Traditionally, Yoga has been practiced as a spiritual discipline consisting of a broad range of activities, exercises, and lifestyle directives to achieve spiritual uplifting. These Yoga directives and instructions span a combination of physical exercises, specific nutrition, purification techniques, meditation, ethical behavior, chanting, study, and rituals, among a variety of other things.
The distinct ways these instructions have been put together in a coherent ensemble make up the style or lineage of a certain Yoga discipline, that is, it classifies the type of Yoga and its method or path. Nevertheless, despite of the various types of Yogas that came about across the centuries, they were all aimed at spiritual attainment, and comprised of a lifestyle rather than being an “exercise” modality.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, India’s classical text on Yoga philosophy, are a great example of “a path” that needs to be followed to achieve the goal of Yoga, which is typically the realization of one’s true nature and union with the Divine. Patanjali’s Yoga system is widely known as Ashtanga Yoga or the “Eight Limbs of Yoga,” meaning the eight steps that need to be practiced to achieve liberation from earthly bondage and to gain true wisdom and peace of mind.
Today, however, most of the practices around Yoga are quite different. Yoga is often only carried out as a physical exercise modality, more as a kind of gymnastics, better known as Yoga as Exercise. Sometimes, Yoga is also applied as a therapeutic modality for restorative purposes, which is then called Yoga as Therapy.
As a whole, there’s generally a strong emphasis on the physical, material aspects and results of Yoga in order to gain a fit, lean, energetic, vital, and healthy body. Moreover, Yoga is often presented as a means to gain a toned, trimmed, and beautiful physique, and its poses and postures (Asanas) have gotten an overly esthetic value.
Despite of Yoga’s perversion in sometimes almost unrecognizable features, there are still quite a range of popular Yoga modalities — both old and new — that primarily focus on spiritual achievement. Examples of these types of Yoga practices include Kundalini Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Advaita, Siddha Yoga, and Sahaja Yoga, to name just a few.
In fact, Yoga as a spiritual discipline isn’t gone or dead, but even the spiritually geared Yoga practices — in the way they’re being carried out today — are too often overly commercialized, presenting paths to attainment that are not only doubtful in their efficacy, but also a corruption of what Yoga originally stood for.