In this article we'll address the use and misuse of the word yoga: The misuse of the word yoga often involves what logicians call the “fallacy of composition” which basically is inferring that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole. Also this can mean projecting a characteristic assumed by a part to be the characteristic assumed by the whole or by others. Oftentimes this can lead to false conclusion that whenever a person is doing some action that is included in yoga, that person is necessarily doing yoga.
This is what happens when anyone says that Yoga is physical fitness, stress management, or medical treatment. Again, the goal of yoga is yoga, and this has to do with the realization or direct experience of the highest unity of our being.
Here are some obviously unreasonable and false arguments about the nature of yoga and the use of the word yoga. Some of the examples below might sound silly, but they are common illustrations of “fallacy of composition.”
- Body flexing is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody who flexes the body is practicing Yoga.
- Breath regulation is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody who intentionally breathes smoothly and slowly is practicing Yoga.
- Contracting the anal sphincter muscles is a lock, which is part of Yoga; therefore anybody contracting those muscles is doing Yoga.
- Cleansing the body is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody cleansing the body is practicing Yoga.
- Purging the gastrointestinal system is a practice of Yoga; therefore, anybody taking an enema is practicing Yoga.
- Concentrating the mind is part of Yoga; therefore anybody who concentrates is practicing Yoga.
- Talking to yourself in a contemplative way is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody talking to himself or herself is practicing Yoga.
- Lovingness is part of Yoga; therefore all people who love their family and friends are practicing Yoga.
- Honesty is a part of Yoga; therefore, any honest person is practicing yoga.
- Contentment is a foundation of Yoga; therefore, anyone who is content is practicing Yoga.
- Eating healthy food is a part of Yoga; therefore, anyone eating fresh vegetables is practicing Yoga.
- Attenuating attractions and aversions is part of Yoga; therefore, anyone reducing their habitual thoughts and emotions is practicing Yoga.
- Sitting still is a part of Yoga; therefore, anybody who is sitting still is practicing Yoga.
- Here are some other false statements about Yoga, which have unfortunately come to be widely accepted as true.
- Since Yoga is beneficial to the body, Yoga is a physical fitness program. (Wrong; the goal of Yoga is Yoga.)
- Since Yoga reduces stress, Yoga is a stress management method. (Wrong; the goal of Yoga is Yoga.)
- Since Yoga has an effect on physical health, Yoga is a medical treatment. (Wrong; the goal of Yoga is Yoga.)
By understanding the fallacy of composition, and reflecting on these simple examples, it is easy to see through the numerous arguments and widespread misperception that yoga is all about physical fitness, stress management, or medical treatment. In fact, yoga is ONLY about the higher union relating to pure consciousness, soul, spirit, purusha, atman, or other such words. Other efforts for secondary purposes may be quite useful, but they are NOT part of Yoga unless these higher goals are the fundamental motive for the practices.
What does Yoga mean? According to The Sivananda Yoga Om Page yoga means union: "Although many people think this term refers to union between body and mind or body, mind and spirit, the traditional acceptance is union between the Jivatman and Paramatman that is between one's individual consciousness and the Universal Consciousness. Therefore Yoga refers to a certain state of consciousness as well as to methods that help one reach that goal or state of union with the divine."
In ancient times, the word Yoga previously referred to the whole; now it refers to a part, the postures. Hatha in Sanskrit literally means “effort,” “force,” or “exertion.” Hatha Yoga was considered to be only a part, or aspect of the greater whole, which was called yoga. More precisely, postures were only a part of the part. In fact, Hatha Yoga itself only partially dealt with the practice of postures, called Asanas. Thus, the postures (or Asanas) were just a part of Hatha Yoga.
Furthermore, it is not absolutely necessary for someone to do the physical postures (Asanas) to be a practitioner of authentic Yoga.
Stay tuned, this series will continue – coming up next; “Approaches to the True Goal of Yoga (Part 8).”
Rae Indigo is ERYT 500