I love that Americans are so into yoga. It’s exactly what we need.
Our society is fast-paced, we’re always on the go, and we put enormous pressure on ourselves to “succeed.” We need a good wind-down and to be periodically reminded of our spiritual nature.
Yoga is the perfect answer: it’s meant to renew, relax, and help us to reconnect.
Why is it, then, that we’re not always feeling zen’d out when we leave yoga class? Sometimes we’re more riled up than when we started — a bit agitated, frazzled, or even burnt out.
I experienced this post-yoga class negativity this morning. I was in a peaceful enough disposition before class. One of the first to arrive, I laid down my mat somewhere near the center. The studio filled in quickly, and it was clear we were going to be mat-to-mat. All good, I thought. The more yogis, the better.
But my mood shifted as I stood in line for the bathroom watching my mat get walked all over by the teacher himself. Not cool. This is just bad yogi etiquette in my book.
I consider my mat my sacred yoga tool and I don’t want to put my face where someone else’s feet have been. Perhaps I should have been more resilient to this small incident, but it set the tone for what ensued.
The teacher bumped up his dance music and we got right into it, beginning in a forward bend. No om chanting, no hello to your neighbor, no centering or focusing on the breath.
And then we flowed; fast and hard.
It was a militant flow, a quick sprint from inhalation to exhalation, downward dog to warrior 1 and down again. The music blared so loudly that I completely missed many of the teacher’s cues. He rattled off alignment tips like an auctioneer. We moved fast, we drenched in sweat, and we made an already heated room even hotter on a warm spring morning.
It was a full hour before we finally made it to the floor. And even then it was crunches and militant ab work. At last, one soothing forward bend, and then a good few minutes in savasana (with music, of course). We finished om-lessly, and quickly dispersed.
I would expect that this sounds like just a regular old yoga class to most of you. This is the way it usually goes. Lots of loud and intense music, sweat dripping, a quick flow from here to there with a whole lot of chaturanga in between and an all-too-short savasana.
Maybe you’re wondering what I’m complaining about.
Well, I left this class feeling a little edgy. I yelled at two other drivers for being stupid on my way home; not the peaceful yogi I try to be. I had no zen whatsoever. One would never have guessed that I had only just left an hour and a half yoga class.
I feel compelled to share this experience because nearly every time I attend a yoga class, it’s brought to my attention that our yoga is not really yoga at all.
Yoga is a spiritual practice. Without the spirituality, it’s not yoga.
If it doesn’t leave you feeling reenergized and rejuvenated, it’s not yoga.
If it doesn’t add to your sense of peace and love, it’s not yoga.
Today, I did not do yoga. There was nothing spiritual about it, and I left tired and agitated. I did a workout, not yoga.
Our lives are stressful enough. Yoga shouldn’t add to our agitated, restless frame of mind. The loud and intense music, the strong vigorous flow, the endless pushing of our bodies is just too much.
Yoga in the U.S. has become this kind of amped-up core workout, and most have forgotten that yoga is, in fact, a path to enlightenment. Not all but much of the yoga that’s taught today isn’t really yoga at all.
As teachers, let’s help our students truly benefit from the spiritual aspects of this practice. Let’s turn down or even turn off the music. There’s enough noise in modern life.
Let’s take a break for an hour and a half and learn to just be. Let’s teach our students the real purpose of asana — to steady the mind — so that they can get more from their practice.
Let’s reconnect with the classic postures of yoga, the ones that have proved beneficial for thousands of years. Let’s hold poses for a hot second, so that we can teach our students to settle in and still their thoughts, which is exactly what humanity needs right now.
Let’s tone down our own intensity and be role models of peace.
And as students, we have to be extra careful where we choose to practice and with whom we choose to learn. We need to check in with our body and mind after class:
How do we feel? Do we have more energy than when we started?
What’s our mental state? Do we feel peaceful or a little angry or anxious?
If our practice is not feeling entirely beneficial, then it’s time to try a new teacher or perhaps a new yoga style.
Yoga is one of the greatest gifts ever given to humanity. Let’s not sell it short. Let’s use it for all that it is in the short-term: to relax, renew, and reconnect, and in the long-term, to evolve as spiritual beings.