A billion dollars is only a guess. Maybe it's more. Maybe it's less.
No one can deny that the teaching of yoga asanas (bodily postures) is a huge worldwide business. It is a good thing.
The important thing is that yoga has caught on with the public and become very popular. So much good comes from it. It doesn't matter which branch of yoga caught on in a big way first. All the branches of yoga are connected. If you do asanas, you will be drawn to pranayama and meditation eventually. If you do meditation, you will be drawn to asanas eventually. That's how it goes. Our nervous system knows a good thing when it sees it. Wake up the nervous system a little and it wants more. All of the branches of yoga are, after all, expressions of the natural ways that our nervous system opens to divine experience. In truth, our nervous system determines the practices, not the other way around. They come to us when we need them. It is amazing how that happens. It is the power of bhakti. In time, all of the practices come together automatically. We just have to give a nudge here and there. A little bhakti is enough to put us in nudging mode. See how simple it is?
It is no surprise that yoga asanas are so popular. We live in a world where human experience is based mainly on physicality. Our senses are yet to be drawn inward to the point where inner experiences will become as real (or more real) than experiences in the external world. So we are always looking for a physical solution. Yoga asanas begin to take us from physicality to more subtle experiences of divine energy in the nervous system. This is why asanas are so relaxing. It is their main draw. People do asanas for relaxation, for some inner peace. Yoga asanas are very good for that. They are also very good for preparing the body and mind for pranayama and meditation. This is the way we will look at them in these lessons – as a preparation in our daily routine for pranayama and meditation.
There are exceptions to the "relaxing" mode of asanas. Nowadays, you can go take a class in power yoga, aerobic yoga, and get a good workout. That is okay. It is not suggested for right before meditation though. We are going the other way in that case, to less activity in the nervous system, not more.
Asanas in the traditional sense are for quieting the nervous system. But more than that. They are designed to facilitate the flow of prana in the body, particularly in the sushumna, the spinal nerve. So you can see that this makes asanas an excellent preparation for pranayama, for spinal breathing.
Asanas are part of a broader system of yoga called hatha yoga. Other yoga systems include asanas too. No one owns them. In hatha yoga there are some additional practices that are more direct approaches to moving prana in the body. There is an Indian scripture called "Hathayogapradipika" that goes into these additional practices. They can also be found in other systems. For example, kundalini yoga and tantra yoga use them.
It all comes down to what we were talking about in the last lesson dealing with balancing kundalini – the joining of feminine and masculine energies in the nervous system, the joining of Shakti and Shiva. Hatha yoga means "joining of the sun and the moon," masculine and feminine energies. We will run into this theme in every tradition, because it is an essential characteristic of the human nervous system. The Taoists call it yin and yang. The Christians call it the holy spirit (or ghost) and God the father. The Christian patriarchy has tried to make the holy spirit androgynous, but it doesn't matter what they say. It does not change what she is inside us.
There is some overlap between asanas and the more advanced practices of hatha yoga. Some of these advanced yoga practices keep the name "asana," while others carry the name "mudra" or "bandha." Whatever you call them, they are mainly physical practices facilitating the movement of prana and pure bliss consciousness inside us. We have discussed a few of these methods already – mulabandha and sambhavi (mudra). We are about to take on some more.
But first, let's talk some more about asanas. There will be no attempt to teach a full range of yoga asanas in these lessons. It would not be practical. If you live in or near any town or city, the chances are good there is a yoga studio close by. If you have not already, go and take a yoga class. This will give you a basic routine to do at home, if you are so inclined. About five or ten minutes of gentle asanas before pranayama and meditation is an excellent way to start your session. If you are not inclined to do asanas, or don't have time, it is okay. Review the lessons on "finding the time" and "managing the time" back where we covered keeping up a daily practice of meditation and pranayama. These same time management procedures apply when adding asanas to your schedule. When time is short, asanas are last in the pecking order. If there is time for only one thing, the best choice is usually meditation. If two things, then pranayama and meditation. If three things, then asanas, pranayama and meditation. Like that. This is not to say that one practice is better than another. You may be naturally inclined to do asanas and leave pranayama and meditation behind. That's okay. It may even be necessary if you are having some kundalini imbalances. Asanas can help smooth out the inner currents. But if you do not have a strong urge one way or the other, you will usually do best to pick meditation if you have time to do only one thing. It is the deepest practice. It puts us directly in touch with pure bliss consciousness.
If you know nothing about asanas and live out in the wild somewhere, and are inclined to learn, there are plenty of good books and videos on yoga asanas. Any of them will do. For our purposes here we are looking for some very simple bending and stretching before our pranayama and meditation. What you do is up to you. If you want to do more than five or ten minutes of asanas, that is okay. Some people love to do yoga asanas. It can become an end in itself for some. That's okay too. Whatever practices you choose to do, make sure you build a stable daily routine that you can keep up without undo strain or discomfort. If it feels good after practices for the rest of the day and night, you are in the right ballpark. Then you are in the best position to consider adding more advanced yoga practices at some point.
Now we will look at several additional advanced yoga practices that add stimulation to the flow of prana in the body.
The guru is in you.