Tag Archives: yoga selfies

Brave New World of Yoga

I took a few weeks off of blogging to focus on taking care of my father-in-law whose health has been poor this past month. In the interim, I explored the underbelly of the internet to see how other people are practicing Yoga. I joined a Yoga chat room on Facebook. It really opened my eyes to the current psyche of Western practitioners today. This information is helpful for me as a Yoga teacher, so I can at least have a frame of reference from which my younger students are coming.

Discussions on this Facebook chat page revolved around three topics: Selfie/Instagram posts, Yoga Teacher Trainings, and 30 day challenges in that order of post volume.

Selfies are so prevalent, that more than half the members of the group thought that posting postures of themselves is what encompasses the whole practice of “yoga.” The standard post would be something like: “This is my Handstand today #goalkiller” and then there would be showers of praise in the comment section. It seems as though people are doing one contortion-esque posture (not even asana), asking for and receiving reinforcement from the FB community. It is doubtful that these are part of a sequence and more just “showing off” the ability to be flexible and balance.

Yoga Teacher Trainings were the next big topic. Between people hawking the next big YTT in Costa Rica, Bali, or Timbuktu, people would either brag or whine about their current YTT experience. The YTT people were not imparting any particular insights or knowledge of their training to the group, but much like the selfie crowd were seeking some sort of approval or status positioning that they were on their way to teacherhood.

One disquieting aspect was the prevalence of online teacher trainings. There were actually a few good discussions on why online teacher training is not appropriate. One theme that came up is when a topic would be questioned, the pack mentality of the group would say that the person is “judging” and that “yoga is whatever you want it to be.”

I tried to introduce some concepts to the group like Aparigraha and even posted my essay about the new prevalence of alcohol in yoga classes. It made for some interesting discussions. Unfortunately the majority in the group saw no problem with it and said that their studio has alcohol events regularly. The Aparigraha post was quickly drowned out by the latest barrage of selfie posts.

Lastly, the 30 day challenges were a ubiquitous part of the group discussion. I understand that these challenges are helpful for new students to be motivated to practice. But after the 30 day challenge, then what? Another 30 day challenge? To me it just shapes the practice like a monkey swinging from  tree vine to tree vine without any direction.

Some may read this post and say “you mean there is another way to practice?” The answer is there certainly is another way. Yoga is made for us to confront and conquer our senses, our ego, our samskaras, and our karmas. Asana can be a powerful tool in doing this. But as we are now seeing, people are using asana to become more deluded and lost in the ego’s trappings.

I ended up leaving the Facebook page. It was causing too much citta vrtti in my own life. This experience has motivated me to re-read the Bhagavad Gita whose verses are refreshing and healing after seeing what Yoga is becoming in the commercialized world.

Asana as a means, not an end

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We are in the age of yoga selfies. So much that it has almost become a form of spam. There are scores of blogs where people are trying to achieve this and that pose in 30 days. Yay! I did the splits, now what? Welcome to what yoga has become in the West. What if we were to discover that asana was just a way to penetrate the ego so we can see our true selves more clearly?

To put asana in context of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, it is the 3rd limb of yoga after Yama and Niyama, which are moral precepts. The 8 limbs of yoga do not come until the second book in the yoga sutras which focus on practice. And in the second book the 8 limbs of yoga are about 2/3 the way though. There are only three sutras that refer to asana, and they refer to the “state” of the citta (mind-stuff) in the asana rather than “how to.”

Were the 8 limbs of yoga deliberately placed far back in the text? Why did Patanjali only refer to asana three times in a 196 verse text? I don’t pretend to be a Sanskrit scholar. I am still quite a beginner at yoga as I have only been practicing 15 years. But my gut instinct after reading the Yoga Sutras is that Pantanjali placed asana achievement as low priority compared to the goal of having the practitioner silence the mindstuff to see his/her self more deeply and attain realization from that process.

The problem in the West is that Citta Vritti Nirodaha  (silencing the mind stuff) doesn’t Instagram well. Lululemon would not have market if Westerners valued silencing the mind instead of doing Scorpion Pose. The Wanderlust Festival would have to fire their DJs if pratyahara was taken seriously. As seen in my previous post, there was a recent study that says people would rather give themselves electric shocks than to sit silently for 15 minutes. Our society is chronically distracted. We do not value silence as a culture. We prefer doing more and more and more. Has that moved us forward as a society? It certainly has stressed a lot of people out. I see that in my job as a mental health worker daily.

So what are asanas for then? They are a means to penetrate your mind via the physical body. They are a direct laboratory to assess your inner self both physically and mentally. They build strength, increase circulation, provide physical health so the practitioner can carry out his or her dharma and be of service to the world.

And if you are going to do asanas, do them properly. Not just based on the teachings, but do them to learn about yourself. Don’t do them to show how “accomplished” you are. That is just ego and delusion. One day you will get older, and be less able, and God forbid get injured. Then what? If you have been practicing yoga properly until that point, it won’t matter. Your mind will remain still, and you will know that your consciousness has little to do with your body.