I think we have reached peak Yoga Silliness with the Yoga and (fill in the blank) phase. You may have heard of goat yoga, cat yoga, Harry Potter Yoga, beer yoga and the like.
While many of these sound fun, the most recent news to reach me was all you can drink in an hour yoga class -essentially drunk yoga.
While I have obvious concerns about this from a safety view, it also made me pause and think.
Initially I thought about all the things yoga is not. And then I thought about why I practice and what yoga is to me, and thought I’d share.
Firstly, what yoga (to me) is not.
Yoga is NOT A DISTRACTION
I have been guilty of using yoga for this over time, and many people come to yoga classes for a break from difficult or stressful situations at work, home or their minds. And while there is nothing wrong with this, mindfulness and distraction are actually opposing terms. If you practice yoga mindfully, as I have been increasingly doing over the years, then yoga happens when I have a migraine, or have an injury, or have a great day. The yoga on these occasions may look different, but it includes a practice of accepting whatever my circumstances are and working from there.
Yoga is NOT A PERFORMANCE
When I was younger, I was more focused on “achieving a particular pose”. I never really mastered headstand, it didn’t seem to work for my neck, and I really suck at arm balances. I have let go of the need to “nail these poses”. As people who attend my classes would know, my favourite poses are really subtle movements, gently rolling on the floor and exploring different ranges of motion on different planes. Doesn’t look flash, but I am not expecting anyone to look at it, it’s not a dance or competition. Yoga is an internal connection to ourselves.
Yoga is NOT A STRIVE FOR PERFECTION
I need a lot of reminders of this, as perfectionism is one of my tendencies. There are enough things I beat myself up about, I don’t need yoga to be another one of them. There is no perfect pose, practice, meditation.
Yoga is NOT DEMANDING, ABUSIVE OR EXPLOITATIVE
I have a whole bookshelf of yoga books, by a range of yoga teachers and traditions who have now had a range of accusations levelled towards themselves personally, or the institution they represent for things such as sexual harassment, rape, child sexual assault, using manipulation to control students and the like. A WHOLE FN BOOKSHELF. This is a huge dilemma for me. Much of my early practice was in the Satyananda tradition. The ashrams associated with this tradition were exposed in the Australian Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse. Bikram, who founded his famous hot yoga, has been accused of sexual assault, and is currently facing bankruptcy after accumulating a sickening amount of wealth.
A number of years ago, a visiting “guru” from another tradition I was practising in at the time, hugged me after a workshop, in an overly friendly way which made me feel uncomfortable. I later found out he was accused of rape and sexual harassment by women in other countries. This abuse and exploitation by people in power, is an issue for the Yoga Industry, like other industries.
So, what do I want my yoga to be?
I came up with three main things, and these have become my personal yoga manifesto.
I WANT MY YOGA TO BE….
-something that helps me move with as much grace and ease as possible in each moment. And to assist me to adjust and accept when my movment is compromised for some reason, through age or injury.
-something that helps me notice the world around me, and to take action as needed. Social Action to me, such as attending the same sex rally, speaking up to my politicians about the humane treatment of asylm mseakers are just a part of my yoga as the moving practices.
-something that assists me process personally difficult thoughts and feelings and to treat myself and others with kindness and love,
Finally, I want my yoga to be sustainable for my lifetime. I have been practising since I was 20 years old, and still learning more each day. While that might not look like a whole heap of sun salutations any more, yoga is so much more, and becomes more and more important in my life.