Yoga: The Change, the Goal

Both Warrior I and Humble Warrior have the same leg position, and both poses are grounded with firm legs. The difference is: in Warrior I, our arms reach up towards the sky, and we look up, gazing at our hands, demonstrating a proud, passionate, and vigorous warrior. Humble Warrior can be a continuation of Warrior I, yet the direction shifts: head down towards the ground with hands clasped at the back, and drawing attention inward, the inner strength cannot be seen. Baddha Virabhadra, known as the Humble Warrior, is also a bound warrior, as the Sanskrit term “Baddha” means “bound, restrained.” A bound warrior is humbled because they know their limits.They know there is no such thing as invincibility. But because of their acceptance of limitations, they can skillfully transform their unconquerable spirit to adapt to the change of circumstances. Shaer, the main character in the Chinese story of The Magic Braid, is a perfect example. 

Shaer lived at the end of the Qing dynasty, the last imperial dynasty before the Republic of China, when all men were forced to have a long single braid, the Manchurian hairstyle. Shaer had a special Kungfu that was passed down from his ancestors. He could use his long braid like a whip to hit others. Being a hawker selling fried tofu and living alone, no one knew that he practiced Kungfu. 

One day, during a festival parade, a local ruffian was causing trouble, Shaer could not stand that the festival was being disturbed and gave the ruffian a lesson with his braid. Shamed and angry, the ruffian invited a couple of martial arts masters to have a contest with Shaer. But both were lost under the miraculous braid. Shaer’s fame spread; he was even regarded as a folk hero after defeating a Japanese samurai, and his braid was called the magic braid. 

Soon, the Eight-Nation Alliance invaded China. At that time, there was the Boxer Rebellion, or Yihetuan Movement. The boxers were trained in martial arts and some of their practice involved a type of spiritual possession that made them believe that, from the protection of incantations, knives, bullets, and cannon fire wouldn’t be able to harm them. After watching some unbelievable supernormal performances, Shaer was convinced the boxers were invulnerable to foreign weapons and then joined the Yihetuan (the Boxers). 

While the boxers were chanting incantations of deities and wielding swords, spears, and knives against modern weapons like guns and cannons, Shaer put a written incantation in his superb braid and went to the battlefield in high spirits. During the battle, his braid was broken by a bullet shot. Shocked, Shaer realized the magic of his braid, and the power of the incantation were conditioned by circumstances. Not too long after surviving the battle, he had to cut his braid because of the demise of the Qing dynasty. Times had changed. Shaer later joined the army of the Republic of China and became an excellent sharpshooter. He knew it was essential to keep the unbeatable spirit, but not hold onto a specific form.  

Everything is bound by conditions, so as new circumstances arise, things change. Yoga has lasted thousands of years. From the Katha Upanishad and Yoga Sūtrato modern yoga, our understanding of yoga has evolved. Nowadays, yoga is well known for its physical asana exercises, and the concept of yoga from the god of death in the Katha Upanishad is rarely mentioned. However, the fundamental purpose of yoga is the same. As T.K.V. Desikachar points out, “We all have the goal of eliminating duḥkha,” which is “suffering, troubles, or sickness.” Different forms of yoga, such as asana, breathing exercises, and meditation, all serve this purpose. And “That is what the Buddha taught. That is what Vedānta strives for. That is what yoga tries to achieve.” Focusing on this goal, we then won’t be confused when we need to take a detour or change the form of practice.

While yoga gives us the ability to reach our target, the understanding of the aim of yoga helps us find the ground to stand on and not get lost in its variety of meanings and forms. Grounded with the clear goal and developing with the times, this is the method of adapting to changing conditions, and this is how to keep yoga practice vital. 


  1. Feng Jicai, The Magic Braid [神鞭], 
  2. Sanskrit term “Baddha” explanation from B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga(London: Thorsons, 2001), 445.
  3. T.K.V.Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga: Developing a personal practice (Rochester: Inner Traditions International, 1995), 83

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