The yoga practiced today is not at all like it was practiced in the ancient past. Faeq Biria, a well
known Iyengar Yoga teacher in Europe and the director of the Iyengar Yoga Centre in Paris said that Patanjali, who wrote the ancient text The Patanjala Yoga Sutras (500-300 BC) would not recognize the yoga that we practice today. This is quoted by Russian yoga instructor and therapist Viktor Boyko in his book, Yoga: The Art of Communication.
The Patanjala Yoga Sutras say that before practicing physical postures one has to achieve internal harmony and harmonious relationships with others. This involves following certain rules of conduct and acquiring knowledge about the nature of one’s true self. After that, the practitioner understands the role of the body in the personal development and has a suitable attitude to begin learning the physical techniques.
During my study and travels in India I met many sanyasins (yoga ascetics) who were well educated and experienced in the subject. Some of them were even considered by the people around them to be spiritually enlightened. One of them was a monk named Acharya Sadhananda Avadhut. He had left his home and had given up his worldly possessions in order to dedicate himself to self-realization and teaching spirituality. I had a chance to talk to him about yoga poses.
He told me that he had seen people who were very advanced in physical yoga poses. They came to him to learn meditation and the spiritual path, however, he found that they were not able to experience higher levels of consciousness because their minds were affected by overly vigorous and intense yoga poses. He also found them to be impatient and they had little respect for his method and they were focused more on their physical self. He agrees that yoga practitioners should treat the body with respect. He says that people can use body practices to balance hormonal glands and nervous system activity which balance their minds on the physical level. However, they have to learn the spiritual approach, first.
I feel that this explained well by the Bengali spiritual master P. R. Sarkar who is also the founder of socio-spiritual movement called Ananda Marga. In his text called Ánanda Vacanámrtam Part 14 he says that yoga should be practiced in three stratums: physical, psychic and spiritual.
In the same text he also said: “The very existence of human beings will become unbalanced, human equipoise will be lost. So we must have yoga, or rather yoga-oriented movement, in each and every sphere of life.”