I have had two conversations today that seem to revolve around a trend which pushed me away from yoga for a while. At it’s core, I call it “the serious business of yoga,” which I believe manifests itself in a number of different ways. One of the ways that “the serious business of yoga,” can show its ugly head is in individuals’ dogmatic and sometimes fanatical devotion to a particular style of yoga. It’s not that I object to people finding the thing that resonates with them and then sticking with it – or even preaching its gospel. It’s when someone starts to disparage any approach that isn’t precisely the same as theirs that I begin to take issue.
Who cares where I put my hand in triangle pose? Why does it matter if I don’t like a hot yoga class? What if spending 5 minutes in a pose isn’t for me, and I’d rather flow? If it’s not right for you, that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. I can draw parallels to just about any other physical activity or exercise: powerlifters don’t spend much time running, because that counteracts their strength training, and conversely, runners don’t try to constantly lift heavier weights, because that would require eventually putting on more muscle, which they’d have to carry around on their runs. This doesn’t mean that either maximal effort lifting or running are wrong as exercises. It’s all relative to an individual’s goals, limitations, and preferences. I have a bad knee that doesn’t do well on runs, so I don’t run often (I also think it’s boring). I think it can put to much pressure on the joints, but there are people who run for decades with no major pain or injuries. So who am I to dictate that it’s absolutely wrong for anyone? If it’s the flavor of exercise that suits you, then go for it.
“Namaste” is a term of mutual respect, commonly seen and said, in yoga studios. So this, “my way is the only way” mentality is particularly surprising to me in the yoga world. The folks who can get dogmatic about their yoga seem to honor their “self” while disparaging everyone else’s “self”, leaving the door open for competitive yoga.
I’m all for using a yoga practice to push myself physically and mentally. I’ve found great peace, positive moods, and refreshed focus in yoga classes, not to mention improved posture and flexibility, as well as fewer daily aches and pains. All of this results in steadily and carefully pushing myself in my yoga practice. But that’s about pushing your self, while honoring yourself and your limitations. So it stands to reason that it’s not your business to push anyone else’s self without honoring their self and their limitations.
Why am I going off on this tangent? Because I think yoga is important. I think it’s an absolutely amazing way to gently and effectively stretch and strengthen at the same time. I think it’s a powerful way to achieve some mental peace and meditation. I say all the time that if I had to prescribe exercise for the entire planet, in one shot, I would prescribe walking and yoga. I sincerely believe that if we all practiced yoga and walked, the world would be a happier, healthier place.
If you have been to a yoga class and had a unpleasant or disappointing experience, like the two women I spoke with today; If that experience left you feeling like you had to do it the “right” way on the first try, or be ostracized, then I implore you to try again. Try a couple of different styles of yoga, and a few different instructors until you find someone and something that resonates with you.
I shared with both of the women I spoke with today my experiences with a friend, Vita, who owns Vita-Prana Yoga. Vita is a wonderful instructor, and I don’t say that because she’s my friend. She’s become my friend, because I think she’s a wonderful instructor, and I respect her. She creates a wonderful atmosphere in which it’s safe to be gentle with yourself, and safe to push yourself – nurturing and safety are paramount. She’s a wonderful instructor, and thankfully she’s not the only one. I encourage you to keep trying until you find your “Vita.”