There is an ongoing debate about what constitutes yoga, what is heretical, prudish, too sexual, unnecessarily rigid, authentic, disrespectful, compassionate, ridiculous, and what, in the end, everybody thinks everyone else should be doing when they do yoga.
When you go to the most well-known primary texts of raja yoga we currently use – The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Bhagavad Gita, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and the Upanishads – a variety of answers abound as to the kind of practices and guidelines one can pursue as a yogi. And all that without going into the other various forms of yoga such as Bhakti or Tantra.
In truth, there is no precedent for whether or not yoga events should have a corporate sponsor, or whether paying almost a hundred dollars for yoga pants is unethical, or if a yoga instructor is selling out to model nonyoga wear.
In the end, I believe this must be a question determined not by the yoga path one is on, but the life path:
1) Pravahi marg (worldly path) Those who are on the worldly path are people who are interested in the path of life most of us were introduced to as children – the path of pursuing work, family, friends, home, travel, hobby, retirement, and a peaceful death in bed surrounded by loved ones. The effort is to traverse this life with as much happiness, fulfillment, success, and (hopefully) love as possible.
2) Maryada marg (liberation through effort) Those who are on the path of liberation through effort follow the various practices of raja yoga. They are interested in pursuing enlightenment to the fullest extent they can in this lifetime. They may be householder yogis or “full-time” yogis. The effort is to touch on experiences of Samadhi through various practices that allow for yogas citta vritti nirodhah (PYS I.2) – the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.
3) Pushti marg (liberation through grace) Those who are on the path of liberation through grace are usually thought to have pursued the maryada marg in several past lifetimes. As the translation suggests, there is less effort in their path. They are often graced with a guru in their lives, and often (but in no way always) practice Bhakti Yoga.
There are people pursing yoga on all of these life paths. The debate on yoga is really, I feel, going on between people on the pravahi marg and the maryada marg. They both come to yoga with different purposes, and see yoga in different ways.
Being on the pravahi marg and practicing yoga would be, to my mind, like how I would take karate. I would pursue it for its physical benefits (strength and self-defense), enjoy having around me karate associated things (clothing, images, keychain, books, DVD, etc.), and not at all delve into the rich history and foundation of the practice, nor investigate whether my karate choices were aligned with them or not. Would this make me a bad person? Would it make me an evil consumer of karate things? Not really, no. In the same way, there are lots of people who are not interested in pursuing yoga as an enlightenment practice. They come to class for the physical benefits, and perhaps to get some relaxation and bliss time in. They enjoy wearing nice yoga clothing and buying yoga related products. Yoga is their hobby. Does this make them a bad person? Are they evil yoga consumers? Not really, no. To be told that you are can be frustrating, and devaluing.
Those on the maryada marg are pursuing yoga as a means of moving toward enlightenment. They purse self-study, they pursue quieting the mind, they include in their life multiple aspects of the yoga practice, and not just asana. Eventually, asana becomes of less importance compared to the other aspects. As they delve into this kind of work, a lot of the trappings that have evolved around yoga start to come into very stark contrast with what the texts and their experiences of yoga reveal. Yoga, for those on the maryada marg, IS their life path. Whether just taking the first steps of bringing yoga into their “off the mat life”, or owning an established sadhana that permeates all aspects, these yogis identify with yoga as something of great value. To see yoga marketed and understood only in terms of asana, or only in terms of the pravahi marg, can be frustrating, and devaluing.
Perhaps if those on the pravahi marg can honor and acknowledge the fullness of yoga, and that is goes way beyond asana, and those on the maryada marg can honor and acknowledge that it is ok that not everyone practicing asana is pursuing yoga as well, then we can practice side by side without frustration, and in mutual support.
“Clearing the mind is a process of becoming simple, but it’s not a simple process. There’s plenty of room for excursions into more delusion (maya). We have all encountered, whether in ourselves or others, the tendency to substitute piety for purity, ritual for personal experience, or concepts for consciousness. These are ways we pretend to be spiritual while maintaining the fiction that we are the center of the universe. These delusions are not good or bad, but the ego can be very subtle and convincing at “being spiritual” too. “I’m a spiritual person” – how many lifetimes will we spend on that one? Eventually those fictions may lead us to real spiritual work anyway.” Ram Dass “Be Love Now”