No, not yoga and evolution. Yoga and YOUR evolution. Change.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what my student said in class the other night, about what she thinks “real yoga” is.
To this student “real yoga” is about change on the micro- and macro- level. Or as I’ve heard Desikachar say, anything else is acrobatics.
I know the phrase “real yoga” irks some people. People don’t like to hear that phrase used, considering it judgmental or arrogant. They say that all yoga is good yoga and so what if someone does a 60 minute yoga DVD to get a slim, sexy body. And contrary to popular beliefs about this Krazy Old Yogini, I agree to a point: so what. The way yoga is advertised is a separate and entirely different issue.
Because as a wise reader told me recently, reality means that not everyone sings like Cecilia Bartoli or plays violin like Jascha Heifetz. So why can’t we accept that there is talent involved in yoga and meditative arts also? The democratization of everything (democratization being another word for mainstream) makes us think everyone should benefit equally from martial arts, yoga, or tea ceremony, but that simply is not true.
Many say that the more esoteric benefits of yoga will eventually come to those who practice for purely physical reasons. I’ve never believed that because that assumes that everyone is on the same path, running at the same pace, equally. That’s not true in a marathon and that’s not true on the yogic path. There is also a little thing called karma.
There are plenty of people in yoga classes who practice for purely physical reasons and become stronger and more flexible, but they are still unhappy and depressed or full of fear. Some will be that way the rest of their lives, in varying degrees; others, not. There are those who will run from teacher to teacher, from one ‘ism to another, and still die with their most intense fear buried deep within their hearts. There are others who have suffered horribly in their lives, studying with one teacher or even none, but through their internal work will fly on wings of joy on their dying day.
Life. Change. Stages of evolution. Karma.
The reader who wrote to me believes that it is only natural that some will not connect with the esoteric levels of yoga and will remain happy with a basic understanding of yoga, the basic level being purely physical. A lucky few on the yoga path will know enlightenment. Most will be stuck somewhere in between. This has to do with talent, but also with what the Chinese call yuanfen.
So even a basic understanding of yoga and attaining purely physical benefits are better than none at all, but I have my own standards of what constitutes “real yoga.” And just as there is nothing wrong with someone doing yoga for purely physical benefits, there is nothing wrong with my standards either.
As I’ve come to believe over the years, students get the teachers they need at the time, teachers get the students they deserve at the time. Think about that.
One of my standards is that yoga is about physical and emotional healing. Another standard is that yoga is about accelerating our personal evolution. I’ve told my students many times that if something isn’t changing for you off the mat, then it’s not yoga. If your path is only the length and width of your yoga mat, that’s not much of a path. That’s my standard. And someone can choose to accept that or not because frankly, in the end, I don’t care. It’s your own personal evolution. Or should I say revolution?
In his book A Life Worth Breathing Max Strom writes:
“Hatha yoga is a profound evolutionary system that will benefit everyone who has the passion to change his or her troubled existence into an extraordinary life. It has changed my life forever, and every day I see it transform more and more people into happier, healthier, and more empowered beings….
Imagine two people practicing side by side. One is still and struggling in a posture, barely able to open his hips, but he is not letting it bother him. Instead, he feels calm in this difficult moment, centered in deep breathing.
Then there is the second person next to him, able to wrap his legs around his neck, but breathing erratically, thinking negative thoughts. Whose practice is better? Flexibility is not the aim; it is a side effect….
If you find joy and you are living a meaningful life, then you are becoming good at yoga….
Remember, the goal is not to tie ourselves in knots — we’re already tied in knots. The aim is to untie the knots in our heart. The aim is to unite with the intimate, loving, and peaceful power of the universe and fully awaken into the highest level of human consciousness.”
(Max Strom, pp. 122-125)
A spiritual adept once told me that it is not my job as a yoga teacher to change people. They have to change themselves.
I can only give you a road map — you have to drive the car yourself.