Personal Development: Sarbani Sen wonders what on Earth has happed to yoga!
Coming across the #yogaindustry campaign recently, I was surprised to encounter kindergarten stories of who did what and how they did it. Apparently this campaign aims at “bringing back yoga to the yogi, the real ones”. For these practitioners of the famous Indian physical health technique, more and more people advertize themselves as yogis and show extreme physical flexibility allowing them to do almost all the postures (that even Patanjali would blush) and selling yoga as a marketable and sexy activity (e.g. “Instagirls”, #Instalove).
I’m not sure I actually felt the beauty of yoga in their campaign, that space of bliss and allowance of what is, that connection to the divine, to the universal, that space of vulnerability where we all strive and do our best, but are in total awareness of our limitations and challenges. In this piece, I’d like to stand up for more allowance in yoga (and dance too). I feel there is a need to open hands and let go of the supremacy.
I agree that using the word yoga in crucial activities such as beer drinking has been pushing it a bit too far. I mean at least we could keep the healthy side of yoga. In terms of new yoga developments, I personally love the Art of Accro yoga, the mother and daughter yoga, Yin Yoga, Vinyasa yoga etc. All have their own tone of voice and their beauty, although total extrapolation of the ancient Vedic scriptures. Even Indians started doing so: Bikram yoga to start with – which is yoga in a 45°C heated room.
Although I agree that it is important to explain the deeper intentions of yogic practice, I think the initiators of this campaign badly need to face reality, and welcome a series of new experts, beginners, lovers, followers that weren’t there before. Before this practice was limited to the initiated only. You could call yourself a yogi or a dancer after 10-20 years of yoga or ballet. Today you are dancer if your mind is set on that frequency and I believe it’s the beauty of our lifetime: anyone can become anything at any moment. It’s just a question of following the flow, the inspiration, the desire to choose exactly what you want to live at each moment of your life.
I believe there is space for self expression and for creation for everybody. Enough of the diktat of work, effort and sweat: ‘to be’ is a huge challenge already. To have the courage to show who you are, above all critics, above all trends and esthetics, that’s the true power of self expression today. Violence to the body is completely obsolete. Let people follow the flow and just be what and who they are. There is no such thing as right and wrong, as good and bad, especially not in yoga. At the end of the day, it is you that is responsible for your body, and only you know how far you can take it, and the real challenge is to be a ‘body whisperer’.
So why did these people behind the #yogaindustry campaign launch such a stressful and critical campaign? To me it has been launched
from a space of fear. Fear to lose their position, their status, fear that people would be mistaken about yoga, or maybe fear that people would quit yoga for that same reason. In their video they mention the young Insta girls with 200,000 followers that started yoga last year and manage to lift their leg behind their ears. That requires a lot flexibility which most yoga teachers don’t have. I agree that it is ironic to see yoga leave the caves and get to the catwalk, but hey that’s fine too! At least people are practicing around the globe, showing and sharing their evolution, the way they work on their bodies, and to be honest I think it’s beautiful.
Instagram is a major life changer for socialization and communication enthusiasts. Social media in general is a wonderful tool to connect with the world, meet like-minded people that you don’t get to meet on the street, in your home or village. Everything goes faster and deeper somehow. Yoga girls from all around the world unite around the same topic. Why demonize it?
Bottom line, I agree with the #yogaindustry’s movement to re-inform the population about the spiritual roots of yoga but I am not sure we need to do it in a negative way. Bhimolanandaji, my old Yoga Master in Allahabad, would have loved the Instagirls! This same man, who goes on pilgrimage to the Himalayas by foot (!) once a year, sleeping in a cave with only a thin cotton cloth wrapped around his body, told me after a week of practice that I was ready to go and teach people around Europe. Why not? After all I would be a student of my own body all my life.
He had given me the basis of attention, taught me what exercises he proposed in his routine. His was a mix of hatha in apnea. So for me, this says it all. Let’s not be more Catholic than the Pope as they say here in Belgium! Let’s live and let live! Allowance should be our main mantra in spiritual practice. Insta girls amuse me and challenge me to take myself to the next level. Amen.