How to be a "real" yogi....
Hang on friends this one is going to be a bit of a ride, it’s personal, polarizing, and controversial.
First let’s talk about the definition of yoga:
1. According to Bing: a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation.
2. According to Webster Online: a system of physical postures, breathing techniques, and sometimes meditation derived from Yoga but often practiced independently especially in Western cultures to promote physical and emotional well-being.
3. According to the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred Hindu scripture that most consider to be the basis for yoga teachings: Yoga is presented in the Bhagavad Gita as the process by which a person can connect with the Absolute or Divine.
So now we have that out of the way. Clearly yoga is a lot of things to many, for starters we traditionally think of the physical practice, but many believe the spiritual practice is more to their liking with a focus on meditation and seeking enlightenment. To be fair the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali (or yoga blue print to enlightenment) only briefly mention physical postures!
Some would say that here in the west we have “ruined” yoga with our modern ways, others would say we have improved on the original concept by expanding and merging with modern life. But the dark and often unseen part of the supposedly “higher beings” community is actually chock full of bullies, impossible ideals, and unrealistic lifestyles. There is nothing quite as disheartening as being judged as un-yogic because you can’t make time for 90-minute meditations in-between your inner enlightenment and fruitarian juice fast. I’m possibly being a bit dramatic, but come on! Who has time for that!?
I recently was cruising along a rabbit hole on social media and came across a very prominent teacher who was offering a hybrid class and the comments were appalling! At least half of the comments were hurtful, downright mean, and damaging to this poor woman’s business. How can beings who claim to have reached the ultimate enlightenment use cowardice to beat down some poor woman trying to expand minds and improve the general health of the public? That's not yogi-like.
I believe that yoga is for everyone. The weight lifter who realized that he would benefit from more flexibility, the elderly woman who finds the gentle movement helpful to activities of daily living, the Type A cardio junkie looking to slow down even if it is only for 30 minutes at a time, the beer drinker, the hamburger eating, the trucker-mouthed person trying to just do better. Isn’t that what yoga essentially is? Trying to find your highest self? Who knows what that is for each person anyway?! If taking a yoga hybrid class makes you feel awesome then who cares if it is “pure yoga” or some bastardized version.
Honestly, the only thing that should matter is if the instructor is keeping you safe, who cares if you never do a sun salute, chant an ohm, or stand on your head, if lifting weights in warrior makes you feel good then it’s yoga. If moving gracefully from a vinyasa into a barre inspired sequence that burns the buns calls to you, then it’s yoga. It’s this kind of exclusivity that keeps beginners from trying a class, having access to the amazing energy that comes from sharing a practice in public, and generally trying something that might help them to reach their higher self.
I was classically trained by teachers who were classically trained in India- by honest to Buddha gurus. I understand the path to enlightenment, but I also understand that in my life my path is a bit more crooked and less direct (kind of like a series of switchback roads up a cliff). I know for me I love my dogs, everyone’s dogs really, I want a pet sheep someday, and cows are really cute! However, I also know that I like to eat an occasional burger, or drink some really good wine (to be fair I drink cheap wine too). So I teach what works for me- traditional and hybrid classes. We don't ohm, but there is space to find enlightenment on your own terms if that works for you. I can't judge others and their choices , but I can offer a place to come and do some yoga, maybe laugh a little, maybe sweat a little. Enlightenment optional.
I appreciate some of the traditional teachings in my private practice, but I am not evolved enough to teach spiritualism to others. I find that mixing traditional asana’s in non-traditional ways is more inclusive and invites more people to experience yoga on their own terms. Isn't that the point? It works for me, allows me to grow as an instructor while giving me the opportunity to help my students grow in a way that works for them too.
We absolutely need ultra-spirituals to guide people who are looking for that, but in the mean time I’ll keep doing yoga with goats, yoga on boats, and yoga hybrid classes because it promotes my physical and spiritual growth. When I fall out of a pose it may not be because my chakras are imbalanced- it may be because I was deciding on the need for a pedicure! I'll keep inviting people to share my practice as imperfect as it is because I'm imperfect, and I like that. I think that is the definition of "real" yoga.