Getting existentialist: what yoga is (not) about
As Yoga turns into the new mainstream in the West by the hand of the new technologies, misconceptions and misinformation on what it is and is not are also more freely circulated.
This generates a great deal of confusion on those trying to decide if yoga is something for them, which is why having a preliminary list on the to be’s and not to be’s of yoga may come in handy.
This is just our take on some of the most important points to bear in mind when thinking about this practice, so, as with any list out there, just remember this is not meant to be either prescriptive, nor exhaustive:
1. Yoga IS NOT about ultra-flexibility
This is an important one for anyone exposed to social media. We have all seen pictures of limber yogis and yoginis performing impossibly bendy asanas there. While this can be awesome for those supple enough to reach complicated energetic locks and positions, being (ultra-)flexible is not an absolute must.
People of all ages and physical conditions can greatly benefit from regular yoga practice regardless of their (in)ability to fold and bend like a contortionist! In fact, we have already stressed how our bodies come in all shapes, sizes and colors. If you add to this Paul Grilley’s emphasis on bone structure –what he call's the in-and-outs of tension and bone compression– and ACEBE’s prioritization of stability over flexibility, you’ll easily understand the great variety of realizations possible for one single asana!
So less ultra-flexibility obsession, and more awareness on stability, tension, and inherent bone compression.
2. Yoga IS NOT just esoteric blabber
This is another relevant misconception, mostly triggered by this philosophy’s constant reference to notions and ideas that cannot be seen, to concepts that traditional science has not as yet come to confirm, and by (mis)representations of hippy-yogis in TV & film.
We won’t deny that it takes some intention to think of things like chakras, nadis, vayus, and other more or less ‘imaginary’ energetic fields at the beginning, but this does not mean that they do not exist, nor that thinking about them (or believing in them) will turn one into an unscientific wannabe magician!
In our day to day, we all take for granted numerous things we can neither see nor feel. The existence of some of them has already been confirmed by science —as with gravity, the atmosphere, or subatomic particles. But these well-known scientific realities took time to confirm and it is our belief that traditional science will soon come to corroborate many of the notions yoga has been utilizing for centuries.
3. Yoga IS NOT just about asana
This is probably one of ACEBE’s top notions to demystify and something we take care to stress in our classes everyday.
Asana is part of a much broader yogic toolbox that includes a variety of physical, mental, and spiritual practices developed over the centuries to bring the practitioner to self-realization and happiness. Any book out there dealing on traditional yoga, the history of this philosophy, or meditation will list a myriad practices beyond asana. So, have a look at them, it can only help!
4. Yoga IS NOT a fashion
Though we must admit that with yoga growing mainstream something of a fashion has developed around it… This has brought along the progressive transformation of this practice and lifestyle into an object of capitalist consumption.
Again, social media may be one of the best vehicles for this practice’s commodification, and different brands and yogi/nis are seizing the chance to feature all kinds of products and props on their feeds to make their practice more visually compelling and, why not, also more profitable.
While this is unavoidable, as such is the nature of the world we live in, it is important remember that yoga does not require of any other ‘prop’ but yourself. It can be practiced anytime, anywhere, by anyone, regardless of the outfit you wear, the mat you utilize, or the malas you hang around your neck!
5. Yoga IS NOT a workout
This one cannot be stressed enough, and we have already discussed this topic in past entries. It is the responsibility of certified yoga teachers out there to communicate this clearly to their students, to instill curiosity and depth of insight beyond physical asana, or else properly label those practices reducing yoga to a simple workout as something other than yoga!
6. Yoga IS NOT just for women
Another common misconception about the practice. The number of men doing yoga in the West is certainly on the rise, though yoga still struggles with ‘feminization’ in a world where being feminine is most generally misinterpreted as being ‘weak.’
Indeed, the problem here has more to do with the very use and interpretation of the categories of feminine and masculine and male and female in the West altogether, and on what are traditionally considered as suitable activities for each of these...
Additionally, there is also something of a generational gap preventing many men in the 40+ range from trying it out. In a world where dualistic thinking is rampant, many men refuse to even think of this practice, still thinking of yoga as something best suited for ‘girls.’ Nothing farther from the truth. Yoga is truly a genderless, ageless, and raceless practice, even when each and every single one of us is different, and with it, our yoga as well.
7. Yoga IS NOT a religion
This one may need little clarification, but let’s just say that it essentially relates to people’s occasional confusion of the ideas of religion, spirituality, and faith when speaking about this Hindu-derived philosophy.
Indeed, one can be religious and spiritual; spiritual but not religious; have faith on something without being religious; or be either all or none of the these with or without adding yoga to the mix!
The fact is that Yoga derives or borrows from Hinduism, but yoga itself is not a religion even when some of us practice it with as much respect and dedication as if it were.
8. Yoga IS a philosophy of life
And the more you practice it, the more your life begins to flow in the direction of this practice’s spiritual values. This may be because of yoga’s all-encompassing worldview, a philosophy of doing life in synchronicity and symbiosis with nature that progressively nudges you to reflect on the consequences that your actions have on the world you live in.
9. Yoga IS about mindful living
This follows from the previous point, and is the reason motivating, for example, our decision to simplify our lives in the last few years.
Indeed, we at ACEBE try to make the less is more idea our credo and live life with fewer belongings to develop non-attachment towards the things we possess. This allows us to travel light when the opportunity arises and devote more time to connect to the present and to ourselves.
We are also fully vegan for one and a half years now and pay a lot of attention to the way what we eat has been produced. We will write an entry on the reasons and process of our transition to a plant-based diet very soon.
We also try to use only organically-sourced and non-chemical drugstore products, have drastically cut down on emotional shopping, and have generally transformed the way we think and live. Indeed, when you’re serious about it, yoga is not something you do, but something you become, something you are deep inside yourself.
10. Yoga IS all about the mind-body connection and about commitment to yourself
This follows a bit from points 3 and 5, and some of our previous articles have already pointed in this direction. Essentially, yoga is one of the best methods out there for anyone to develop a solid mind-body connection and become increasingly aware of who s/he is.
It is also an excellent means of developing greater commitment to yourself as a person and to the idea of putting in it the work necessary to transcend your ego, as well as any pre-established ideas of of who you are and what you can achieve.
11. Yoga IS about developing inner perception and silence
An aspect strongly connected to point number two in this list. All those references to nadis, chakras, vayus, and ethereal energy fields are in fact meant to take you beyond the world of that which can be seen with your eyes, and into that of things you can feel (and see) with your mind.
Eventually, yoga is a means for you to develop greater inner perception to learn to be at home with anyone or anything you may become.
Once you take the inward shift and begin to spend more time getting to know who you are, and the way you think, you will realize there is a solid pool of silence lying underneath the surface of you as a social being. The rewards of developing greater awareness of this inner silence cannot be expressed in words.
12. Eventually, Yoga IS about the pursuit of happiness
Because it’s main goal is to strip you off of any unnecessary add-ons, for you to get to know and love what you do and who you are right now. To this end, different paths and traditions can be of assistance, which explains the great variety of styles and methods of yoga out there. Our advice is to always choose the one that feels most natural and innate for you and commit fully to it. Be appreciative and curious and you will most definitely become the person you want to be.