As a yoga instructor and practitioner, it’s hard not to notice the trends in the yoga world. As westerners, we may have a limited scope of Yoga, meaning that what is a vast and ancient means to bringing the mind and body into balance has been compartmentalized to suit our busy lives. It seems that we have isolated the Asana practice as an approach to physical fitness, and in that we have lost sight of the other aspects of Yoga, and as a result, are missing out on the benefits of a whole practice.
Asana was developed by the great sages who would sit for long periods of time in absorptive concentration, meditation, and contemplation. It was a means of keeping the body free of pain during these periods of stillness. Ultimately, the goal was to gain control over the senses, the emotions, and the mind. It was the mind, the Ego, which was truly the cause of their suffering.
Our senses are so powerful. When one first begins down the path of yoga, they may quickly see and feel their body becoming stronger, more balanced, more flexible. The practitioner may feel a sense of calm or a deeper breath, they may be able to sleep better at night. All of these things are positive results of a yoga practice. But the mind is also very powerful. Once the mind identifies with a “positive” outcome to our actions, we may easily become addicted to that action and then have the propensity to repeat it and repeat it, with diminishing returns. It is important to temper this tendency with a balanced approach.
My approach to teaching in the west is to remember the ultimate goal of Yoga, which, put simply, is self-awareness. And with self-awareness comes the awareness of our impact on the people and the world around us. When we as teachers forget this, and begin to cater to physical trends and superficial desires of our students (which can be extreme in some cases), we run the risk of alienating or even injuring our students to the detriment of the whole.
Having a yoga practice is beneficial for EVERYONE, even if it is purely Asana. I believe that the other facets of Yoga will eventually seep into the practitioner with time, possibly unknowingly, or unintentionally. But when we invite these other aspects into our yoga practice and into our lives, knowingly and with zeal, undeniable shifts in our approach to life take place. This is more satisfying than any physical practice alone.
It is my mission to make Yoga accessible to everyone so that we all might reap the rewards of living in a world filled with mindful and compassionate people.