and the beat goes on….

I promised to write about the talk I went to about whether American yoga is in crisis, but I won’t. That ship has sailed. In the meantime the discussion continued over at elephant journal “Real Yoga Practiced Here” and at Brenda’s house with her post “Whatever happened to dignity?” where she said, “And yet even the yoga community seems full of practitioners keen on branding themselves and selling yoga shoes to “help spread the word”–as if the word wasn’t spreading just fine on its own without a lot of pictures of hot, young bodies doing arm balances.” Even Rainbeau Mars kept popping up to let us know that the “Rainbeau Mars Lifestyle” is really all about just spreading the word about yoga (and buying Adidas clothes) and if y’all don’t see that then y’all are just haters. Nikki asks whether we are practicing real yoga and Diane muses about yoga group think.

Our judgments (whether about yoga or anything else) are based on our experiences and assumptions. So for people who believe yoga is just another fitness class, then American yoga is not in crisis. If one sees yoga as a deeper spiritual (whatever that word means to you) or personal exploration, then one might think American yoga is in crisis if one sees the emphasis placed only on the physical.

AAAAARRRRRHHHHHHH

You do your yoga and I’ll do mine. My yoga contains asana+pranayama+meditation plus occasional chanting and mudras. That’s what I teach and if someone walks into my class and doesn’t like what I do, there are a gazillion yoga teachers out there, find someone else. Simple. And metta to you.

But putting your leg behind your neck or even both legs does not impress me. Children can do that. Show me how you live your life. Show me what you can give up on a 10 day retreat without complaint. I also don’t care how many translations of the Vedas or Upanishads or any other yogic text you’ve read or whether you can chant the Sutra-s backwards.

I have over 1000 hours of training and teaching experience; I’ve been told I have a “beautiful practice”; I have a closet full of yoga books some of which I’ve read more than once. But if I was still operating on automatic pilot, if I was still reacting to things inappropriately, flying off the handle (and I am NOT saying I do not get angry), or treating people badly, what good did all those yoga hours do for me? So is yoga an exercise or is it about transformation? Is it about the journey or the end result?

I returned to yoga in the mid-’90s for a purely physical reason just like many people come to yoga. I returned to yoga to help rehab my severely arthritic shoulder from arthroscopic surgery. But as soon as I started moving my body in that beginning yoga class, barely able to move my right shoulder even after 8 weeks of PT, that whole mind-body-prana connection kicked right in. That bhavana was like an IV. I was introduced to yoga via meditation over 30 years ago when I OMed with Allen Ginsberg, so that barely sprouted seed laid dormant for a very long time until it was watered at just the right time. Conditioned Genesis in Buddhist talk.

So don’t talk to me about Forrest Yoga or Jivamukti Yoga or Bikram Yoga or Anusara Yoga. I don’t care about names with capital letters. Yoga is yoga and why practicing “just yoga” isn’t good enough anymore is beyond me. I’ve heard Krishnamacharya’s son Desikachar say that yoga contains X, Y, and Z and if it doesn’t contain that, then you’re just doing acrobatics. As I’ve said more than a few times about this thing we call yoga in OM-merika, you can call a dog a cat all you want to, that still doesn’t make it a cat.

As Nikki asks in her blog post “Is my yoga practice making any inroad in how I function in life?” Or as one reader said in my post “I am my shadow self”, “if Yoga isn’t pushing you outside your comfort zone, it ain’t really Yoga.”

Why do you yoga? Not “do yoga” because yoga is about undoing, not doing. Yoga does us. I’ve always thought that the reason more people don’t yoga is because stepping into yoga takes courage and many (most?) are afraid to see what might come up.

The abused women I teach at the domestic violence shelter don’t care about Lululemon pants, an Adidas lifestyle, about chanting Sanskrit, about your favorite translation of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, or whether I can stand on my head in the middle of the room. They care about changing their lives. They care about how focusing on the breath can calm the mind. They care about relieving their suffering, moment by moment. If someone with the idea that yoga is just another way of working out looked into the room and saw our yoga, they might be confused because we’re not in pretzel poses or trying to perfect chaturanga dandasana. We’re not sweating. We’re sitting. Breathing. Maybe facing a few those demons….mindfully.

“Can we do hatha yoga (or any other form of bodily training) with the same wisdom that guides vipassana practice?….

A specific example from my own practice and teaching: I do viniyoga, which emphasizes constant awareness of the conditioned movement of the body and breathing in all postures. This helps bring about a more vivid quality to the breath sensations, making breath awareness meditation more accessible. This is an asset for yogis engaged in ànàpàna-sati [mindfulness of breathing], especially for those with faulty breathing habits, which can incline the mind to distraction. If the postures were practiced with the same deliberate mindfulness used, for example, in walking meditation, such conscious breathing and movement would not only facilitate meditation practice-it would be meditation itself….

