Depending who you choose to listen to, yoga is one of the following:
- a 3000 year old Hindu form of spiritual practice, to be performed with rigid conformity.
- a malleable approach to exercise that combines mind, body, and spirit.
- a sin against God
- just another way to stay in shape
As yoga steadily gains popularity, the splintering of philosophies continues, and apparently, while many of its practitioners have the flexibility of a pipe cleaner on the mat, they take great umbrage when the practice itself is categorized in a way that displeases them.
Many Hindu practitioners want Westerners to recognize yoga’s deep roots in their culture. Some Christians demonize it while others adapt it to their own faith, trading out the Sanskrit names of poses for Biblical references. Thus, your Sun Salutation becomes The Son’s Salutation, I presume. I’m not a big fan of this approach. It is, after all, this kind of thinking that gave us Christian Rock.
Likewise, there are many who believe yoga should be practiced with strict adherence to a particular teacher’s approach, with no tolerance for adaptation of an uncomfortable or challenging pose. Others have a ‘hey, it’s just exercise’ attitude that strips yoga of some of its defining characteristics, making some seriously grounded practitioners come completely unhinged.
So, what’s the ‘right way’ to do yoga? Is there one? Is it possible that there’s room in the studio for more than one approach without the world’s most peacefully staged war taking place?
My thinking is yes. I know a lot of running purists who say if you are jogging, you’re not really a runner. Someone once told me if I practiced Buddhism in, say, Thailand, I’d eschew it, not recognizing it at all as what I am engaged in here in America. And I know that the whole designated hitter thing confuses National League fans. And yet, we adapt and we move on with what works for us.
Any practice that has survived three millennia is bound to get repurposed a few hundred times. Fact is, those ancient yogis tapped into something primally powerful with yoga, the yang to kung fu’s yin: a practice that fully immerses mind, body, and spirit in a synergistic spring of rejuvenation. In many ways, it’s just too much for some of us to handle. And so, we take what we can from it: the calm abiding that comes with the spiritual discipline, the ability to keep muscles toned and taut with the physical rigors of the teaching, or the guiltless way it helps some channel their stress and negative emotions into something that feels healthy and sound.
If people come to the mat with pure intentions, be it to connect with a higher power, align chakras, or to honor a downward dog instead of an impending downward spiral, I think they have earned their modest ashram real estate.
Still, the debate rages on in certain corners. So, what are your thoughts? Is yoga sacrilege or sacred, a life’s work or merely a workout? I’ll revisit this topic again soon, but I’m eager to hear what you think.