Close your eyes and picture a “yogi”. If that means nothing to you then picture someone that practices what you understand as Yoga….What is this person doing? Or more importantly, is this person in your mind a calm, happy and a centered person. Is this someone that looks like he/she has or her “act together”? (Or is working towards it). Now consider this: You too are a “yogi”. You could be practicing yoga already, even without the bendy action. In fact, in my opinion, many people that have not stepped a foot on a mat are more yogis than me and many famous “teachers”. I know this may upset some, but that’s ok. I spent many years putting much energy on people pleasing… that is something I’m willing to unlearn in this lifetime :).
Here’s my point, I find myself immerse on what could be called the western idea of yoga and its culture. That isn’t always bad, but it is also not always something good either. I’m all down for fun, brining yoga to the masses and getting creative. But since when a practice that is aimed to self-discipline and discovery became so tangled with entertainment or attaining a shape? More & more I see a focus on things like achieving postures, dressing like a cool hyspter, drinking kombucha and posting quotes from some wise person whose book you never read on social media…Even I do that! But what worries me the most is that along side this, I see the culture surrounded by flaky, jaded or spacey behavior, borderline obsessive superstition about the moon and the stars and zodiacal sign, plus an apparent unwillingness to learn to act like a grounded, responsible and conscious adult. How about being OK with calm, sober and simple behavior? Why is that not a yoga thing?
Yoga means to yolk, it symbolizes union, but if we create a subculture and strengthen clichés it cannot unite. Seriously, these stereotypes are not unifying. I don’t mean don’t be yourself. If being a free spirited, artistic and funky person is your natural self, go for it!…but ask yourself. Is this being sold as part of yoga? Have I developed new consumerist habits after I got immersed into the pop-yoga-culture? Could I be playing a role that get’s on the way of my truth? Am I separating myself from my brothers? Am I behaving in a tribal way?
I’ve been asking myself these questions. And I decided to focus on other aspect of the path…like a day-to-day yoga off he mat experiment. What is this yoga that is better than any posture I can teach you? It is practicing self study (what many call mindfulness). That is in part, consciously making an effort to be loving, inclusive, respectful, non-reactive and honest…All while acting like a grounded adult. That’s not an easy task, but one worth all the effort in the world.
I still love the asana part of the practice, and I don’t plan to stop it, but like I always say “I don’t care if my students FLOW to some awesome playlist, I care that they BE”. What do I mean? Yoga is not a choreograph dance or sequence. Yoga to me isn’t either an esoterically charged practice with crystals, oracle cards and other add ons to make it more “whimsical” (If I got my way I wouldn’t play music in my classes either). Now you are thinking Maria is getting radical 🙂 . But, hear me out and tell me what you think. I believe in an individual’s inherited ability to find the truth for him/herself. I know that these postures, breathing patterns, etc are tools. Just that. There are tools to help us remember what we already know, or even better, to unlearn some things that get on the way of that knowledge. If I put myself on the shoes of an average individual, that has never had a green-juice, someone that could care less about smudging and has no clue what a chaturanga means …would I feel welcomed in a yoga class? As a teacher I want all kinds of people in my class: the born again christian, the muslim, the anxious single mom and the stressed out workaholic business type…because they too need it, maybe more than the young girl with the Lululemon pants and the mason jar drink . Not that I don’t want her in my class . I do, but she may have less barriers to cross to get to her first class, and this “common man” may never come back if we get it wrong.
Why create an environment that would make “them” (the non yoga type – whatever that is) feel uncomfortable if you can help them feel included? Why pretend we are more spiritually advanced than the “common people”? Why use foreign words that intimidate? Why do we think this is helpful? The new student or the skeptical person knows the pain of living disconnected with their bodies. Maybe they are not aware of the power of their mind-body connection yet, but they have the same internal technology we do…We all know better…eventually and with practice we can all remember.
Quoting my favorite band, U2 I am asking my fellow yogis to “Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady” – I think sometimes we get on the way of yoga, and I am not without fault at this. Yoga can be as secular as any daily activity without loosing its power. And this also applies to mindfulness or “self study”. People don’t need a string on beads to meditate. It can help many yes, but there are other ways. They again don’t need to recite foreign words, and this comes from a person that loves kirtan. These ways of yoga are not for everyone. And I’m writing this because more than ever I’m embracing the idea of a distilled approach, that idea that made me fall in love with my Teacher Max Strom. I don’t want to entertain, preach, dance or sing, I just want to teach. I invite you to come to my classes if you are in Orlando, or find a place that allows you to discover your Self on your mat or your meditation cushion. If the space where you practice makes you feel too old, not cool enough, not spiritual enough…not good enough, then I promise you there is a better place for you. A peaceful, quiet, uncluttered and welcoming place where it is not about how you look like, but about who you really are. And who you are IS GOOD ENOUGH.
May you find that place. Namaste