Are You Actually Practicing “Yoga?”

Another article addressing the recent yoga “controversy” has caught our attention.  This time, because it addresses the attitudes that surround the physical practice of yoga as it now exists in the United States.  The author, Suketu Mehta, has astutely identified the undercurrent of competition that has profoundly influenced the now “$6 billion” industry that is the North American empire.  He is referring to the competitive-mindset even in yoga classes.

Most practitioners are approaching hatha yoga with the same sense of drive that motivates them in other physical fitness classes.  That kind of approach is not necessarily appropriate.  Hatha was always meant to be a method of introspection and self-learning through a physical exploration that uses the body to confront the ego and –hopefully-learn to dominate it.  But it seems that ego is actually directing the way yoga classes in gyms and many studios are being taught, formulated and marketed.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the physical benefits of asana practice when one does them with the consciousness that is necessary to listen to the body and explore safely.  But without this awareness one is no longer practicing one of the limbs of “yoga,” but is just running through a repetitive sequence of potentially dangerous and meaningless positions.  Your practice is what you make of it.  It can truly be a tool that unites body and mind (for some even spirit), and can also help one gain control over the maniacal internal ravings of the ego.  But in order to get there one must learn and accept that not every aspect of the physical practice is necessary or appropriate.  Each individual must pay attention and decide this for themselves by listening to what truly benefits the body and with the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher.  Learning how to step away from certain asanas without stigma or insecurity is the definition of removing ego.  As Suketa puts it:

Not everyone can — or should — stand on their heads, but everyone can use their heads to make the world a better place; yoke their emotions to their intelligence and feel more centered.