Friday, March 2, 2012

What yoga is.

Mark Whitwell
Mark Whitwell
After studying and practicing yoga for about 15 years, predominantly in Canada but also in India, I had the pleasurable experience of listening to a very outspoken yoga teacher pierce the veil of western illusions about yoga. He basically said the emperor has no lululemons.
I don’t know what it was like for others in the room, but listening to Mark Whitwell at the Yoga Festival of Toronto in August, 2008, was, for me, a sound for sore ears. I am at a point in my yoga journey when I want to try and understand the original intentions of yoga – without the overlay of western thinking, ideas and culture.
If you want to do yoga to look good in tight, black stretchy pants that dip just below the tattoo of another culture’s sacred symbols on your sacrum, it’s a free country. Fill your boots. In fact, for many – including me – passing through the “fashion” stage of yoga can be a stop on your way to a greater understanding of yoga.
But attempting to achieve some kind of yoga ideal — as seen on the cover of Yoga Journal! — is not yoga. And it’s high time that some people are starting to speak up and to set the record straight. I think we in the west have been doing yoga long enough for some sense of maturity to set in.
Patanjali, mural in Kerala
Patanjali, mural in Kerala
Yoga is not a systematic, linear process intended to get you somewhere. A tighter butt. Your leg behind your ear. Closer to god. That is western dualistic thinking. Yoga comes from an ancient non-dualist tradition.
I like the way Mark Whitwell put it: “Yoga is intimate participation in the given reality.” It’s an interior process. A kind of prayer. You spend time every day consciously breathing into your body and experiencing an intimate relationship with the marvel that is you. The manifestation of “extreme intelligence,” as Mark puts it.
Yoga is Sanskrit for union or yoke. It means to link, to connect. It is the experience of connecting to yourself and the nurturing source reality that you cannot be separated from.
Mark encourages people to do a minimum of seven minutes of yoga alone in their room every day. “Do your yoga. Naturally, actually and not obsessively,” he advises. Make a commitment. See what happens.
Joseph Campbell
Joseph Campbell
I’ve been doing it. And I follow Joseph Campbell’s advice. He said do your spiritual work, your rituals or whatever, and then comb your hair and leave your room. In other words, it’s a personal experience. It’s YOUR experience. Your truth is in your skin. Yoga gives you the opportunity to experience your truth.
“Yoga is the embrace of ordinary reality,” Mark said. “It’s the celebration of intimacy and attachment.” I love that he said that. Maybe that’s what I really needed to hear. Maybe that’s what we all need to hear.
You don’t have to look like a yoga celebrity. You don’t need brand name outfits. You don’t need a tattoo. You just need seven minutes, your breath, body and movement.
Copyright Mariellen Ward 2009

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