I hear this over and over again from people and it makes me both sad and excited. Sad because it is a reflection of how yoga has been defined in the modern world — as a fitness regime for beautiful, sinewy, bendy people who say “Namaste” all the time.
On the other hand, I feel excited by the opportunity that it brings to people who have felt that yoga is not for them because they don’t have the right body type, they aren’t flexible, or they are intimidated by the Lululemon-wearing, Instagram-dominating- pull- your- leg- behind- your- head- balancing- on- one- leg image that yoga has become. And who can blame anyone for being intimidated or turned off by that? I’ve been practicing yoga on and off for most of my adult life and I can’t do most of the poses I see on Instagram. In fact, there are still dozens of intermediate and advanced poses that I cannot do… and that’s just fine by me. Because for me, yoga is not just about the physical body. It’s about using the body to connect to breath, mind and ultimately to the highest, most pure, peaceful part of my “Self”. Contrary to popular belief in the West, Yoga is fundamentally a spiritual practice– it’s not a byproduct of yoga, it’s the actual purpose of yoga.
In fact, this is one of the reasons I have been practicing yoga “on and off” as opposed to consistently. Most of what I have found in the western yoga culture has been too superficial, too focused on asana (poses), and lacking in the depth of tradition and spiritual evolution. Don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking yoga as fitness– I think that is how most of us first discover and fall in love with yoga. We find the right classes and like the way yoga makes our bodies feel. But if you are really lucky, you find a teacher or tradition that will move you beyond asana to show you the really juicy, yummy stuff like pranayama, bandhas, mantra, and meditation.