This is something that’s been on my mind. A lot. What is yoga and whether modern yoga has become in-authentic. And by authentic, I mean has the practice strayed from origin. ((I’ll try to not make this sound like I’m writing a college thesis, but you know how I get…))
Let’s just get back to basics for a sec, yoga is an ancient practice of reaching wisdom through self knowledge and action. The goal of yoga is to move your attention inward and discover insight into your true self. The various aspects and forms of yoga, such as self-study, karma (action), meditation, and even the physical asana practice are all designed to contribute to the ultimate goal: restraining the mind-stuff to discover the true self, the soul.
Yoga is NOT about mastering your forearm stand, it’s about mastering your mind.
It’s also not about judgement. Well, it shouldn’t be, but it seems that’s where we’re heading, doesn’t it. Everyone is either judging themselves, because they can’t master those instagram-worthy postures, or judging others, because omg you practice yoga and eat meat and drink wine like a fish..you’re not a real yogi!.
That’s not to say that we don’t all seek appraisal and validation, we’re human. We love looking at gorgeous beach yoga photos and setting goals to master that difficult posture someone else looks so effortlessly gorgeously in. We love sharing the photos we’re proud of and seeking praise in them. But why judge others who don’t fall into your perfect little box of what a yogi should be.
And I’m certainly not blaming social media either. I enjoy posting photos and connecting with other yogis, but I’m also very open about sharing my journey to truth, through asana and other methods of yoga, as well. Even more so, I am cautious of self judgement and I never comment anything negative on someone else’s post.
My real issue, at its root, is the lack of yoga philosophy, not only behind many of these social media photos, but in modern yoga in general.
I’m not saying that yoga doesn’t evolve. The internet and ability to share thoughts and connect like this didn’t exist 5,000 years ago, or even last century when the practice made it’s way to the west. But the rate at which yoga culture is changing is too rapid and too far from origin.
Google “the practice of yoga,” and you’ll likely turn up hits for physical asana before getting any sort of description of the true history and meaning of yoga as a whole. Ask most ytts what they study. Most don’t practice karma yoga during training (the yoga of selfless action) or know that their yamas and niyamas are (principles by which to live according to the sutras). If more people practiced the traditional 8 limbs of yoga and lived by their yamas and niyamas, there would be a heck of a lot less judgement.
And that’s why I love my yoga studio. I like that there’s an emphasis on yoga history and philosophy. Everything reverts back to balancing your energy system and discovering your own dharma and your own truth throughout our training…and I think it has made me view my own practice and teaching style in a new light, or a more “old fashioned” light.
Ultimately discovering your own truth is yoga. It is not fitting into a “yoga stereotype” or needing ten thousand followers. And it’s certainly not about judging others who don’t fit that bill. It’s about quieting the part of your mind that seeks validation and satisfaction to discover truth. I think if we can at least try to keep that in modern yoga, we’ll all be doing ourselves, and this ancient practice, justice.