Photo By  Joe Longo

Photo By Joe Longo

I have noticed I have a general distaste toward the term Yoga lately, even though I still often use it (with some modicum of confusion to many in the yoga community) to define my own practice. It is after all only a name, and while names give things immense power for a time, they, like everything, will die. If the thing named manages to achieve a particular significance in the world it will outgrow its name; This is the state of Yoga. The word Yoga means so much and so little now. Someone can say they practice yoga and mean anything from power vinyasa, mala beads, mantra, iyengar, bikram, kundalini, reiki, bhakti (devotional practices), vedic astrology, pranayama (breath work), and so much more. It outgrew itself to become a Grandparent Name, a GrandName if I may, but many of us resist against it and use the name expecting others to know what we are talking about while we teachers hardly do!

My other problem with the name Yoga is how people confuse a methodology for an achievement. Aspiring students, confuse a practice with a goal when they say “I canʼt do Yoga, Iʼm not flexible”; Current students sometimes do similar things, comparing their practice to someone elseʼs and saying “I could never” rather than using it as information to guide their own practice. We teachers are guilty too, we see a rock-climber and donʼt recognize their climbing as Yoga-Asana (the postures), we see a runner and donʼt value their running as Dhyana (meditation), we see a fire-fighter and fail to see it all as Bhakti (devotion). Names are amazing things but they pale in comparison to the immensity of what a practice can be.                        

My teacher Nevine Michaan reminds us: “Yogis were fierce! ...They werenʼt go with the flow...peaceful.” The Yogi of old in this context, becomes the martial artist of Hinduism, similarly to what the Samurai were to Zen Buddhism and/or Shinto.  The Samurai, like Myomoto Musashi whose practice of studying martial arts was "to touch upon all the arts" (from The Book Of Five Rings): A Practitioner whoʼs practice is compiling that which best informs and intones them with their body, their intelligence, their creativity, their connection to humanity, life and the universe. A practitioner who aspires to hold the symbol of the sword in one hand to cut through falsehood and holds the other hand out in welcome embrace of truth. This is the archetype of a Yogi I identify with, basically a Samurai without a sword.                    

Yoga doesnʼt need the hierarchy we build into it. Iʼve countless times explained my practice to those aligned with a “more” spiritual practice, only to get a sardonic smile and an answer to a question never asked: “The real yoga starts when you move beyond the physical.” Maybe this is true for them, but, perhaps you can elevate the physical and move beyond. Practice is practice. Iʼve come to realize the practice that takes place on the mat, the gymnastic rings or under the barbell all have very similar information to teach me, and at the crux of their teaching is one familiar theme: The practice that takes place throughout every moment of life shouldnʼt be divorced from the time on a mat. Strength, flexibility, calmness of breath and stillness of mind are all just practices for life, we need not cling to a romantic notion of them but rather embrace any teaching which brings us better understanding of how to navigate this life in harmony.

Yoga very simply means union, and yoga-asana is only the seats/postures or physical practices of that practice of union. As controversial as it may be to say, I am of the belief that how a practice is approached is what makes it yoga-asana, not necessarily the practice itself. It needs to be holistic; As Nevine says “yoga isn’t the gym” and I tend to believe she is right… Espn playing on big screen televisions while standing in front of a wall of mirrors doing bicep curls couldn’t feel further from yoga-asana to me, but I’ve been in environments that were “Yoga Alliance Certified” that feel equally far from union.                 

I had a recent metaphysical experience that showed me how attached I had been to the romantic idea of enlightenment that I had ignored many signs of the efficacy of my practice and the simple result of feeling more joyful. If being more full of joy isn’t a sign on the road to enlightenment, I don’t think I care. My point, and it is suspect as to whether I have one or not, is that Yoga is so many things now a person can not honestly say “yoga” isn’t for them, or easily define if something is yoga or not anymore. One can no longer blindly do a practice with the word “yoga” in it, and claim to be a yogi… The proof only lies in one’s willingness and ability to observe their own experience and results and adjust accordingly. The responsibility then goes to the practitioner, the true seeker of knowledge, because as it is said: the teacher reveals her/himself when the student is ready.