As many of you may know from the multiple articles posted on our Yoga East Facebook page, I read a LOT of articles on yoga. Some of them are about alignment, some of them are about meditation (those are my favs), and recently, I’ve seen a lot of articles on the “right way” to practice yoga. The sentiment in these articles is that America is doing it wrong because we’re obsessed with (insert negative characteristic, i.e. money, power, fame, fitness, asanas only, etc). If you aren’t an avid reader of yoga articles, here are a few examples:
In fact, if you just google the distortion of Yoga in America, you’ll come up with several articles on what’s wrong with yoga in our western society. And to some extent, I can see what they’re saying. Yoga was originally something that was passed down from Guru to student, not in a classroom setting, not for money, but as a spiritual practice. It was not something that one would use for profit and it definitely did not focus on the physical practice as much as we do now. So yes, we’ve taken something not originally “american” and made it into what we, as Americans, know it as today.
I was talking to a fellow yogi one day and I mentioned the artist, MC Yogi. I personally enjoy MC Yogi’s music and use it in my classes a lot. My fellow yogi, on the other hand, felt that his music was disrespectful and was not liked/supported by the “real” yoga community. I felt embarrassed at first, because I had never thought of it that way. It was a blow to my yogi ego, as I thought I was one of the “real yogis”. And as I always do, I began to re-evaluate the conversation in my mind and really think about what yoga, and the culture of yoga and means to me.
For me, I began yoga as an exercise. I wanted to get fit, I wanted to stretch my body because I kept getting injured in other forms of exercise, and that’s it. I, as many other Americans, was not looking for a spiritual practice or a journey through the Yoga Sutras. I was obsessed with being skinny, thinking that if I only weighed this much (insert optimal weight for my body type), I’d be happy. Yes, that was my motivation. Fast forward years later, yoga has brought me so many other gifts beyond my body that I never even thought to ask for. Yes, I am more fit. I am also more connected to my body, my mind, and my spirit than I’ve ever been. I am more calm and connected to my intuition. I have realized that money is not my ultimate goal in life, so much so that I left a successful career in order to stay at home with my 8 month old. I am learning to trust in the world and have a more positive outlook i life. I’ve connected with a community of people that are like minded and supportive in each other. I’ve had the courage to travel to Africa, BY MYSELF, for the purpose of charity. And I’ve become stronger in my faith, a faith that is different than Hindu. I think that yoga was a catalyst in all of those positive changes, for which I am grateful.
What if the requirements for attending yoga class were that I worshipped Shiva and studied the Bhagavad Gita? What if my teacher told me that because I was wearing Lululemon pants, I couldn’t come in because that wasn’t the true meaning of yoga? Or worse yet, what if it just wasn’t there because our teachers weren’t “yogi” enough? I think I’d still be the same anxiety ridden, career obsessed person who hadn’t had the chance to change from the body to the mind. There’s always backlash when something becomes super popular, and there are always going to be people who “are the most yogi of all” or “were the FIRST yogis in America”, because no matter how enlightened one is, we can still buy into our ego. And that’s what that is, ego.
What can I take away from this? I’m going to take away the fact that yoga has been a blessing in my life. That I’ve done with it what I’ve done with everything else and that is, take what serves me and leave the rest. That we are all one on this path, so why not celebrate the differences in our perceptions and be happy that it’s there for us, in whatever form works? There’s no “right way” to practice yoga. If all it is to you is an asana practice, then I hope that it gives you joy in exactly that way. If you love chanting and meditation and incense (all of which are utilized in the Christian faith as well), then I say, chant away and I hope you become a more positive, connected person in your life. At the end of the day, I hope that I can honor what exists in you in the same way you honor what exists in me. We are all one and we are all on different paths in the same journey. May we find peace.