I love yoga. I love to practice yoga, I really love to teach yoga, and I love how yoga has changed my life. There is no shortage of articles written all over the internet singing the praises of yoga, or, as I lately read in the online publication Elephant Journal, dissing yoga. The most recent controversial article that I read was titled something like “Why I Left Yoga”, and it was written by a native of India living in the US. In this dismissive essay the writer takes issue with the Americanization of the ancient practices of Yoga. She makes some valid points (the $100 LuLu Lemon yoga pants…which I have honestly never worn or owned), but most of her reasons focused on what she refers to as the trend of white upper-middle-class women practicing yoga as a trendy entitlement rather than a true holistically beneficial practice. I immediately questioned this classification – what is wrong with people of financial means to feel a deep connection to the ancient and time-tested truths of yoga? Who really cares if a person is so moved by their practice or experience that they choose to have a sanskrit tattoo imprinted on parts of their body? It’s not my thing, but I hardly feel the need to judge others’ choices. What difference does it make if someone has felt such a resonating truth from the lessons of self-realization that they choose to spend their money on a trip to an ashram in India? We live in a free country, thankfully, and it is one’s own prerogative how they choose to live, believe or spend their money.
I do think that yoga in America can feel hip or trendy, and that many studios have become “a scene” like a new club in Brooklyn might be “a scene”. But that is what makes America so diverse and interesting. Just as the sub-continent of India is home to an incredible variety of beliefs, religions, and languages, so too is this country. Just because people with financial means are flocking to their local studio, or planning their next vacation to a yoga retreat, doesn’t mean that their practice, or their journey, is any less meaningful or justified as the single mom on a limited income wage. In actuality, many communities have studios, gyms, churches and outreach programs that offer yoga for free, or for donation, to those who want to learn the art of stress-relief and mind-mastery through the practice of yoga. Do all studios follow the principle of seva, or service? Of course not. This isn’t a perfect world and not everyone is in the business for altruistic purposes. However, from my experience, most yoga instructors (myself included) teach because they want to help people find a better way to manage their stress, improve their health and live their lives more fully. I don’t know many teachers who teach yoga only for financial gain.
So why do I love yoga? I love yoga because it is a practice that anybody can experience anywhere. There are no necessary tools or equipment (a mat and loose fitting clothes are helpful). You only need your intention and your will-power to enter the world of yoga. Of course, there is a learning curve that starts with letting go of a piece of your ego so that you can walk into that first class. Wearing designer clothes, having an understanding of Sanskrit, or bowing down to the archetypes of Krishna, Shiva or the energy of Kundalini are absolutely not required. You just need an open mind, a willing body (ok, maybe only partially willing), and a beginner’s attitude. Although I have been practicing for over 16 years and teaching for eight, it still require a willingness, desire, and discipline to stay with it. That doesn’t mean that every single day I practice for hours – I don’t. It doesn’t mean that I expect others to practice specific dietary restrictions or suddenly take a vow of austerity. I don’t. I love yoga because ultimately YOU are your best teacher. Only YOU have your life experiences that formed your psyche and your body. Only YOU truly decide what you need and want out of this life.
Practicing yoga requires a letting go of pre-conceived ideas about what poses should look like and how they should feel. It changes day to day, and even from pose to pose, within one session. It’s tuning into your inner knowing, that felt-sense of how your body and mind, and most interestingly your breath, responds to challenges. Do you become restrictive and inflexible when things are difficult or out of reach? Or can you allow the tightness, the discomfort, or the heaviness to move through you without clinging to reaction and discomfort? Yoga teaches us to pay attention and to be the witness to how we respond in all situations of life. It is the ultimate metaphor of learning how to navigate life with grace and ease.