B. Yoga as Comprehensive and Regular: beyond yoga’s ‘pose’ and ‘flow’ dilution
Yoga as a philosophy and body of practice techniques is referenced and documented in more or less greater detail across primarily Sanskrit-based texts for the past 2,500 years (3). The traditional explanation of yoga and delivery of its teachings has been most frequently presented in a context of human psychological and physiological suffering: mental difficulty, emotional instability, psychological burden, uncontrolled senses, a distracted mind, an inability to focus, an incapacity for situational appraisal, anxiety and stress, and physical illness. A consistent description of the experience of yoga throughout the literature at different historical timepoints is mental equilibrium, a centered state of being, the meditative state. The Sanskrit word for meditation (‘dhyana’) is deeply embedded within yogic philosophy and teachings whereby it is quite clear that the yogic process and meditative process are the same: a skillful management of the mental faculties till the yogic, or meditative, experience is reached, a complete centeredness, which we may translate as mental equilibrium and harmony within a normal range of change across physical and psychological aspects of being.
The process of yoga involves yogic-meditative practices that cultivate this experience and state. However, the shifting emphasis on different practice techniques over the centuries was in response to societal needs rather than the efficacy and value of one technique over another. The past 100 years has witnessed the main attention on practices cultivated in the previous 700-900 years on body and breath meditative practices, known as Hatha yoga. Starting 90 years ago, but most commercially and popularly effective in the past 20 years, a minor element of this approach gained strong association with the physical activity market and as such has seen worldwide growth where a diluted translation of yoga has become synonymous with ‘pose’ (posture, asana) and ‘flow’ (erroneous interpretation of vinyasa).
Yoga identified as ‘pose’ and ‘flow’, often executed in terms of physical fitness, is only one element of a comprehensive yoga practice approach outlined in the original texts to manage and balance both the physiological and psychological aspects of our being. ‘Yoga’ as a popularly engaged in recreational activity has been published in the scientific literature with documented benefits to health and well-being. As a recreational activity it is a subjective decision with no greater efficacy and value than walking, running, chess, free-diving to satisfy and achieve a degree of personal well-being. If we are to discuss yoga practice as a behavioral lifestyle aid to the current psychological burden of stress then it needs to be framed within a comprehensive approach that engages the practitioner across a mixture of techniques capable as a whole to cultivate physiological and psychological resilience, not at just one measured time point of a typical body-based approach at the end of four weeks, for example, but developing over the long term. This is the position of the original teachings.
The key elements of such an approach are one, comprehensiveness with mental awareness, and two, regularity. Any guidance from a qualified instructor should be on the specifics of what to do and the encouragement to build a regular routine for it. Therefore, it can still occupy a recreational equivalent time commitment but with an emphasis on quality over quantity, ‘how’ more so than ‘what’. To reliably advise yoga practice, which includes breath and meditative techniques, for lifestyle behavioral effects, either through therapy or as part of research, to both relieve the burden of, and increase the resilience to, stress then these key elements are the focus and not the popularly perceived ‘pose’ and ‘flow’ effort. In short, 7 days of 10 minutes of a comprehensive yoga practice is worth more than 70 minutes one day in that week. The remaining challenge is having the skillful guidance to instruct 10, 20, 40-minute practices to be done very regularly incorporating a correct approach to posture, breath, and inner awareness.