The Yoga Less Travelled
The Germans have a word (don’t they always) – Schilderwald – which means a street crowded with so many road signs that you feel lost. Quite like the fitness industry today, whipping up newer and fancier workout systems, machines, ideas, acronyms, websites, videos, training programs, what have you. All making claims and promises of various shapes and sizes to an increasingly misinformed and understandably perplexed audience. Especially within the multi-billion dollar Yoga industry, misconceptions, fallacies and outright scams abound. To paraphrase Voltaire, ‘with great popularity comes great misrepresentation’.
For anyone with a sense of consequence and an instinct for self-care, a fitness regimen is a must. And for it get you out of bed or a busy schedule, it had better be something you feel a deep connect with. As a slightly maniacal health enthusiast who tried about twenty different ‘ways’ of working out – from Kathak to Krav Maga – before recognizing in her bones that Yoga is her thing/real-deal/ultimate-clarity-restorer, I share my two cents on what makes Yoga stand out like a timeless thumb in our 21st century melée of fitness programs, fads and fallacies. And how to discern the wheat from the chaff when looking for an authentic Yoga guide/teacher/studio.
1. A profound philosophy and science, not a fitness regimen: Better health is a wonderful upshot of Yoga, but this 3000-year-old philosophy and science has worlds more to offer. Its end-game is the freeing of the spirit, not just good health. Doing Yoga just for fitness is like visiting the Taj Mahal for the fountains.
Termed ‘Asana’, the physical postures form only one of the 8 limbs of Yoga explained in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Even the Asana as seen is only the most overt aspect of the Asana. To the interested practitioner, each Asana is a field of investigation and a doorway to self-inquiry. Just as ‘Asana’ is only the tip of the iceberg that is Yoga, fitness is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Yoga’s effect on the individual.
- A ‘work-in’ rather than a workout: “Let’s work on my kidneys today” – said no one ever in a gym. Internal organs and inner states never make it to magazine covers, mirrors and selfies, but a Yoga practice is where they get tended to like rockstars. Most exercise systems focus solely on the visible exterior and do not necessitate or factor in one’s presence and mindfulness in the practice. Yoga inverts the game by pointing the gaze inward, working inside-out to address the root cause of a problem and not just its symptoms. Which explains why so many try Yoga purely to better their bodies, but stay on with their practice for the many mental, emotional and spiritual benefits it rains on them.
- Inclusivity: Yoga meets you where you are – wherever you are – with all its myriad practices and modifications to those practices. A non-denominational practice, it does not lay down eligibility criteria such as a certain level of fitness, skill or age. If you can breathe, you can Yoga. This all-encompassing sweep keeps the practice and its benefits rippling across the oceans and centuries in ever-widening circles, while fads come and go.
- Self-awareness: Just as a mirror reflects one’s physical reality, an Asana done with presence holds up a mirror to one’s internal reality. In all its warts and wars. This no-filter view of oneself goes a long way towards beginning/nurturing an authentic relationship with oneself – the foundation on which every other relationship stands.
- Centering Effect: Yoga is a powerful counter to our technology-saturated speed-junkie consumerist lifestyles. The bigger our desires and destinations get, the more we stand to gain from checking in with ourselves and our internal affairs. Between the perpetual pulls in different directions – to buy this, go there, accomplish that and do more – even a ten-minute practice can be one’s return ticket to one’s own spirit and the sanctuary within.
- The Yoga High: Any practitioner worth her Yoga mat will tell you that the Yoga high is like no other. Rather than damage your organs and obliviate your reality in exchange for a ‘high’, it strengthens your body and deepens your experience of the present moment enough for you to meet it fully – with presence – neither clinging to nor fleeing from it. During the practice of Yoga, the body explores new rivers of stillness and movement washing over the old ones, while the breath dances at different rhythms before settling on one. After some kicking and screaming, the mind takes a cue from the breath and quietly forges new tunnels of thinking (or non-thinking) inside the 60,000-thoughts-a-day million-miles-an-hour tornado we call the human brain. And somewhere between inhale and exhale, the magic happens. A sleep-robbing predicament suddenly drops its guise and reveals itself as an opportunity waiting to be hugged. A catch-22 that gripped every corner of your thoughts slowly morphs into a distant drama that you are consciously watching without participating in. And the inner critic, who couldn’t blink without regretting it, floats homeward after Yoga on a cloud made of neurotransmitters and the gaps (and gasps) between thoughts.
When you find a teacher/studio whose practice respects and embodies these qualities, you will hug yourself silly (despite any newfound muscle/mind soreness) with glee-topped relief that good old Yoga found you before all the schilderwald lost you.
May the Yoga be with you – on this Yoga day and everyday.
Also on http://www.rebellesociety.com/2015/08/05/6-ways-to-discover-the-yoga-less-traveled/