Often I will see another teacher touting a “yoga” class without all the Sanskrit or spiritual mumbo-jumbo. It seems appealing to the post-modern western culture. People want to sweat, get a great body, do neat balancing tricks and feel good about themselves that they are doing something deep and meaningful for an hour of their day. And in some ways, I support this movement. Enough so, that I want them to take it the rest of the way. The word Yoga is Sanskrit and with deep spiritual meaning. So remove all of the Sanskrit, and spiritual mumbo-jumbo and call it something else.
Yoga is not exactly ours to manipulate. It is a gift from the east. From people that have saved it from the ashes of anglo-imperialist colonialism. Yoga was considered dirty and lowly by much of the English power structure and they wanted it removed from the landscape, in hopes of bringing a more civilized, European, Christian-like essence to the Indian culture. Those who knew the value of Yoga, the ancient mother of all spiritual essence, needed to remain alive and find a way to let the western world see the value of her majesty. It was during the physical health movements of the 19th century that they saw a way in. To align the asana poses with western body movement classes, and give them the smallest taste of these purest forms of practice with some easy chants, or simple readings from codices such as the Sutras of Patanjali; in hopes it would make them hungry for more. A kind of westernized dessert-first tasting thinking that many would want to come and enjoy the whole meal. What seems to have happened instead, as is wont to do by the west, is that we took it, added our own ideas and structures around these small pieces and called it our own. A kind of inverse colonization. Which also lead to greedy unscrupulous false gurus to see a place to engage with this unsuspecting new audience.
Secondly, Yoga is sacred. Literally sacred. It mothered the faith of over a billion people. Yoga is not from Hinduism or Jainism, but rather, Yoga is the force that caused mankind to engage in these practices. It is the deepest connection that humankind has to the unknown, and according to its own ancient teachings, the place where all spirituality and religion was born. To flippantly remove parts of it and add our own ideas to make it more appealing, as if we are smarter than the thousands of years of wisdom that the sages have built upon in that land far away, is pure hubris – a charge of the ego. We treat other people’s deepest faith and iconography as playthings for our enjoyment and commodification.
This is what happens when you water down something to make it more palatable. There is always the hope that it will attract more people, but in fact, we could see that more people are only attracted to the saccharine copy of itself. Are any more truly deep divers being made by serving up a candy coated copy, are more coming to the table for actual nourishment? Most likely not. The minuscule amount of practitioners that actually dive deeper are relatively small and sadly they often become teachers of this copied simulacra as the law of diminishing returns continues. Those that want to dive deeper, would most likely do so in larger number, if a true and deeper version could be found.
What is often taught today is such a small part of Yoga that often the actual practice of Yoga is nearly non-existent. Asana only conditions the body to start the actual practice. It is to make the lungs strong enough for pranayam, the vessel core enough for a steady and comfortable sitting of rounds and rounds of jappa. Yoga ultimately leads to the states of Samadhi. Though most are stuck on one or two rungs of the ladder repeatedly, never even knowing there is a higher space to climb to, too full from filling their bellies with dessert to climb.
If asana class is all that a student can handle in this lifetime, a small bit of Yoga in the form of Asana, (less than 1/10th of the full practice of Yoga) then that is fine; It is a journey. However, as teachers, we should know better, and have more to offer. We should be presenting a full buffet and let those who only want to have dessert choose to push the other plates away. Let them diminish the meal. It is our responsibility to create more learned teachers of the fullness of Yoga and all it has to offer. How can we teach others to create a meal, when we don’t have all of the recipes ourselves?
Give people a real experience, as full and complete as your capacity to understand is capable. There is honor in that. Otherwise take them through Pilates or Russian calisthenics and gymnastics, since that is all they are really going to learn anyway.
Just recently I was listening to a young woman talk about her adventures in gardening, and how her neighbor accidentally damaged something in her flowerbed. Now this is not a post about forgiveness, or neighborly interactions. It is about normative cultural perceptions and the language we use.
In describing her neighbor ( who, coincidentally, I knew by acquaintance - but chose not to divulge) the young woman described her as '...like a 50 year old Yoga teacher who drives a vintage red sports-car.' Goimg on to claim that this neighbor as " Totally Venice" Which, in many ways, was a compliment and does describe one of the multitudinal threads that make up the rich Venice California tapestry.
What struck me, was the "50 year old Yoga teacher" comment.
