What is Yoga, Anyway?

yoga downward facing dog

There was an article recently floating around on the interwebs that I was so grateful to have actually paused and read… the whole thing. That’s a rarity these days. It was insightful, well-written, came from a balanced, wise, and open place. And it also felt like a big sigh of relief for me. I could feel my shoulders drop and my heart open as I read it. I highly suggest you read it.

For a long time, I’ve held my opinions of yoga and the many forms in which it’s practiced close to me (admittedly, those close to me have had an earful, though) and err on the side of “non-judgment.” You know, to each his own, truth is one, paths are many, right?

What I’ve come to realize over the years is that while we are taught, through our practice, to cultivate discernment/viveka, we’ve somehow turned that into the generalized “quality” of non-judgment. Non-judgment, on the surface, is lovely. Pure non-judgment or totally acceptance on an internal level can, in fact, change the world.

But this kind of non-judgment that I’ve seen (in myself and in others) is more like a shrug of the shoulders, an “oh well,” a looking the other way when it comes to answering the question, “what is yoga.”

I’m no expert, although I’ve done my fair share of studying, practicing, and teaching. But I’ve been around long enough and allowed my practice to grow me enough to witness the shift of yoga: FROM a practice that was taught and practiced as a tool to shine the light on habit and conditioned ways of thinking and doing, to dissolve identity and ego, to undo attachment, to bring us back to our natural state, our essence so that we could be IN life with that knowing     –> TO a practice that solidifies ego and builds new layers of identity, that tightens the bonds of attachment (to body and form and accomplishment and the practice, itself), that serves as a distraction from life and it’s challenges, and one that glorifies what we can see versus what is impossible to see and only possible to experience.

This is not to say that everyone is teaching this way or that everyone is practicing in this way. Far from it, fortunately. But it’s what we’re highlighting, celebrating, showcasing. It’s what people are seeing as the representation of yoga and why many people shy away from it and why many others get injured from it.

It’s not about the form, but the content of the form. What’s underneath the external expression? And where is it coming from? What’s the purpose beneath the effort and is the level of effort necessary? Enlightenment (or the other transformational aspects of the practice that occur on the journey, itself) doesn’t come the moment your hands touch your toes or when you “master” the next deeper or more extreme posture. It certainly can happen at that moment, but not as a result of it. Not because of it but because of the part of you showing up for it, the part of you getting out of your own way so that you can experience your pure essential nature, your true self, the you with no story. Samadhi is available always, at any moment. It’s never not there. Because it is you.

Yes, the body can bring us in. It’s a great launching pad and a tremendous learning tool. There’s yoga for everybody and every body. And amazing teachers who continue to pave the path for more accessibility for all body type and capacities (like this brilliant man, for one). We do it because it makes us feel better, stronger, more flexible, and healthier. We do it because it gives us a sense of inner calm, stress relief, more peace in our relationships – including the relationship we have with ourselves.

But if we stop there, if we get stuck there, we miss the opportunity to practice the deeper, inner work of yoga, the practice that teaches us of our innate expansiveness. The work on and in the subtle body is anything but subtle.

It is profound, transformative, and takes dedicated consistency and a willingness to do an internal work that is not photographable, not viewed as big and bold, and isn’t applauded or celebrated, so the motivation must come from within. But this work, though it can’t be seen, can certainly be felt.

It is the only place to work that has the potential to change our lives and change our world.Get curious – about yourself and your approach to your practice. Understand the how and the why of it. What motivates you and is there a desired outcome? How does your practice reflect your approach to life (as I often and fondly say, how we do anything is how we do everything)? Understand where the freedom lies – not in the form, itself, but in the complete and whole-being willingness to let go of the form even while in it.

April 17, 2021


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