Yoga and meditation have a long history and yet what we have come to know in the West now as yoga is really only the tip of the iceberg and a tip that has probably formed more recently than many realize. The ancient practice of yoga was much more meditative and contemplative, characterized by a stillness and deep awareness that sometimes can seem to be sorely lacking in our current practices. The ancient practitioners (including the Buddha, probably the most famous yogi and certainly the most influential) did not spend much time doing headstands, shoulder stands, spinal twists or contortionistic backbends. Not that they were unaware of their bodies, probably quite the contrary. They just managed to align, relax and adjust themselves with such ease, grace and subtlety that no one noticed or bothered to make much of it. Perhaps the ancients did not suffer the kinds of strains, tensions and distortions that we moderns do and so did not need the blatant exertions, like those seen in modern yoga classes, to correct the milder and fewer physical flaws they experienced.
Yoga, when it is truly inspired and rightly guided, can have a very different feel and look to it from the yoga that is practiced today. What has come down to us as traditional yoga is probably an amalgam of more recent developments and influences including, surprisingly enough, English gymnastics and calisthenics. Even the yoga we call Hatha was probably developed only in the last 500 or 600 years of Indian History. The more ancient practices of yoga and meditation go back 3 or 4 thousand years and probably even predate the Aryan invasions that occurred around 1500 BC. Some Indus Valley clay seals showing men seated in what appear to be meditation postures have been unearthed at sites in pre-Aryan, Indus Valley city-states.
Perhaps there is a happy middle way of practicing yoga today that lies somewhere between the exertions of a contemporary Hatha yoga practice and the more sedentary and contemplative style of the ancients. It may be especially important for those of us known as the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1960 and now in our 40’s, 50’s and older) to look for a kind of yoga that is easy, gentle and sensible. This yoga would be a more mature practice for a more mature person. It is certainly true that what may be suitable for an 18 year old or someone in their twenties may not be right or even desirable for those of us two or three times that age. Where the 18 or 20 year old may benefit and enjoy the powerful twists, bends and balances of a vigorous practice, the 55 and 60 year olds can just as easily be injured and strained by them. There must be an easier, subtler and even more therapeutic way to practice yoga, and there is.
A yoga practice can be guided by one’s own inner body sense of tension, stiffness, strain and distortion (the kinesthetic sense). Certain key muscle groups can, when tight and short, be prime culprits in creating our stressed and distorted bodies and addressing the issue of tightness and constriction in these muscles can be a large and effective part of a more mature yoga practice. A number of simple yoga tools can greatly enhance this kind of practice. Some of these tools can be found at my commercial web site at: YogaTools.com