Monday, May 2, 2011

Yoga is as Yoga Does

For a word that means “union,” yoga can be incredibly complex. In North America, our relationship with the ancient Indian practice has been influenced by everything from Scandinavian gymnastics to colonialist Indian politics to how amazing Lululemon’s Groove Pants make our butts look. Indeed, for such a solitary practice, modern yoga seems to attract exhibitionists. Undoubtedly you’ve spotted a self-important yogi on a subway platform, unaware (or uncaring) that the mat they have fashionably strapped to their back could push fellow citizens into oncoming trains. Ah, inner peace.

As yoga made its way into mainstream culture, retailers seized the opportunity to commercialize every aspect of the practice. The pandemic of repurposing yoga attire for a variety of non-yogic situations is now the norm. There’s a wide array of yoga props – straps, blocks, socks, gloves, mat bags – that I’m sure didn’t exist when they did warrior poses hundreds of years ago in Mysore, India.

According to some sources, yoga was invented so that ancient monks could meditate for hours without getting cramps; but prayer marathons are not why most of us squeeze in a vinyasa class between work and cocktails. Toning and de-stressing are likely our greatest motivators. Does that make our experience of yoga any less authentic or meaningful? As Carol Belmonte, raw food chef and yoga enthusiast, says, “I don’t think integrity is ever lost in bringing spirituality to someone’s life.” Even if the spiritual aspects of yoga are not what attract most people, it doesn’t mean they won’t benefit by the self-reflection and enlightenment that yoga often catalyzes.

What is authentic yoga and how do we find it? It’s significant that we use the phraseology of practicing yoga, like we would practice piano, or organized sports, or a school play. It’s a habit, something we have to do consistently. I love the fact that you don’t need any special equipment to practice yoga: all you need is your breath, your body and the right attitude. The things we learn about ourselves on the yoga mat can easily be translated to life off the mat. I once had an instructor explain that yoga helps him stay centered and resist the temptations of the city. I, on the other hand, want yoga to take me further into the world’s richness, not remove me from it.

Yoga means union and it’s meant to unite differences, not homogenize diversity. There are lots of opinions about yoga -which type of yoga is best, how long to hold downward dog, whether plank is an actual pose in Sun Salutation A. Your yoga practice can be whatever you make it. You don’t have to call it yoga and you don’t have to own $95 Lululemon pants. You just have to pay attention (especially on subway platforms).

Mari-Beth Slade is a food and wine lover, wayward librarian and would-be philosopher. She works as a marketer for an accounting firm in Halifax, but spends most days doing yoga poses at her desk or brainstorming discussion topics for her book club.

1 comment:

  1. interesting article. Ever tryed Feldenkrais? it would be nice to have your perspective about an "awareness trhoug movement" class.