Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned yogi, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
When we rank yoga studios, judge people during class, talk about the teacher’s quality of instruction (or lack thereof), we are certainly NOT practicing yoga.
I know this because I’ve been both victim and perpetrator of this social crime. (Dramatic, but true.)
I’ve judged people that look too fancy and fit in their probably very expensive, showy yoga pants and sports bras.
I’ve judged studios that look corporate-like and scream, “I want to make lots of money!”
I’ve felt the burn when someone condescendingly approves or disapproves of the yoga instruction I choose.
I’ve felt the burn when I tell people I’m developing teacher training curriculum for Kova Yoga School of Yoga and they later see that I’m not very flexible and fall over during super twisty arm balances and can’t do double pigeon to save my life.
We use yoga as yet another platform of competition, where we rank ourselves against others and others against ourselves.
This is not yoga.
What is yoga?
Yoga means different things to different people.
Historically, yoga is a lifestyle path to end suffering and attain eternal bliss.
Classical yoga consists of ethical codes to guide good behavior and thought. And it consists of meditation – a lot of meditation.
Only relatively recently did yoga include physical postures and sequences, which is the type of yoga we mostly practice today in America.
Physical postures (or asanas) are just part of the many components of yoga, but it’s the part we put most emphasis on and is consequently the most susceptible to distortion.
For me, yoga is isn’t necessarily a way of life or a path itself. It’s a tool I use along my journey through life. It’s my walking stick, my compass.
Everyone sees yoga differently. And that’s part of the beauty of yoga. It doesn’t have to be defined by a single set of rules.
Understand the rules, then break them
In yoga, we learn particular philosophies and postures, and we work hard to master them all.
But yoga isn’t just a set of rules. It’s not so confined as we’d like it to be because confinement often makes us feel more comfortable and secure.
There are tried-and-true methods passed down through generations that work. Yes.
But there’s also plenty of room for creativity and personal expression.
Once we understand the rules for asanas – the reasons why we position our bodies as we do and the reasons why we don’t move in certain ways – we get a good general sense of the body and can allow ourselves to truly flow and develop our own expression of yoga.
Once we understand the rules for mediation and breathing – the difference between no mind and present moment and the connection between breath and being – we develop a greater overall awareness and can apply our knowledge and skills in a way that expresses who we are and the lifestyle we choose.
When we understand the rules, we can break them and truly make yoga our own.
And it is in this ownership, this expression of self, where we observe differences among people, and then subsequently judge them against our own expression.
There is no spoon
One of my favorite scenes from The Matrix is when Neo is in the Oracle’s waiting room staring at a bald kid who’s bending a silver spoon with his mind. Neo picks up a spoon and gives it a try. Nothing.
Spoon Boy: Do not try to bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Spoon Boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Spoon Boy: Then you’ll see, it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.
There are a few lessons to get out of this scene. One is that we can’t control our surroundings, we can only control ourselves. Another deeper lesson is that what we see with our eyes isn’t necessarily real; rather, it is the truth that we discover within ourselves that is reality. (Interpret at will.)
One of the fundamental premises of yoga philosophy is that we are all made of the same stuff. We are the universe and the universe is us. Yoga is a means to realize this truth, understand it, then use it to live in eternal bliss.
In a nutshell, this means that what we see with our eyes is a mere projection of the reality within us, but it is not really real.
Okay, okay, maybe we’re getting a little too deep here. I’ll stop.
Your yoga is about you
Bottom line is this: Yoga is a personal experience. It has nothing to do with anyone else. When we make yoga about other people’s opinions and standards, we stray from the truth and do not reach our full potential.
The next time we walk into that yoga class, let’s keep the focus on us, on our reality.
Yoga postures are incredibly challenging and take a lot of hard work to master. If we’re too busy paying attention to what other people are doing or what other people might think of us, we’re not paying attention to our body and breath.
There will always be people who judge us, and we will always experience the temptation to judge others.
But our task is to choose not to judge others or ourselves and to simply “take our seat” on our mat and breathe.