That’s just it. It’s not about chakras or kundalini rising, as valuable as this approach may be. It’s just that when I do yoga, I do vipassana.”
BODY PEOPLE, MIND PEOPLE, by Larry Rosenberg

You do your yoga, I’ll do mine.

9 thoughts on “and the beat goes on….

  1. Bravo, Linda. This is a passionate treatment of what has to be considered Yoga's highest goal–real and meaningful personal transformation.

    Transformation to what? As you say so well that depends entirely on the individual. But always aiming at a Self that is more whole, more focused, less judgmental, less egotistical, more in awe of the wonder of one's self and the wonder of the universe.

    That's the truest, the original Yoga, even though the word itself is used to describe many other practices today.

    Bravo, Linda-Sama.

    Bob Weisenberg
    YogaDemystified.com

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  2. Indeed. I actually have trouble buying into any of the debates raging around. I read them, but I honestly can't say I care enough about all the different opinions to comment.

    There's always going to be the more commercial and more traditional versions of everything in this world we live in. I mean, you can go to Kuta in Bali or to Ubud. One of them is much more traditional than the other. Then, you can go to Mt Agung and the mother temple on the volcano there. There's a commercial fringe, but ultimately, its one of the most traditional things about Bali.

    Its all about what works for the individual. As long as no one is trying to convince me I *should* be doing one form of yoga or another, I couldn't give two hoots what kind of yoga someone does. If it makes them happy, then good.

    Of course, I tend to be more along the asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha & meditation tracks myself. But I don't think everyone should be.

    I think I made it clear how I felt about yoga in my Yoga is a Blacksmith post. For me, its about the transformation you describe. But not like some kind of “high”, where I have to get a certain buzz each and every time.

    For me, each practice is what it is. I get what I get. I tend to be someone who experiences things energetically, and sometimes quite intensely. I know its not like this for other people, so there's no point in me saying, “Oh, you should do my yoga because you get X result from it”.

    No one gets the same thing out of yoga, any more than they get the same thing out of any experience in life.

    I'm pleased when people start any kind of yoga I guess, as long as they are safe and happy doing it.

    And like you, I'll offer up the yoga I teach and be happy if people enjoy it.

    More to the point, I'll keep going on my own journey, enlivening and enriching my own experience of being alive.

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  3. definitely, svasti, each practice is different for me. some deep, some not so much. it is what it is. but I still feel strongly that if someone says to me that they do yoga ONLY for the “workout” or whatever physical attribute they put to it, well, it ain't yoga. not to me. but that's my training. that's MY experience. but I don't care if you don't believe what I believe. I used to care. not anymore.

    I see myself moving away from teaching group classes, tho. I need to find my own yoga tribe.

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  4. Linda,

    I'm seeing more and more why the teachings of the Upanishads, the Gita, and the Sutras are called “secret teaching”, not because it's buried in a cave that no one knows, but because it all has to be lived and experienced.

    You probably remember Goenka saying “It has to be felt on an experiential level, otherwise you're just playing intellectual games”.

    (We could say that some aren't even playing intellectual games, but that's a different topic :))

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  5. exactly.

    living it and experiencing it is different from reading books. like, what's the point of reading books on how to meditate unless you do it? duh.

    sorta like going to India…reading about it and prepping for it is a totally different ballgame from actually being there! 😉

    love vipassana!

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  6. I agree, Linda. That's certainly why I do all aspects of Yoga–asana, meditation, mantra, pranayama, selfless giving, and study of the ancient texts.

    I once wrote an article called “Leadership is Like Tennis, Not Egyptology”. You can't become a better leader just by reading about it, any more than you can play tennis just by reading about it.

    Same with Yoga!

    Bob Weisenberg
    YogaDemystified.com

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  7. “yoga does us”. YES. I practice ashtanga and at the end of our last poses we do three udrvha dhanurasanas. When I got to this point in my practice I was excited because backbends are cool. Now I dread them and even that feeling of dread is telling. I dread them because backbends release so many stored emotions for me, mostly sadness and irritation and the more deeper complex feelings like guilt and shame. Yoga digs all that stuff up and doesn’t go away until you deal with it. I love that and hate it at the same time. But through practice we gain the tools to deal with these things, and learn to appreciate all the “bad”. we learn to stop running away and can open our eyes and see that it’s all a lesson. I love this quote ( not sure by who, I saw it on pinterest, but god I love quotes) “We promise you, these storms are only trying to wash you clean”. ❤

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