Yoga in the Modern World
Question: I feel discouraged when I look out at the experience of yoga as it is called in the world today. It seems that it has become an exercise class and lost its true meaning. I am wondering if you have any words of encouragement.
Answer: In my view, what is happening today in the world is wonderful. That is my opinion. And I will explain to you why. In the past, yoga was for the very few. Today, for very specific reasons, yoga is for the many. Swami Vishnudevananda actually had this vision that one day, a very large portion of humanity will practice yoga. People according to their karma and to their capacity will find the gate and entrance into yoga. What we hear today is that there are many entrances into the world of yoga. The point is that a person entered the world of yoga through an entrance which is not traditional. If you would be Jewish, you would say “non-kosher”. It does not matter. Once they enter the world of yoga, they are blessed. It really does not matter. You see? The moment you enter, you are not going to get stuck; you are going to continue. Sooner or later, people are going from A to B, and from B to C and so on. And slowly they discover the complete world of yoga according to their capacity, according to their karma, according to their inclination, and so on. If yoga would be taught today like it was in the past, it would be just for the very few people of the highest caliber. But today… the statistic that I got two years ago was that 500 million people in the world are practicing yoga and 500 million is a lot of people. There are six billion people in the world. Every twelfth person in the world is practicing yoga. This is a lot, and probably today even more.
Is this good or bad? I think it is good because, to be honest with you, if you speak with people that practice yoga, you will hear stories of how yoga benefited their life—how it made them more peaceful, how it made them more joyful, how it made them more willing to serve others. Do good and contribute to the community. You will hear many good, wonderful stories.
When Swamiji said that most of the world will practice yoga, this sounded very strange in a way, because the teaching in yoga is that yoga is truly for the very few. But we are living in special times. And there are so many people, they have so many levels, they have so many inclinations, they have so many different types of karmas. Therefore, the net must be very wide, it has to be. Yes, it is true that in many places yoga is not taught in what we would call an authentic way. But from my point of view, this is a narrow way to look at it.
This is my opinion. Just because it is my opinion does not mean you have to accept it. No, I think it is a blessing in disguise, this is what I think. Yes, it is true. But the outcome, the ultimate outcome, is good. Still, our duty is to do our level best to teach people the authentic form of yoga. This is our duty. It does not mean that what happens around the world is not supposed to happen. I believe it is supposed to happen, specifically this way. And I have the proof for it. If it was not supposed to happen this way, it would not happen this way.
Swami Swaroopananda is a senior disciple of Swami Vishnudevananda. A practicing yogi from a very young age, Swami Swaroopananda has dedicated his life to the practice and teaching of yoga. He taught in Yoga Teacher Training Courses around the world and is currently teaching advanced yoga philosophy courses and lectures internationally. He is Director of the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat and acharya (spiritual director) for the Sivananda centers and ashrams in the Bahamas and the Middle East. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres.