georg feuerstein (1947 – 2012) on the missing link in western yoga

In a rare video interview from the film Origins of Yoga, Georg Feuerstein – who passed away on Aug 25 in Eastend, Saskatchewan – explains what could be the central mission of his scholarly and written work on yoga, including more than 30 books, training programs and mentor relationships (both formal and informal) with many of the leading voices in the global yoga community.

My whole work over the past 30 years has been talking about the missing link in Western yoga. What was eliminated was the core of the yogic tradition in order to make yoga palatable to Western audiences. And that core is the spiritual core. It’s really the essence of yoga in terms of our paths to inner freedom, inner peace and happiness.

The tributes to Feuerstein’s life and influence have started to emerge: Michael Stone (via Facebook), Frank Jude Boccio and Swami Jnanesvara (via Facebook).

  1. I am always afraid I’m focusing too much on the physical aspect of yoga…but I guess just like the physical asanas, the spiritual ones take practice too!

  2. Paul Grilley says the same thing in his trainings. Grilley has said that spirituality had to be stripped out of yoga to make it palatable to westerners. What I don’t understand is why this is not obvious.

  3. From my understanding and experience, working on the physical will bring the spiritual. Yoga unites the mind, body, spirit – working on the body prepares it for the spiritual connection through meditation. Mind-body-spirit is a unified entity – they can’t be separated. Essentially, we’re tying to connect with our true nature through yoga.

    • Marina,

      The operative, key-phrase here is “from my understanding and experience.” I am glad to hear this, but wish to point out that it was YOUR karmic propensities — your own life experience and orientation — that led you to connect to the ‘spiritual’ aspects of yoga practice through the physical asana practice.

      There is nothing inherent IN the asanas that guarantee this bridging, as evidenced by the very many practitioners who practice asana for years and even decades without ever growing interested in the ‘deeper spiritual’ aspects of yoga.

      This is why Georg would often remind us teachers that we should consciously be clear: do we want to be asana teachers or yoga teachers. If all we teach are asana, then we should proudly and happily ‘market’ ourselves as such. But if we want to be yoga teachers, we cannot lazily assume asana will ‘lead our students’ to the spiritual aspects, but from the very beginning, our teaching must integrate the teachings and practices.

  4. The physical asanas are an attractive entry point into Yoga… But I don’t believe that it “brings the spiritual.” Gary Kraftsow has also publicly backed this view, after seeing people practice only postures as exercise their whole lives and without it leading elsewhere.

    Even dedicated practice like Pattabhi’s Ashtanga Vinyasa system could be watered down to only focusing on the linkage of breath with movement, dristi and asana. Mastery of many postures may provide great energy and clearer perception, while magnifying the delusions of an already narcissistic personality.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking the asanas or diminishing their importance. The asanas can heal the body, and make it more comfortable to sit on the floor and contemplate one object of concentration. But what will that object of concentration be? This depends entirely on the motivations of the individual, and the motivation might only be to look good, feel good and break lots of hearts.

    Yoga is an individual path. For the spiritual seeker, everything is spiritual, independent of asana practice or a grasp of Sanskrit. Though asanas can help clear the mind and train it to overcome the impulse for distraction, they are not really necessary for a spiritual life.