Many groups claim to be practicing or teaching yoga, but what exactly does that mean? Each group has their own unique interpretation and practice of yoga.
An orientation by types of Modern Yoga can help us understand the practices emphasized by school or teacher and the level of commitment expected of followers.
For this typology, adapted from A History of Modern Yoga: Patanjali and Western Esotericism by Elizabeth De Michelis, we included developments since the 1950s and English-speaking countries worldwide (including Indian Schools with locations outside of India). The formulation of Modern Yoga began in 1896 with Swami Vivekananda [see my Origins of Modern Yoga post for a historical timeline] who developed Raja Yoga as body-mind-spirit ‘training’: in this typology we call this Modern Psychosomatic Yoga. (By psychosomatic we mean, here, the interaction of mind and body).
Several decades after Vivekananda’s introduction of Modern Yoga to the West, further specialization occurred when some schools placed greater emphasis on physical practices and others more on mental ones. Modern Postural Yoga developed a strong emphasis on performance of asana (physical yogic postures) and pranayama (yogic breathing or bodily energy control). Modern Meditational Yoga emphasized techniques of concentration and meditation.
Though the typologies discussed here are broadly applicable, Modern Yoga schools don’t fit entirely into neat little buckets or categories. Some schools may fit into more than one category. For instance, Postural and Meditational Yoga are complementary practices. In cases where schools might fit into more than one category, the main doctrine or practice most emphasized by the school determined where they were placed in this typology.
At Modern Yoga schools, “committed engagement in intellectual reflection and evaluation of their own heritage is not especially encouraged, and often lacking”, says De Michelis. “The general underlying assumption being that understanding will come through first-hand experience rather than from intellectual deliberation”.1 Experiential epistemology2 (that is personal experiences as the path to knowledge) tends to be valued and intellectual development often devalued. The “experiential” religio-philosophical approach is typical of New Age religion (though many Modern Yoga schools and practitioners will not self-identify as part of New Age). [Read my posts on New Age Religion].
“If more people were to study the history, roots and beliefs of Modern Yoga more carefully (that is, among other things, by trying to exercise more intellectual discrimination)” writes De Michelis, who strongly believes, “this could be of great benefit not only to practitioners of Modern Yoga, but also to academics and intellectuals in general”.3
1 De Michelis, Elizabeth. A History of Modern Yoga: Patanjali and Western Esotericism, Continuum NY:NY 2005. Print. p187-89. This book is a fascinating and carefully researched history of the roots and beliefs of Modern Yoga as taught and practiced today. Strongly recommended reading for everyone who is serious about yoga and meditation–whether as teacher, practitioner, or student of history. Why wouldn’t practitioners want to learn the history, roots and beliefs of yoga schools (from sources outside their schools)?
2 Epistemology, the study of the nature, origin, and limits of human knowledge. The term is derived from the Greek epistēmē (“knowledge”) and logos (“reason”), and accordingly the field is sometimes referred to as the theory of knowledge. See Epistemology, Encyclopedia Britannica. Modern Yoga schools teach and value experiential epistemology, that is knowledge gained through personal experience or personal observation, and devalue analytical or intellectual knowledge. As such, many modern yoga practitioners devalue the validity of objective, external knowledge and overvalue personal or subjective experience, that more often than not, is delusion–human deception, that denies and is devoid of serious intellectual development.
3 De Michelis, Elizabeth. A History of Modern Yoga: Patanjali and Western Esotericism, Continuum NY:NY 2005. Print. p5