Ganesha

Ganesha

“What we’re trying to say is that the holistic practice of yoga goes beyond just a couple of asanas [postures] on a mat. It is a lifestyle, and it’s a philosophy,” Sheetal Shah, senior director at the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) says.

NPR aired a story last Wednesday morning, “To Some Hindus, Modern Yoga Has Lost Its Way.” My initial reaction to the above statement made by Shah as I commuted the twenty-six miles to work: Whoa, hold up, that is exactly what my yoga is. Who are you to assume I’m not capable of or committed to more than “just a couple of asanas?” My practice wholeheartedly is a lifestyle and a philosophy. As I gripped the wheel, my heart rate accelerated a bit and I felt myself becoming agitated with the story, with this woman. Becoming more defensive with each word she spoke. I have a yoga-instructor friend who would say that my reaction says that I’m an angry person at my core (I don’t believe that to be true at all). But the more I think about it, my reaction, could it suggest that I have not truly connected to these things that Shah speaks of: truthfulness, nonviolence, purity?

Yoga has provided me so much over the last few years. Killer shoulders, yes. A method for being proactive about stress, no doubt. The most restful sleep I have ever experienced…and I’ve always been pretty damn good at sleeping, without question. It is the best decision I’ve made in the last five years. But the reason it is the best thing I’ve done for myself is not because of the resulting nice tummy (also not a thing I’ve struggled with over the years) or having the strength to stick Pincha Mayurasana FOREARM STAND for longer than I ever have before just today. These are perks. These are things I appreciate when I put on a bathing suit in Mexico, yeah, of course, or that I feel proud of when I roll up my mat after a solid class. Strength and muscle are gorgeous things in my opinion, priorities, in fact, but it is strength in character that keeps me returning to the studio.

Yoga has led me to greater happiness; emotional balance; mindfulness; the ability to see positive outcomes and the negative consequences of my decisions and actions with more clarity, with greater perspective; to be more open; to send out encouraging energy, to seek out good people and community, to treat others with respect, to practice empathy, to ground myself in the present moment rather than worry, worry, worry about the future, what ifs, what should, what not. After all, these are traits I feel I possessed to some degree prior to my devotion to this thing called yoga that seems to be under fire by the Hindu American Foundation. But it is outside studio walls that these traits are actually put to the test. Indeed, this is the yoga lifestyle that I live.

The most fantastic gift I’ve received is that yoga has slowly seeped spirituality into my life. Actual spirituality. A first ever for me. I did not actively pursue it. The opposite is true, in fact. I spent quite some time resisting it. At this point, though, I can no longer turn away from spiritual: the emotional connection and spirituality is what I crave most each and every time I roll out my mat. It is why I love certain instructors, why their words touch me in a way that makes my heart feel good—it is the words that they say, the lessons that they present for me to mull over in class, after class, for days, weeks, years on end, that blend with my thoughts, with my approach to life, that shape my yoga lifestyle.

The “Take Yoga Back” campaign was started to address what is seen as a fundamental disconnect between yoga and Hinduism. I can support the mission, no problem with that. What I can’t support is this idea that the western world, particularly the U.S, where twenty million people practice yoga, practices only superficially, values only the poses, the asanas, the physical limb. I resent the generalization. I really do. I can’t tell the story of Ganesha, no, I’ll admit, though I learn from numerous instructors every week who can and do and so I am familiar. I’m also surely not fearful of Ganesha; “multiple gods, with multiple heads and multiple arms” do not frighten me and do not create chaos in my otherwise “pure and serene” life. These Hindu stories intrigue me. I recently “saw” the image of Ganesha appear in another human being in a partner activity during a karma workshop that I attended in February. The experience was eye opening and has contributed significantly to my quest for truth, wisdom and spiritual knowledge and growth.

So why the judgment? Isn’t there always an ascending path, if you will, to learning? I support an effort to tie yoga to Hinduism. I also support allowing a person to receive the message, to live the lifestyle of yoga, in due time. What may seem like only physical from afar, when you get in close and really have a look, just may be so much more. Just like any lesson, any thing, when you practice patience and listen, you may just learn something new. Any teaching, in a classroom, in life, you rarely absorb it all at once; there is an ah-ha moment, a process and progression to full understanding. If such a thing exists.

****** 303 Magazine and Core Power Yoga are offering a month of free month of yoga to the person who needs it most. Tell us why you deserve, want and NEED that free month of yoga in the comments below. Also, VERY IMPORTANT, email zach@303magazine.com with you contact info for notification of your win. The contest will run for three weeks and then we will announce the winner. Good luck! *******

3 Responses

  1. Sal Christ

    This is a great post, Aubrey. I think too often people are wont to dismiss western yoga practice as superficial simply because it deviates from how it’s practiced elsewhere. It’s easy to generalize about surface appearances–especially when it comes to an internal practice truly unknown (on an individual level) to all but the practitioner. Only we know what we get out of the experience and no matter how we practice, it’s the fact that we practice at all that matters. Loved the end sentence, too…just what I needed this morning!

    Reply
  2. Victoria Crain

    Great post and insight into your own traits Aubrey. I myself would have reacted fairly simiarly, especially since yoga has changed how I view people, the world, and deal with everyday or more than anticipated stress. It’s hard to make a general statement about how essentially yoga is not being practiced the proper way when everyone takes their own piece of learning from it. I know that when I initially began yoga I was only focused on the physical element of it and would most often compare it to my other cardio and lifting programs that I was doing at the time. Now, after 4 years of practicing I still often focus on the physical and like to see my progress from week to week and how my form is becoming more fluid, but I’m also deeply touched by how I can mentally get to a certain level of mindfulness and ease throughout my entire practice. This is hard, very hard for me.

    I first experienced this sort of mental challenge while attending Core Power here in Fort Collins. The teachers taught in a way that made me become more aware of who I am and how I was moving in the moment. It allowed me to not only change how I viewed the world around me, but how I viewed myself. Core Power helped me to be gentler with myself, recognize my own intuition on life, and gauge how I move and speak in a calmer fashion. This in turn brought my physical practice to a different level, which was contrary to my beliefs before Core Power. I appreciate what Core Power’s teachers have given to me and would love the chance to experience it again!

    Reply
  3. toni Backstrom

    Aubrey – you continue to challenge us all to think deeply. For me, yoga is drishti, awareness, acceptance, presence, and truth. It truly becomes a way of life, a chosen way of life. The physical practice is an expression of that lifestyle – each day different than before and the next. The strength is definitely a bonus!! There are many religions to choose from (or to choose none) and there are many types of yoga. As any religion means different things to its members, yoga means different things to yogis. Each takes out of the experience what is needed at that time.

    Reply

Leave a Reply