For most people yoga is a system to increase body flexibility and to release emotional tensions, so to achieve a sense of wellbeing. For those inclined to explore the philosophical/spiritual side of life, yoga can offer also much more, it is in fact a very ancient philosophical system which can inspire ethical choices and influence our lifestyle in a positive and constructive way.
Though, like every human system, yoga can also be applied in a dogmatic way, unfortunately. A dogmatic approach is when we do things in a rigid and irrational way, when our choices are not based on logic but purely on assumptions and beliefs, or when they are lacking an emotional understanding of the situation.
So, what are the most common dogmas in modern yoga? Here a list of those that I have observed more often:
1. “My teacher is the best.” This is a very common dogma, and sometimes is manifested in quite amusing ways. It happens often, for example, that when the main teacher in a yoga class is for some reason substituted by another teacher, the regular participants to the class react in an irrational and angry way, complaining even before to actually experiencing the class with the new teacher. And many times, paradoxically, the “new teacher” is actually not new at all, he or she might have much more experience than the teacher that they substitute, and in some cases they might even be the original teachers of the teacher that is substituted in that particular class. Besides, yoga is something very vast, so there is always something to learn, from any teacher. Of course, sometimes it might happen that what we learn from a teacher is not something positive, but we can’t know that before we experience it, so we can’t a approach a class with the prejudice that the new teacher is necessary bad simply because is not our regular one.
2. “I never did this exercise before, so this is not real yoga”. Again, yoga is something very vast, so before to judge what is real yoga and what is not, one should be humble enough to read the yoga history and philosophy. To read a few articles on commercial magazines like Yoga Journal, is often far from being enough to understand what yoga is.
3. “Everybody in the gym does yoga following this specific sequence, so the real yoga is that sequence.” Sequences of asanas in yoga are a very modern phenomenon, the concept of yoga-sequences was simply not existing until about 60 years ago (yoga has thousand of years). Yes, it is wise to do a counterpose after one pose, to obtain a balanced effect, but the way of putting a pose and a counterpose in sequence might change according to the situation and to to the body type of the practitioner.
4. “If a teacher has a certification of 500 hour of training he is good!” 500 hours of training in most cases means nothing. Surely it means nothing if we want to approach yoga in a traditional way. Traditionally, one was supposed to study yoga for several years (not just for some hours) before to dare to call himself a teacher. And surely it was not a commercial American organisation that was delivering the status of “Yogi” putting a stamp on a diploma to expose on a wall. A yogi supposed to be somebody that has practiced yoga for a very long time, to the point of having integrated and personalised the philosophical and ethical principles of this discipline.
5. “A person that can do very difficult yoga poses is a great yogi.” If it was enough to do acrobatic exercises to become a yogi, then circus artists and ballerinas should be the greatest yogis in the world, but obviously is not the case.
6. “Ashtanga Yoga is the most advanced form of yoga, because it requires a lot of physical ability and discipline.” What nowadays is called Ashtanga Yoga is actually a mix between traditional Hatha Yoga, Indian martial art (Kalarypayattu), and Western gymnastic. It can be a great physical training, but there is little in it of the traditional Kriyas, Pranayamas, and various forms of Raja Yoga-meditations, so it is quite improper to call it the most advanced form of yoga. Besides, everything changes according to time, space and person, so the concept of “more advanced” is really very relative, and the use of that term reveals a competitive way of thinking that perhaps might be important in the world of sport, but has simply nothing to do with yoga. The authentic Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali in any case was about sitting meditation.
7. “To be a yogi means to have always a neutral mind”. To have an uncoloured, neutral mind is definitely the essence of a Dhyan meditation (Dhyan is the 7th limb of the traditional Ashtanga of Patanjali). In the everyday life though, when we interact in the society, we need to take decisions, and to take decisions we need to use what in the yoga philosophy is called vivek, a rational, intuitive discrimination. It is not possible to have a neutral mind when we need to take everyday-life decisions, if we have a neutral mind when we see somebody in troubles, for example, we would just be staring at him like passive, numbed zombies, instead of helping him! Though, to stretch our mind during regular meditative practices, uncolouring it, pausing it, keeping it neutral for a while, will make our mind more clear and intuitive when we need to take a decision. In that way we will be less influenced by assumptions and prejudices, so our decisions will be more ethical and fair. So, yes to a neutral mind, but in meditation, not when we take decisions.