Now the person speaking has only celebrated her 29th birthday a mere 3-4 times, so has a way to go until she is a 50- year old anything, and I believe she did not mean anything pejorative by her statement. However, I can't help but notice the satire in this phrase. Satire which makes me pause.
What do 25 year old Yoga teachers become if they stay with their craft and passion and become experts in their field; if not 50 year old Yoga teachers ?
Do we look to great sages, swamis, and gurus just to proclaim that:
' ...they are like, 80 year old Yoga teachers' ?
Youth is still overly celebrated in this country and even more so in places like California. Wisdom is often given a passing glance on the way to view something fresh, young, new and exciting and standards of beauty are often obfuscated by an unrealistic media standard.
This is a cultural issue. The satire in the statement is there whether the speaker realizes it or not. It might even be a compliment, but a back-handed one in some ways. It both devalues the person as well as Yoga as a craft, relegating it to something for the young to do on the way to something else.
I hope this changes, and we can see the beauty of age. That we can seek out those that have the years of wisdom to teach us. That we can hope to be so vibrant at any age. Because, if we are blessed with years, we are all (God willing) going to become or have been 50 year old somethings, why not a Yoga Teacher?
Yoga Blog :
Jewish Yoga - This weeks parsha (Shemot) is amazing to me. It speaks of a particular name of G-d that could teach us all.
The name in particular is Eyeh asher Eyeh אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה ( just eyeh for short, says G-d)
The beauty of this name is that it can be and has been translated, as both “ I am that which I am” and “ I will be that which I will be”
And before he is given the name, Moshe was asked to take of his shoes, as he was entering holy ground showing the importance of this particular name.
Remember that we are all made in the image of the most holy and in that we too have that spark of divine within us. The purest and best part of us called B’tzelem Eloheim (in God’s image) _____ that which many around us may say “Namaste” ( the divine in me recognizes the divine in you) to illuminate.
Godliness is without ego, anxiety or comparison. So the next time you take off your sandals to practice your Yoga and enter your own holy ground, look deep within to find that purest self that can say “I am what I am and I will be what I will be. “ and relish the pure acceptance and is-ness that is our connection to the divine.
At an early age - 10 young souls walked up from the foot of a mountain into the brush and meditated on the mountain and all it had to offer. These spiritual adventures were still fresh enough in the face that the townspeople called them The Children of the Mountain.
Not to long after, a group of travelling merchants come to the village one morning and asked about what wisdom the town could offer - all the people pointed to the mountain - and the merchants traveled there. They climbed up to speak with the children of the mountain. "What wisdom can the mountain give you?" asked the merchants. " There is much the mountain can offer on food and covering from the storm - but beware, there are beasts that linger to hunt you - Safety is a balance" replied the young men. The merchants were satisfied and went on their way.
A score of years had passed and the children of the mountain grew to become men and in that time moved up the mountain to the rocky places. One day a band of wanderers came to the village and in a night of revelry heard stories about The Men of the Mountain. The next day the wanderers took foot to climb to the middle of the mountain and asked the men what wisdom they could teach. "The mountain has caves that are warm like the womb to keep you safe from the beasts - but food is scarce here - Comfort is a balance."
Another score of years passed and the men continued up the mountain to the peak. As night fell one clear evening a sojourner came to village hearing rumor of wisdom in the town. The villagers now nearly half of which were another generation pointed the sojourner to The Elders of the Mountain. After a long and treacherous climb - the sorjourner came upon a group of hoary-headed men, and inquired of them to tell him of what they learned. "From the mountain we can see all the happens. The old small voice of the eldest came through the wind. "The mountain gives us perspective - but the mountain is also cold and will be our grave - eternal rest is given by the mountain - for on the mountain - Understanding is a balance."
Now across the land are the offspring of the merchants that extol to everyone they meet, the praises of the children from the grassy fruit giving mountain chanting "Safety is the balance." They chant this daily to remind themselves that they are not the same as the children of the wanderers, who worship the men of the cavernous mountain and chant "Comfort is a balance" to all of the world. The disciples of the sorjourner are different, in that they aspire to teach others to live their lives as the elders of the mountain, chanting "Understanding is a balance".
Meanwhile - far away and cast off - live the children of the villagers: who remind each other that they give thanks to the mountain that was there before they were; the Mountain of the children, the Mountain of the men and the Mountain of the elders.
Yogi - Devotee