Last week, and earlier, I participated in a discussion which started with this statement:
90 percent of yoga is just a way to make some extra cash.
I don’t expect much sympathy for this post, but really if anyone studied yoga of the past compared to yoga of today it would be hardly recognizable.
Now with hip hop yoga, dance yoga, kundalini sex yoga, Etc Study the great teachers like Sri Swami Sivananda just for example. They would laugh at what yoga has become.
The first part of my contribution to the discussion was shared on another blog post, here.
The discussion continued for many days, and received the greatest number of comments I have seen on a LinkedIn group discussion. Those people who concurred with the opening statement maintained their position throughout the discussion. I was eventually asked by one of these contributors to “agree to disagree”. Actually, I was not in disagreement with him. I agreed with him, and yet I wish to share a perspective I felt expanded on that one he was expressing. Read my Closing Commentary to see what I mean by that.
Below is a copy of the finals comments I contributed to this discussion:
Something quite fundamental to the way in which I share yoga practices with people is that the asana is to meet the practitioner where he/she is at as much, or more so, than the student must meet the asana where (the teacher believes) it is at.
What do I mean by this, and what has this got to do with the discussion at hand?
What I mean is this: The state and condition of Man can vary a great deal. There are as many human states & conditions as there are people walking this beloved Earth. Yogic Consciousness—Oneness, God Realisation, etcetera—is, however, Universal by comparison. That which is Universal has an infinite degree of flexibility, and the capacity to incorporate (be inclusive of) infinite variation. That which is not universal (specific and particular)—such as the condition of ordinary Man—is on the other-hand almost completely fixed and inflexible.
Taking the above into account, which has the greater capacity to adapt? Yoga or ordinary people?
With regards to a particular yoga asana… should we force and manipulate the person into performing an asana in one particular “right” way, and thus requiring the student to meet the asana in a form we (as teachers) think is “pure” and “right”? Or is it more yogic to adapt the asana to meet the student where they are at? I tend toward the later view. Of course the basic principles of each asana remain, and it is up to the teacher to know and appreciate what these basic principles are in order to adjust the asana without losing the intention it embodies. Least importantly at an intellectual level, and most importantly at a level of body-wisdom.
I know of strict Iyenger trained yoga teachers, for example, who would strongly disagree with what I have just shared. So be it. I know of teachers who wish to make the student fit into yoga practice in the way they believe it must be. So be it. My own sense on the matter is that there is greater skill in meeting the student where they are at. If they are Enlightened, share yoga on that level. If they are in a wheel chair, share yoga in a way appropriate to this. If they are paralysed from the neck down, share yoga in a way most suitable to this condition. If they are very gross in their mind and suffering from deep ignorance toward Life, share yoga in a way that meets them right there. If they are obsessed with Hip Hop, share yoga on that level. The yoga conveyed may look very different in each of these situations.
To answer the second part of the question I put forth: “How does this relate to this discussion?
In this way: The art and science of Yoga—and all its many branches or facets—has spread to perhaps every continent on this beloved Earth. Has it spread through commercial greed, or has it spread by the volition of the Highest and the Deepest, to meet people from all walks of life, culture, consciousness, and physical/emotional/mental/spiritual condition?
What is most advantageous: That yoga be something fixed, rigid, and no longer universal… taught ONLY in one particular way so that only one particular kind of person might find it approachable? Or it is more advantageous—more Life-giving, life-supporting, etcetera—if the yoga be as flexible as the true Yogin, flowing like water into all the many vessels of Man whatever shape or size they appear?
If a vessel is to be filled, or if a man is thirsty for water, should I require that he can only drink from the water I have if he presents me with a very particular kind of cup—perhaps one made of gold—and he holds this cup in a very particular way (the “right” way), and he positions his body in the “right” way? Perhaps this man is not configured in such a way, in this moment, to meet these requirements of my Doctrine. So I must deny him water?
Or is it wiser, more life-giving, for me to meet this man where he is at? Perhaps he is stuck in a deep hole. Perhaps he has no cup to present me with. Should I not find a way to get this water down to him, so that he may drink from it? Then when he has quenched his first, his focus might change from mere survival from thirst, to one of improving his situation. He may start to consider his predicament and how he might get out of this hole.
So “Yoga” has today taken on many forms. Many names. Many brands. Many props. Many styles. Even much commercialisation. Perhaps the Great Perfection of Life Itself is behind this amazing display of flexibility and inclusivity?
Yoga is no longer only accessible to just a small spectrum of Mankind… to those of a certain high spiritual aspiration, high class, and a relatively high degree of consciousness. No, today Yoga is even stepping into the lives of those how would much rather be doing “Hip Hop” and unusual sexual practices, and more, than focusing on their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual Enlightenment. It is in this way yoga is a Supreme Path, is it not?
Perhaps many of the people doing “yoga” (of one kind or another) today will not taste the Bliss of Union within their Being. Not in this life. But maybe in their next life, this taste of yoga, in whatever (relatively) gross (or tamasic) form it was taught… this seed will lead them on into higher and higher experiences of Yoga. They have to start where there are at. Do they not? And the Yoga has to meet them there if they are going to start at all. Does it not?
Is the fact Yoga is reaching into the lives of millions of people who in past times would never have engaged with it a sign of yoga degenerating, or is it a manifestation of ineffable Universal Intelligence… waking Mankind up, where ever He or She might be?
Only the Yogin knows the answer to this question.
For only the Yogin really knows and understands Yoga… not as a particular teaching, not as a scripture would have it, not as a philosophy, not as a religion, not as a doctrine, and not as a dogma… but instead as living experience, and a Beingness—an Is-ness—beyond all experience, beyond all argument, beyond all words… yes, even the word “YOGA”.