Yoga appears to be all the craze these days. I was out with a friend last week and she mentioned she and her husband attended a practice session at a local resort studio where the entire practice was conducted on a balance board. Lately it seems as though a new variation of yoga pops up every week. There’s hot yoga, power yoga, paddleboard yoga, hiking yoga, mountain yoga, in addition to the traditional Vinyasa, Kripalu, Hatha, etc. The focus of these new variations appears to be to push the envelope of the trials on the body during yoga practice to further and further extremes.
Yoga by its very nature is designed to be non-competitive. It is actually considered poor yogic etiquette to compare yourself to another yogi during a practice session and frankly defeats the purpose of practice in the first place. Our American culture is so driven and so competitive we don’t seem to be able to grasp this basic concept. We therefore feel the need to ‘one-up’ a practice that has been in existence for thousands of years. If you can stand on your head in a traditional yoga class, then I can stand on mine in the middle of the ocean, or on a stiff board rocking back and forth balancing on a small ball.
This emphasis on the physical aspects of the postures rather than the goal of practice in the first place robs the practitioner of the most valuable gifts yoga has to offer. At its fundamental core, the physical practice of yoga is meant to prepare the body for silence and meditation. In most studios today, the mandatory shavasana at the end of the class is given no more than a few cursory minutes, where there is not even enough time for the practitioner to find a comfortable position, let alone allow him or her to settle into their body and find the peace waiting for them in communing with their eternal self.
The perfection of the body through the practice of the asanas is designed to keep the physical aspect of the body from intruding upon the spiritual awakening that is achieved through silence and meditation.
Not that there is anything inherently wrong in pushing the body past its former limits in a safe environment. It just seems like a shame to miss out on the best part of practice. Sort of like climbing almost to the top of the highest mountain and then turning back a few feet from the summit, unaware you never reached the peak.
So if you’ve tried a yoga class or two and given up the practice for another form of training, ask yourself if you really experienced yoga or just another exercise craze. If you left practice feeling peaceful, settled and with a gentler view of the world around you, chances are you experienced the real thing. If you ran out of the studio stressed and rushing off to your next obligation, then maybe you missed the point. Try another studio, one that will help you along the road to your eternal self.
For yoga, in its truest sense, is a gateway to the eternal way.