You may have noticed that Yoga has been getting a lot of bad press these days. Teachers getting hip replacements and practices rife with injuries seem to be splashed all over the internet. [Links to the articles I am referencing are below.]
I read these articles and so many questions arose: if teachers are getting injured whilst taking a photo of dramatic yoga poses then why are they taking them, why do they feel the need to take photos of yoga postures for their social media feeds, how long have these teachers/students been practicing this pose or did they just bust it out for the photo, are they unable or unwilling to hear what their bodies are telling them, and ffs why can’t people see that Nature isn’t a pretty backdrop (I digress and that’s a topic for another time).
Underneath those questions was something more real, a saddened heart. I’ve expressed my displeasure and sadness with the current Yoga Industry and how this sacred (worthy of respect) practice is being portrayed. I’ll express it again, for the people in the back or who may be new.
Practicing With Integrity
It may seem odd, in our industry of health and wellness, to be talking about integrity. Is it not implicit that integrity be the backbone of our practice since integrity literally means to be whole?!
Yet, all too often I see integrity get side-stepped or rose-colour-painted over with ideas or concepts of positivity and spirituality. There’s an interesting story or dynamic in the health and wellness where we choose to attempt to feel positive instead of whole. Instead of tending to the soil, acknowledging what's real and working to amend the soil, we mentally side step what's real and attempt to reside in feel good concepts. This is alive in statements like: Don’t worry be happy, everything happens for a reason, it’s all good...
These “feel good” concepts are often applied* in a glib and vapid manner, skimming over the realness of the other person or situation. Although most likely well-meaning in intent they are an example of positivity as a weapon and an unwillingness to be with what is. They shred presence and connection, void of relationship and context they languish from any real contact with reality and it triggers an ironic disconnect.
This will also show up in our practice. If we are unwilling to be with what's real and instead choose the concepts or ideas of what we should be looking like or acting like then these ideas and concepts become disconnections, they take us further away from the essence of a Yoga practice, wholeness, and integrity wanes.
We’ve done to Yoga Asana (postures) what we do to beautiful wild flowers, we pluck it from its integrity and support system - the soil that allows its roots to be rich and nourished and for cycles to be fulfilled - and we place it, disconnected, on display.
It’s especially ironic when we consider one translation of Yoga Sutra 1.2, (Yoga is the dissolving of the patterns of thinking (consciousness)), that there are stories within Yoga that need to be dissolved. We have created a veil that fogs up the much needed contemplation, observation and reality check that a yoga practice ought to be. We have mistakenly taken on mental force as spiritual and bodily wisdom as something to be overcome. Integrity lies in being able to be with all our wholeness which included being with our bodies.
Yoga is a practice of increasing awareness, contemplating what one observes, and deepening presence in all aspects of ourselves** (not just physical but also energetic and mental) so that we may dissolve our patterns of thinking. What arises from this deepening of presence is a more direct path to the part our being that is innately connected, our knowing and wisdom aspects. This is the context, the soil, that keeps our asana integral.
Yoga is a dynamic and vast practice that addresses some very real things that arise for a species that has the ability to think abstractly, to create things that don’t exist; both for our betterment and our detriment.
Yoga is the space and practice of dismantling and untangling of that ability to create things that don’t exist. It’s our practice of remembering how to just be.
The articles that inspired this ‘rant’
* At the heart of these sayings is some wisdom but with everything there is a context, a relationship. It is different to use these sayings if they add to the presence and relationship of being with ourselves, another, or life, than it is to use them to skip over the reality of a situation.
** I want to point out that a practice is not just about deepening presence within internal aspects of ourselves but must extend to deepening presence with others, life, and society. I have chosen to leave it as ourselves for the sake of clarity of the article and because it would’ve been a crazy run on sentence.