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.
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.