What is yoga?
This morning, before saluting the sun, a yogini who likes to practice at my studio cared to tell me that a common friend has decided to change yoga studios. “It has become too competitive,” she told me. “She hurt her back and hasn’t been able to recover.”
I listened, and I kept to myself my yoga teacher’s opinion, out of respect for the practice itself.
According to the masters, yoga is a practice of self-observation. As a teacher, I have learned that no matter how simple or technical my phrasing and explanations, it is ultimately the practitioner that gives yoga the meaning via their own awareness.
Cultivating awareness and exercising equanimity is the goal of yoga.
Competition, a superficial impression of yoga, is a by-product of the times. One can understand such tendencies, since most yogis who teach continue to photograph themselves during their most challenging poses as a part of a marketing effort to promote their classes and attract students. Unfortunately this sometimes gives the message that being ultra flexible is the goal of yoga.
I do think that perhaps it is not the yoga studio that had become competitive; rather, it’s that our friends tend to projecting their own competitive nature onto others. When we let this attitude of comparison to others get the better of us, we end up injuring ourselves.
Contemporary yoga sometimes seems less about equanimity and more about bending our bodies into the most trendy poses, imitating our teacher’s body alignment, or wearing the latest fashion in yoga pants. There’s nothing wrong with all of this—yoga is not about condemning another’s practice. Yoga teaches that the teacher is within. It teaches us to listen, to observe how you feel through the sensations in the body, while focusing the attention on the breath, is how realization and insight happens.
By its nature, yoga is an exercise in awareness.
A great Vipassana meditation master teaches that the continuity of practice is the key to success. If not for my practice, how else would I have learned that it is actually me who is competitive and not my contemporary counterparts, and that it is my own competitiveness that pushes me to try to go further than I should?
Without practice, how would I learn how to honor how I feel about all of this?
At last, the day arrived when I chose to back up a little, find gentleness and grace, and learn to accept things as they are. I can surrender all control and yield to the messages I receive from my beloved, divine self.
Regardless of what brought me to yoga, it is I who have chosen to be here.
Insight turns into wisdom as I ask questions of my peaceful Self:
What is yoga? What is my intention?
I try to understand through my own experience that the only way to measure my success in yoga practice is not whether I can touch my head to my knees, or whether I can tie my body into an impossible knot. The measure of true success as a yogini is whether I am happy, peaceful, aware and equanimous, and whether I can breathe freely as I flow through change.
I love to say that it really does not matter what brings you to yoga, as long as you begin. It is the practice itself that shows the mirror of consciousness, reflecting the one thousand and one stories that make us, giving us the opportunity to breathe, observe, let it be, and let it go! Just so that we can start again.
To be aware, to be equanimous.
Yoga is everything we do, with awareness and equanimity, so we can experience love and compassion and harmonize our nature, for the benefit of all.
May all beings be happy.
Image: Mike Baird at Flickr
Editor: Renée Picard