Sample from the Fall 2007 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

An Interview with Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri)

Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri), a regular contributor to Integral Yoga Magazine, is one of the few westerners recognized in India as a Vedacharya, or teacher of Vedic wisdom. In this interview, he clearly illustrates the relationship between Yoga and Vedanta, particularly illuminating the importance of linking modern day Yoga practice to its classical roots.

Integral Yoga Magazine: What is Yoga Vedanta and what are its scriptural references?

David Frawley: Yoga is the unity of the individual self and the universal Self, and that subject is addressed in great detail by Vedanta. As such, Yoga can’t be separated from Vedanta. Even the Yoga Sutras accepts the authority of the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Vedas. The Gita is considered a Yoga sastra. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika lists advaita (non-duality) as one of the synonyms for Raja Yoga. In the Viveka Chudamani, Adi Shankara refers to the Yoga Sutras. However, Vedanta doesn’t rest on a book but on a realization for its ultimate truth.

IYM: What is the relationship between Yoga and Vedanta and how did they get separated?

DF: Yoga is one of the six darsanas or systems that accept the Vedas. Vedantic Yoga in the West precedes asana Yoga. The separation happened in the ‘70s and ‘80s when asana became the focus on Yoga. Yogi Bhajan, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Swami Satchidananda didn’t put their emphasis on Yoga asana. Vedanta is where the spiritual soul of Yoga is found.

IYM: Why do you think Yoga has become so identified with asana practice?

DF: A lot of the asana movement began because people practicing Yoga needed jobs and they could teach asanas; it was a way to do something that didn’t feel like “selling out” and that would help people. But, asana is not the subject of the ancient texts. The Yoga Sutras talk about asana basically in just two sutras that address the importance of sitting straight as a meditation aid and posture. The Sutras exist in the broader Vedic and Vedantic vision. Vedanta teaches how to get there—if you want the highest union you need viveka (discrimination between the real and unreal). The Yoga Sutras is a doorway to the whole world of Vedic teachings.

IYM: Is there a harm in putting the focus on asana?

DF: In the West, Yoga has become an exercise and fitness tradition. But real Yoga is a Vedic tradition. Yoga teachers who don’t know Vedanta aren’t really teaching Yoga—they are teaching exercise, stretching or movement. If you are doing postures alone you are just on the outside of Yoga. Inner Yoga is meditation, which is Vedanta—dharana, dhyana, samadhi. Swami Vivekananda, Swami Sivananda, Swami Satchidananda all emphasized the Self, unity, oneness.

IYM: Sri Gurudev gave a very simple and elegant approach to Hatha Yoga but his emphasis was not on asana with all the variations.

DF: You should not feel bad that Integral Yoga Hatha is not seen as the most sophisticated asana approach today. Yoga is not about becoming a Yoga athlete. Be proud of Integral Yoga. Yoga is a multimodal approach, it’s about integration. If your Yoga doesn’t address the integral unity of body, mind and spirit, then it becomes only about addressing the outer or physical, like modern medicine. That is why, in Ayurveda, we say it is better to have a simple medicine to address the whole body rather than a complex medicine that addresses only the feet (the physical by itself)!

Integral Yoga is holistic. People confuse Patanjali with asana and they don’t realize that Yoga is Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, Japa Yoga and so on. We have forgotten the breadth and depth of Yoga and are trying to stereotype and pigeonhole it. A lot of modern Yoga is Newtonian; it’s based on a physical skeletal rather than a multidimensional spiritual approach. If you over-do an asana it can be an obstacle to deeper Yoga practice because it can further attach you to the physical body. Yoga is designed to take you beyond the physical body. The purpose of asana is to put your body consciousness to rest so you can meditate. Asana is not the end, it’s the beginning!

Read the rest of this article in the Fall 2007 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.