What is Yoga?
Yoga in the West
Although many modern yoga practitioners and teachers know that yoga is about much more than just postures, many do not fully understand the intention behind the practices. For example, many say that yoga is about "yoking" or "connecting" the body, mind, and spirit. In the tradition of yoga, the body and mind are already one and the same, and this body/mind, although distinct from spirit, is inseparable from it in the embodied state. In other words, the body/mind and spirit are already united. Yoga is about realizing, recognizing, or remembering this unity. It's about accessing who or what we truly are -- which already exists and has always existed.
Those with less or no exposure to the deeper teachings of Yoga have a much more distorted view of what it is about, which leads them to pursue yoga in a distorted manner, or to avoid it altogether. If we're being honest, many yoga teachers perpetuate this misunderstanding through the way classes are marketed, and even in the way classes are taught.
COMMON MISPERCEPTIONS ABOUT YOGA
1. Yoga is about fitness or flexibility.
Corporations, yoga studios and teachers have used images of yoga postures to represent health and wellbeing to sell everything from classes to clothes and from food to cars. Consider the thousands of images of yoga postures that are promoted in print and on social media, and you can see why people think yoga is about fitness and flexibility. Meanwhile, there have been no cues asking them to question this assumption. Yoga may improve fitness and flexibility, but that is not why we practice. Many people begin practicing yoga for its physical benefits, but then realize that the physical benefits are a side effect of the changes yoga makes in the brain and nervous system.
2. Yoga is a wellness modality for reducing stress.
Another common misconception is that Yoga is a well-designed system that promotes relaxation. On the contrary, not all yoga is about creating peace, harmony, and bliss as is often promoted in the Western “spa culture.” While in some cases this may be the result, it is certainly not the sole intent of practice. Yoga is a transformative process. Some of the practices prescribed during this transformation are designed to break down old patterns of thought and behavior so that new, more beneficial patterns can be created or emerge. This process may involve rapid breathing, long-holding of asanas, difficult realizations, etc. In fact, Hatha yoga roughly translates as “the yoga of force.” To live a more peaceful life, it is necessary to confront some of our deepest fears. This process requires a skilled and knowledgeable teacher and ideally, a sangha or community with whom we can share and discuss these sometimes-difficult experiences.
3. Yoga is derived from an Eastern religion, but it's ok to drop that part and focus only on the physical aspects of the practice.
We recognize that anyone worried about how yoga may conflict with their religion must be very serious about their faith. It is our intent to represent Yoga as accurately as possible. Yoga comes from a tradition that includes multiple religions and philosophies. One major difference between Yoga and the Abrahamic religions is that in Yoga, there is no belief required. Yoga is about open inquiry rather than belief. If one believes that inquiry with an open mind is dangerous, Yoga is probably not for them -- at least not at this point in their life (beliefs often change and evolve.)
Yoga is about devotion to truth and understanding, even in the face of discomfort. Part of being a yoga practitioner is to train oneself to identify unexamined assumptions and question them. We do this through objective self-observation of our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and actions. Yoga also provides a system for accessing our inner resources -- wisdom, compassion, calm, courage, and gratitude among others. Yoga is about acting in a way we believe to be right while surrendering control over the outcomes of our actions. We practice out of love for the self, with a desire to know the truth, for the benefit of all beings. Yoga is a lifelong practice.
The Western narrative about yoga must be re-written if we are to maintain the authenticity of the tradition. It is not our job as yoga educators to proselytize, convince or "win over" anyone to make them "believe in" yoga. Teaching yoga is an opportunity for us to share something we love, and what we love about it. We look forward to practicing with you.