For my entire career as a yoga instructor I have been pretty allergic to common limitations that are put on yoga as a physical and spiritual practice. I recognize the lineage of yogic traditions in relation to meditation, and as a basic value system to improve your overall happiness. I also agree with a good deal of the conventional yoga wisdom involving the movement systems of the body and the merits of alignment, specifically in Ashtanga, Iyengar and Hatha yoga. Bikram...not so much, but I'll get to that later.
Where I see holes in most yogins' conception of yoga is in the elitism that so many studios and practitioners bog themselves down in and cram down the throats of their students. This ideology can range in anything from insisting that you must do specific poses to find benefit to stating that you must abide a vegetarian/vegan diet to truly consider yourself a yogi. Within certain parameters, I truly believe that anyone can consider themselves a yogi in modern society. So with that in mind let's take a look at our daily practice, both on and off the mat, to find a little mindfulness in modern life.
In the most literal sense, 'yoga' in Sanskrit means 'union' (also sometimes interpreted as 'to yoke'), and it refers to the union of mind, body and spirit. This is a remedial definition, and it's open to interpretation. However, an extension that I'm fond of as defined by BigShakti is "the experience of connection in a state of yoga; a joyful and blissful, fulfilling experience."
I completely agree with this definition: it exists in every action and connection that we make in our daily life. Yoga exists on the yoga mat, but it also exists in your decision to give the panhandler a dollar at the stoplight. For every downward dog you do, you have the opportunity to look your neighbors in the eye and say 'hello' instead of staring at your phone. The concentration that is required for a bound half moon pose can equally be found in the engagement required to actively listen to a complicated piece of jazz music. As yin and yang are sides of the same coin, your yoga practice can be developed in nearly every decision that you make throughout the course of the day.
If yoga is the union of mind and body as well as body and spirit, then how can you apply this to what you are doing? Let's consider a couple of elements that can be applied to this idea.
One of the central tenets of yoga involves release from the ego (self-awareness) to a state of selflessness and pure consciousness known as Samadhi.
Before I lose you here, let's take a look at how this applies to you and your addiction pumpkin spiced lattes and Instagram:
Our modern American attitudes are largely developed around catering to the ego, and this can't be illustrated more clearly than our addiction to social media. Obviously this varies from person to person, but the underlying theme beneath Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is that WE WANT ATTENTION!!! There are many degrees to this spectrum, but the vast majority say "look at me and the cool thing I'm doing/cool friends I have/amazing concert I'm basically ignoring to stare at my phone."
Am I telling you to get rid of social media? No....well kinda. More appropriately, I'm asking you to take a look at why you are using it. First, ask yourself: what is the purpose? Second, I'm asking you to consider why you are devoting your two most precious resources--time and energy--to shouting these things across the internet.
Let's come back to the ego. If yoga is truly the development of a practice that moves you away from egoic pursuits, and if you are trying to develop a truly yogic lifestyle then how are you devoting your time to lessening the presence of ego in your life?
A logical step one would be to either scale back on the ol' 'Book or to kick it to the curb entirely. Are you truly fulfilled by taking the picture of your food when you could be spending precious moments enjoying it? Does a picture of you doing a yoga pose on the beach actually mean you're learning about your body? Most importantly, are you being truly mindful of the image you are displaying openly to the world?
In a grander sense, you could go volunteer at a soup kitchen or embark on some other selfless endeavor, but this is supposed to be an approachable yoga blog. Try getting off the selfie-stick for a day or two before you tackle the big jobs.
I mentioned Samadhi earlier and let's just be clear: I'm not even close to that level of understanding of this big scary Universe. However, I truly believe that yoga and mindfulness surround you constantly. Once again let's look at the example of staring at our phones during every waking moment of the day. We all do it, and no one seems to really notice or care all that much.
But what cost does this exact on your understanding of your surroundings?
For example, take a moment the next time you are in a line in public, let's say at your friendly neighborhood Starbucks. Now look at how many people in said line are either staring at their phones or have little white buds crammed into their ears.
So what are all these people doing? Communicating, networking, being informed...really not much. What they are really doing is ignoring the rich tapestry of life that is evolving around them. This is a perfect illustration of how we go about our daily lives: ignoring the present moment to be immersed in information or meaningless conversation. That text or phone call could be better appreciated in person when you see your friend twenty minutes from now anyway.
Mindfulness is a state of Awareness that evolves through acknowledgement and acceptance of the present moment. How can you take in the weird beauty around you when you have your gaze tilted downward at your shiny little device?
To relate this concept to physical yoga consider your daily practice. It serves as an opportunity to unify your breath, movement and awareness as seamlessly as possible without letting your ego get in the way. This is why I like a yoga studio without mirrors, as it forces you to feel your body. You are there, right there and you are aware of what you are doing only in that very moment.
At least you're supposed to be.
For baby steps to get a little closer to a more mindful yogic lifestyle, try putting your phone away for an hour, a day, maybe a week if you can swing it. Considering there is actually a recognized physical ailment called "text-neck", your yoga posture will thank you for it.
So you got up an hour ago, took a hot shower, got your favorite coffee drink, listened to your favorite Susan Boyle playlist during the drive to work and had enough time to Skype with your mom in Kentucky before 10am? This is modern life and it's rife with convenience.
We are used to getting what we want, when we want it, and if our sense of entitlement is not fulfilled there will be hell to pay.
Now ask yourself, how would your pre-lunch ritual have played out 80 years ago? It would be a lot less convenient to say the least. I won't harp on how this reads into our climbing statistics of suicide, pharmaceutical addiction and road rage.
However, I will say this: yoga helps.
I have never and will never agree with anyone who says that yoga is a cure-all for every problem we have as humans (I'm looking at you BKS Iyengar). However, I WILL say that yoga is an opportunity to stop being so damned entitled to everything all the time.
Picture this: You're in a yoga a class and everything is going swimmingly until the teacher says 'now do [fill in the blank] pose!' And your body simply will not cooperate with that movement. It's borderline infuriating--because it's supposed to be. No average person walks into a yoga studio with the ability to effortlessly complete every movement. It's a self-limiting practice--and that's why it is called a practice. You see this in virtually every yoga studio in the world. There will always be one person who is completely missing the point. Instead of accepting the state of their physical being in the present moment, they will struggle relentlessly to try to be the best in the class even as their hamstrings/back/head slowly, painfully explodes.
There is no being 'the best' in yoga and you're probably not gonna be the best at everything else you do either. Take it easy and give yourself some room to breathe.
It is a practice of acceptance of who you are right now, both spiritually and physically. If you want to be a Gumbi-bodied contortionist, you have to work on it, but that still doesn't mean you've got it all figured out either on or off the mat. As Voltaire said: "cherish those who seek the truth, but beware of those who find it."
This could also be interpreted as: "if someone says they know everything, they're probably full of shit."
I've decided it will be fun--mostly for me, probably--to pepper this blog with little gems of wisdom I have discovered in my daily mindfulness practice. So consider this an explanation when I say that 'this music has some yoga in it' or 'I found some yoga in the bathroom at Burger King'. Hopefully it makes a little bit of sense.
As always I encourage you to reach out or throw a comment in the mix.
Until next time, Namaste.