoga

Therapeutic schools have gained tremendous popularity in India and increasingly in other parts of the world.

The therapeutic schools of Yoga acknowledge the role played by the mind in causing and healing disease. Many of the therapeutic schools therefore place great importance on diet and healthy lifestyle.  The goal of the therapeutic schools is not spiritual in nature; it is merely alleviation of disease.

It must be noted that Yoga did not developed as a therapy. The system of Yoga developed as a spiritual practice. Therapy has been the domain of Yoga's sister science Ayurveda. Yoga on the other hand has been the privilege of the few who aspire to go beyond body and mind to explore spiritual realms.

If we would understand that health is not to be defined merely in terms of the physical, mental and social aspects but also spiritual, then we would be closer to understanding the power of Yoga.

b. Schools of Physical Culture

A hallmark of the schools of physical culture is that they delibrately drop the code of conduct and recommend no particular path of Yoga.

Schools of physical culture are mushrooming all over the globe, particularly in the West. There has been an increasing tendency, not just in the West, but in modern India as well, to equate Yoga with physical exercise or sport. The reason for this is simple. Most people don't know what Yoga is.

Imagine, you go to a car dealer and tell him you want to buy a car. The car dealer shows you four tyres and says this is the best car he has. Would you buy the four tyres and go home believing you bought a car? No, of course not!

Why not? Because you know that tyres are only a part of the car, and not the car!

Next you go to a yoga teacher in your town and ask for a yoga course. He teaches you some physical exercises and says this is the best yoga class in town. And do you believe him?

Yes, unfortunately. Because you do not know what the whole of Yoga is. You buy the part he sells you and believe this is all there is to it. 

The schools of physical culture focus only on the body poses (or asanas). Occasionally they also practise a few breathing exercises (pranayama) and a few relaxation exercises. The focus remains at the body level. Of course, you can practice only the physical aspects of Yoga. But using Yoga for purely physical therapy is, to draw a parallel, like using your laptop as a pocket calculator. A pity, isn't it?

Many of the schools of physical culture claim to teach Astanga, Hatha or Kundalini Yoga.

Hatha and Kundalini Yoga of the traditional schools are most advance stages of spiritual practice. Many stages of practice, including moral and ethical purification precede the traditional practices of Hatha and Kundalini Yoga. The form of Hatha and Kundalini Yoga taught in these sport studios and fitness centres is not to be confused with that of traditional schools. This amateur version of Hatha and Kundalini Yoga is a truncated form of the authentic traditions of Yoga. Purists and traditionalists insist that this amateur version may not be called Yoga at all. At best such teachers may be called Asana teachers and their classes Asana classes. 

Many of the schools of physical culture claiming to teach Hatha Yoga teach body contorting postures and their "advanced" classes and students are the envy of circus artistes! This form of physical culture or sport has nothing to do with Yoga. In the traditional way of practicing Yoga the less you move, the more advanced you are. The more relaxed and natural you are, the more you are in tune with the cosmic force.

Source Guide

Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda

A History of Indian Philosophy

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