Sometimes students ask me how many times a week I practice yoga. I tell them I practice every day. They like this answer. They nod as if agreeing this should be so – I am a yoga teacher after all. Some look amazed and commend me for my discipline. But then I add: ‘’If you ask me about my asana practice, than the answer is two, three times a week. And sometimes a week goes by without me unrolling my mat, sometimes more than a week.’’ This answer confuses them. And I can see why. On a mention of the word yoga most of the people today will picture someone in an asana wearing some fancy outfit balancing on the latest addition of a branded yoga mat, in an asana that is not much older than the fancy outfit. The truth is most of the asanas we practice today are less than a hundred years old. To me, that fact doesn’t make me love those asanas or my asana practice any less or make it less beneficial for my body. I just wish we were more honest about things (isn’t yoga about seeking the Truth?) and that we call things by their real names – asana practice should be called just that – asana practice.
So, when somebody, like yoga journal for example, posts an asana photo on their blog or facebook page with a title ‘’capturing yoga in all its glory’’ it should say ‘’capturing yoga asana in all its glory’’ (yoga journal FB page, Nov 15 2013.)
Yoga is, I’m sure we can all agree, so much more than just asana. And in order to walk the path of yoga, we should explore beyond the physical. In Yoga sutras, one of the most beloved yoga texts, Patanjali proposes an eight limbed path, or steps on our way to Samadhi, the highest state of consciousness. The first two limbs, before asana, are yamas and niyamas - a list of ethical guidelines on qualities a yogi should have before going into other practices, or following next steps. These are qualities all human beings should possess. We can find them in the core teaching of each culture, religion and spiritual discipline. If you are not behaving as a good human being, if you are selfish or you harm other living beings, no other practices will ever liberate you and bring you closer to the truth.
Yoga of transformation
Asana practice is a great personal transformation tool. It transforms our body and keeps us healthy. It helps us become more mindful and focused. Together with the breath it is a powerful tool that heals our whole being. And it’s fun. At the beginning you can’t wait to unroll your mat and flow into a sequence, conquer that next asana, stretch, sweat and detoxify. Breathe. Balance on your arms, balance on your head. Become a pretzel. And yes, it playful, it’s fun and yet it's so beneficial. It is a movement meditation and a wonderful mind/body experience. That is - if you remember to breathe and stay present. If you practice mindfully your body starts to transform; your mind starts to transform. You discover the lightness and the strength you never thought you had. You discover the calmness and concentration. Your body is your temple. You start eating well, drinking green smoothies every day, ditch coffee for tea. And it’s all great. For you and your temple.
Yoga of compassion
But, drinking tea, green smoothies, being able to put both legs behind your head and balance on your arms doesn’t necessarily make you a good yogi or a good human being. Nor does being able to jump forward, jump back, or bind Marichyasana D. Not being able to do all that does not make you a bad yogi either. No matter how many liters of sweat you’ve soaked your mat with, if you lack compassion, you’re not walking the path of yoga. Practicing compassion and kindness are the practices we should do every day, practices that make us good people, good yogis that can inspire and create a change. My dear teacher David Swenson ones said: ‘’A yogi is a person that leaves a room better than he/she found it’’. This means that we should make a difference, whatever we do, where ever we go, and do so every day. Sometimes this means just making somebody laugh, or lending a helpful hand to a complete stranger. Being honest, being respectful of and compassionate to all living beings should be our everyday yoga practice. Being able to bind Marichyasana D is just an extra personal bonus. It won’t make any great global impacts on the world order.
Yoga of knowledge
We live in a very material world. Instead of spiritual wealth people are more concerned about the material wealth. Instead of the good of the community, people are most concerned about their own good. Instead of taking care of those weaker than ourselves, we ignore them, use and abuse them. It’s the 21st century and we still fight wars. Cruelty, materialism, selfishness… They all come from ignorance. And ignorance is as Plato said it ‘’the root and stem of all evil’’. It feeds our Ego, makes us believe we are the center of the universe.
Learning something meaningful every day will bring us closer to the Truth. Reading books and scriptures will give us the insights we need to see and understand the Truth. Gandiji said ‘’ Truth is by nature self-evident. As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear.’’ Removing the cobweb of ignorance is should also be our everyday practice. Only knowledge can liberate us from ignorance and bring us closer to the Truth.
Yoga of love
“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.’’- Morris Schwartz.
Devoting our love, our time, our wealth and our knowledge for the good of others is the highest and most rewarding of all yoga practices. Can you imagine what this beautiful world of ours would be like if this was our everyday yoga practice? If, instead of rolling out our mats for asana practice we take the time to go out and help someone in need? I wish that one day, on a mention of the word yoga most of the people will picture a Karma yogi helping some other being. And not practicing 3rd Ashtanga series or sitting in a lotus position.
The video below is what I would like yoga journal to post on their facebook page and call it ‘’yoga in all it’s glory’’.