“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” *Gandhi
What is the practice? What is yoga for?
The first and foremost goal of yoga has traditionally been to quiet the mind or to attain concentration, an inner control. Obviously, traditions shift over millennia and across cultures but it seems fair to state that humans are still in desperate need of quiet, of a balanced mind-state.
Raja yoga “the Royal Path” is the highest method to find stillness of the mind (some call it enlightenment) and along this path, asana is only a small portion.
Why do we practice? What are we studying?
The rise of yoga propagation through social media is distorting the noble precepts of quieting the mind and a focus on the inner self. When yogis incessantly share photos of themselves in yoga poses I wonder if they seek credentials and affirmations from the outside world. Are these yogis questioning their motives? Are they aware of the superficial physical layer they are advertising? Of course, any kind of asana requires devotion and commitment. But what I yearn to see is how yoga affects your mental and physical health and your heart: states that an online gallery cannot reveal. I am awed and sometimes inspired by the success of those in contorted positions but there is beauty in subtlety. Rather than to see the physical, I yearn to feel an abyss of grounding and confidence within your soul that brings me to my knees.
What are we teaching? What are we preaching?
I witness the commentaries on what yoga has ‘become’ or what ‘true’ yoga is, or ought to be. Disenfranchised teachers and guides offer hopeless remarks, seemingly forgetful that it is under their guise and clock that yoga has ‘become’ what it is today.
I look to those who stir up dialogue and debate. I honour teachers and leaders who ask pointed questions, who offer solutions and acknowledge their roles in their communities.
Amidst the ‘spectacle’ and the lack of responsibility, I wonder where the practice of taming the mind has been lost. Granted, this is a practice and there are natural cycles and phases in each practice, in each generation, in each lineage. And perhaps it is ‘enlightened’ enough to simply appreciate the paths of others. Perhaps it’s sufficient to respect that there are many offerings for many needs.
But without critical thinkers on this parade, would we be motivated to examine our values, our passions and speak up for our beliefs and practice/teach different modalities towards healing? Yes, the ‘show’ is sometimes crucial in coaxing the masses towards this worthy practice. And too, all the stages and steps of yoga are perhaps not meant for everyone. Who is to say we must tame the mind/find inner peace if one is living an abundant, kind and generous life? For my sometimes conflicting questions and understanding of many points of view, I look to Rilke who says “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves”.
Igniting the questions in others…
And so I continue to observe and question as I do, on this eve of commencing another yoga teacher training. 21 souls will be encouraged to look within, to consider what ‘practice’ is and what one should ‘practice’ and for whom.
No matter how uncomfortable or how arbitrary this questioning may appear, no one will be off the hook from it.
And what I pray for in my moments of deepest reflection practice, is that they NEVER cease to question why they practice. That we all look at how we give of ourselves to others and how we feed ourselves with inspiration and vitality. May our questioning be poignant, seeking health and balance.
In living the questions, may we propagate yoga wisely.