A series of recent conversations with Yoga-teaching colleagues has left me questioning the Yoga that I teach, and the importance of the evolution of Yoga in the West. These are (very broad) questions that I'm sure many of us who are part of this recent boom of fledgling teachers have turned over with varying degrees of resolution, and questions that I believe contribute to a valuable reflection on our part.
I love what I do: I teach from the heart and with my whole heart, and am rooted in a deep belief that the practice of Yoga, in any of its myriad forms today, is at its own root enriching. And at the root of my wondering is this question: are we losing an important grounding, a connection to the rhizomes that feed Yoga by allowing the practice to branch out so continually and in all conceivable directions?
According to my colleagues—in this case dedicated Ashtanga teachers and practitioners—the Yoga that I teach is 'wellness yoga.' I've heard this term tossed around, in my perception somewhat arrogantly, by colleagues whom I greatly respect and admire. So this is a discussion I'd like to open up to the larger Yoga community—which, like it or not, is a network expanding at about the rate at which the universe expands: fast and furiously.
If there is 'real Yoga' and then 'wellness Yoga,' how and where do we draw lines and make distinctions in the expanding gradient that is Yoga. period? That is Yoga-market, that is Yoga Journal, that is @yogagirl and #yogaeverydamnday and also months in Mysore, and also Sadhus working their magic in the ghats, also lecherous gurus and pop-star teachers, heavy-metal Yoga and 4:20 Yoga, lawsuits and trademarks, and also Madonna and Sting and adverts about Yoga and (god-forbid) alcohol? How and where and when do we begin to map and grid-out, in-and-exclude versions and iterations of a practice that is, at least at one of its roots, inclusive and non-dualistic in nature?
Why is it so difficult for us to grasp and live the unlimited vastness and inclusivity that a practice like Yoga describes?
Simply, it has to be because we ourselves, often scared and thus severely self-limiting beings, are too comforted by excluding and organizing, and then by aligning ourselves with the column and row in the grid we've created that seems safest in the face of criticism. Scared to take a chance by including the whole nasty stew in the club that we are a part of. It's a part of all of us, and we are a part of it all. Atman-Brahman. Non-duality.
I challenge us all to take another look when we begin to become dualistic in our description of what we do, what or how we teach, which sub-philosophy we follow: what is at the root of it all? Are the lines we are drawing real or imagined?
I've heard criticism of this 'anything-goes' approach as unclear or muddled, that the time comes even for spiritual seekers to be discerning, or discriminating. I support that, in the form of a fierce inner clarity about the value of this practice! However, let's be clear about our impulse to judge and condemn that which is 'other.' Let's discern that when we speak about the ways in which we are all connected through a universal soul that breathes through all of us, and we breathe through it, that this includes even the bits we're not so comfortable with. I don't think I need to extrapolate this too pedantically to point to the gravity of the situation we are facing as a species, the havoc that a dualistic view on life and on faith is wreaking globally.
We who create the soft and receptive space for Yoga practice have a singular opportunity to point to the possibility and power of a unified consciousness, a compassionate and connected approach to life. There's no need for anything other.
Photo credit cover image: Elena Alger www.elenaalger.com