Like our lives, yoga is filled with opposing forces: action and stillness, mind and body, sun and moon, east and west, art and science. As the word yoga is usually translated from Sanskrit as “to yoke” or “to join” together, through the practice of yoga, we come to understand these opposing forces and how they might be united or joined within us.
There are many schools of thought and philosophy within yoga. In the West, we often refer to the physical aspects of yoga as hatha yoga. The word hatha comes from the Sanskrit words “ha,” the sun, and “tha,” the moon. Hatha yoga is the union of these powerful celestial forces. This can be interpreted in a variety of ways, even as opposing energies or aspects of the self – our individual nature.
East and West Asanas
The east and west play a role in some yoga poses, which are also called asanas. Paschimottanasana, one of the basic seated forward bends, translates from Sanskrit as “west intense stretch.” The back of the body is regarded as the western side. In paschimottanasana, the entire back side of the body is stretched from heels to head.
In purvottanasana, “east intense stretch,” the entire front side of the body is stretched. This pose is sometimes called upward plank pose. It is an energizing, uplifting pose, which opens the chest and the heart center. By contrast, paschimottanasana is a calming, inward-focused pose that nourishes the abdominal organs. This is a simple example of how yoga balances opposing energies.
Eastern Culture, Western Commercialism
Yoga originated in the Eastern world, but is experiencing tremendous growth in the Western world. As Western industrialization and commercialism have spread to the East, elements of Eastern culture, such as yoga, have spread to the West. This all part of globalization, but which cultures have the most to gain and lose? How will Eastern societies adapt to Western corporate commercialism? In the West, we can see that yoga is being commercialized as its popularity increases. Will the true meaning and values that come with yoga from the East be lost in the process?
There are no certain answers to these types of questions. We do know, however, that yoga serves to balance and unite opposing forces and energies. As we strengthen and deepen our individual yoga practices, we are less likely to be seduced by the appeal of acquiring more objects and wealth; commercialism loses some of its strength. On a personal level, it is a type of balance between East and West.
Through yoga, we come to understand and accept our own imbalances and internal contradictions. We merge the body and mind, develop both strength and flexibility, and, though we live in the Western world, we are able to achieve this because of our connection to the East.