Through the years I have witnessed numerous spiritual seekers, all of them well-intentioned, who have lost their way by not paying attention to their own addictive patterns … yoga is particularly prone to this syndrome. Abdi Assadi, Shadows on the Path (2007:11).
I often get frustrated with myself for visiting the yoga supermarket. Mostly online, because there’s only two ‘brand name’ yoga styles here in Alice Springs. Online, I jump from yoga style to yoga style, favouring one for a few weeks, thinking hmm…. That looks like the one, the real yoga for me, only to find another style that I’d like to train in a week or so later.
The problem is that deep inside of me there is an ontological ‘real yoga’ – a foundational structure against which I measure everything else. It’s powerful. It’s the yardstick. The thing.
And yet, this is a false ontology because real yoga, as in traditional yoga, is something else very different from my own foundational, inner ‘real yoga’. In this post, I undertake svadhyaya of my understandings about real yoga, in an attempt to get to the bottom of the construct within my own corrupt belief systems.
What is Real Yoga to me?
Very simply, the answer is: Iyengar Yoga. This was the first style of yoga class I practiced. It appealed to me because of its focus on structural alignment, technique and adaptation to individual skill levels. It also appealed to me because the instructors appeared to have undergone a very thorough and long training – they weren’t mass produced asana teachers that are pumped out in two and four week long intensives.
Yoga’s traditional purpose is to loosen the knot of the ego through movement and meditation; the introduction of that system into a highly competitive, individually-directed culture has inevitably created trouble spots that require our extra vigilance. Abdi Assadi, ibid.
I know this is completely nonsensical: my belief that Iyengar is the real yoga. How can a style of yoga that is only sixty years old, emphasizing only the three out of the eight limbs of yoga (in its public classes, not in its deeper training) be real yoga?
And that’s the thing. I know that real yoga –in the sense of the body of practices described throughout classical Indian texts- is more about meditation, mindfulness, compassion, service, prayer, and selflessness than it is about the perfect Virabhadrasana ll as performed by Mr Iyengar. The aim of yoga is not to act as a replacement for an exercise class. It’s union with the Upper Case I, the All-That-Is.
I Am, Therefore I Shop
Disturbed and confused, I trawl the Amazing World of the Internet, in search of the one true yoga for me. I look for guru. I look for the ultimate A-ha! I look, look, then I look some more.
And there is sooo much out there. There’s Ashtanga (yoga specially designed for long limbed twenty-year old Americans living in cities), Anusara (Iyengar with hugs, I hear), Bikram (yoga in a sauna – might be ok if you live some place where it snows – but in outback Australia, you don’t want any more heat), Power Yoga (Ashtanga, without the trend police), Flow Yoga (Ashtanga, without the impossible bits), Kundalini (the name is a huge New Age turn-off), Nude (eeww!), Hot Nude (double eww!! + spew!!), Sivananda (seems quite traditional), Satyananda (another traditional model), Doga (yoga with your dog. Yes. Really), Forrest Yoga (I’m scared already), Shadow Yoga (looks extremely cool), Tripsicore Yoga (not for mortals), Restorative Yoga (hand me a bolster, a Bex and a good a lie down) and let’s not forget Lumberjack Yoga.
I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea. There’s so much out there to distract and tease the senses.
A Hot Body with Spiritual Credits… Ain’t so Bad, is it?
At best, yoga offers a powerful discipline to harmonize the conscious mind with the body. But in our results-driven, narcissistic culture it too is often hijacked into a means of achieving a hot body while earning spiritual credits. Abdi Assadi (ibid).
Alright, I’ll ‘fess up. I like the idea of exercise being a spiritual pursuit. I’ve been a lifelong exerciser –which could be why being obsessive about asana doesn’t sit quite right with me (more about this in a moment). And I already know that a lot has been written about running or walking as a spiritual practice. I totally agree with literature. When I run or walk, it really puts me in a place where the inner dribble falls away. I’m clear and I connect with the deep space inside. When I do asana –especially vinyasa- this happens.
Then there’s the fact that I exercise a hell of a lot more than most people. Most days, I’m doing at least an hour and a half – sometimes two hours- of exercise. I suspect many people who emphasize the importance of asana do not share this trait in common with me. Asana practice will get an unhealthy person healthy (so will walking, incidentally) and it is for this reason I suspect that asana is part of yoga. It’s no use getting your mind in order if the temple it’s housed in is falling down.
However, as Abdi points out in the quote above, Western culture is obsessed by Ashtangi-like bodies. I think there’s great truth in this statement, and hereto lies the seeds of why I might reject a yoga practice solely based on asana. I’m just being a rebel and I already have a life-long exercise habit.
Back to Square One.
Iyengar yoga is the internal yardstick against which I measure all else. Can I really do anything about this? Probably not.
This means I’ll continue to go to one Iyengar class a week. But really, I’m getting such an amazing sense of community and much deeper spiritual teachings from the Satyananda classes I’ve been going to for about a year now that I’ve incorporated much of what we do there into my home practice.
AND AND AND: my actual home yoga practice –as in the physical asanas- is derived from my years of Ashtanga crossed with Paul Grilley’s Yin Yoga. The vinyasa with ujayyi breath gets me into the place where I then do the real work of yoga: the meditation and prayer at the end of my practice. The long floor holds of Yin yoga facilitate the transition from strong vinyasa into pranayama and meditation.
If this self-indulgent post has helped me to understand anything about my yoga journey, it’s that Mr Desikachar is right.
Our practice needs to be developed daily, taking into account our free time, our goals, and our needs. TKS Desikachar. Heart of Yoga. (1999:43).
But I still might need to check out Lumberjack Yoga some time!