It’s everywhere. I used to do it. There I am pictured above doing it. You may be doing it too - exploiting the asana.
You know what I'm talking about. Using pictures of yourself in asana to draw students or simply impress others.
How often do you find yourself taking pictures here and there, in front of this or that, in an asana?
How often to you advertise and teach yoga as an exercise class resulting in better physical health and relaxation?
Ask yourself these questions:
Do I identify Yoga primarily with physical postures?
Do I feel a need to constantly identify myself with asana?
Do asana provide me with an identity that I like?
Do I sexualize asana.....and pretend I don’t?
Do I use asana as a fashion statement?
Do I, if I am a teacher, avoid lecturing to my class about actual Yoga doctrine?
Do I see teaching asana as a way to make money?
The temptation is real. These Instagram and YouTube yoga celebs are serious business about the exploitation of yoga into the ultimate sexy, trendy, life$tyle life$tyle.
And despite my own personal true love for Yoga’s original eight limbs, I once did some of these things too.
(Some, I say, I didn’t lose my mind. I can look back on my life and know that I never once called myself a magical unicorn aerial rainbow yoga goddess. I would never have considered taking the exploitation to such extremes.)
Asana, without the other limbs of yoga is nothing but stretching and goes nowhere in terms of Yoga goals and is as ordinary as any other exercise. As a 'yoga' teacher myself I could no longer stand to be what I actually was - an expert stretch and relaxation instructor who, at the end of a peaceful class read something nice from Vivekananda or Deepak Chopra, bowed and said Namaste – oh and took plenty of pictures of postures. The fancier, the better.
How the hell was I a yoga teacher when, at that time, I wouldn't have been able to give a clear, contextual lecture on the subject?
In front of Hindu scholars?
Back then, just because I could perform advanced physical stretches our society labels as
'Yoga', did not make me a Yoga teacher.
Back then, just because I attended a 'respected' teacher training and was given a meaningless, unregulated certification, also did not make me a yoga teacher.
Sure I was a stretch expert with a soothing voice, philosophical thoughts and easily parroted, watered-down yoga philosophy, but was I really a Yoga teacher?
During those long years of teaching I craved a deeper understanding, insight and context for yoga.
I longed for real knowledge of the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika but couldn't seem to find a translation or commentary that offered me the penetrating insight I knew must exist somewhere in this world.
I searched and searched, read and read, kept practicing and one day, I found it - and it changed everything.
I finally found it by finding the right translations of the Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad Gita and the Pradipika.
(Translations of these texts are not all equal, many are vague and wishy-washy. Some are mediocre and some are straight up manipulative in translation.)
A translation of anything depends completely on the translators grasp on BOTH languages.
Not just a grasp on one and partially of the other - resulting in half assed translations, resulting in half assed commentaries, resulting in half assed understanding by readers.
What I found in the translations and commentaries by a mahayogi named Michael Beloved lifted my mind into an exalted new understanding. His handle of both languages is beyond anything I had hoped for and combined with his comprehension, stunning insight and instruction on application of yoga is a gift to those seeking understanding of this practice.
My point is I would love for Yoga to be taken seriously. As it stands now, it is not. Its meme'd, made fun of, made light of and being forced as a non-spiritual exercise into the public school system. Of course stretching and relaxation should be taught to everyone, but yoga is something super mystical, totally spiritual, and completely focused on scriptural and philosophical study making it inappropriate for a civic system which imposes separation of church and state.
It's not always easy to be a devotee of something so religious in nature and yet falsely labeled as non-religious. It gives people a lot of room to disrespect it.
It's not always easy to be a devotee of a practice so focused on leaving this world while mainstream yoga culture incessantly markets it as a fitness lifestyle for social activist types who want to see world peace in a place that has never known anything of the sort.
When, in fact, Yoga is a very selfish enterprise, totally focused on the liberation of the individual and his/her escape from this traumatic dimension.
An example. The ahimsa portion of the yamas is routinely exploited by social activist style yoga teachers who put pressure on society to recognize it. Yet it’s not meant for them, it's meant for someone ready to leave clear up his/her karmas and transcend this level of existence. In the context of Yoga though, this lack of violent behavior is curbed by the individual yogin not necessarily to change the world, but to purify just him/herself for the purposes of insight and transcendence. When we study the richness of the Bhagavad Gita, we learn from Lord Krishna that we are not expected to solve what we perceive as the problems of this world but rather, to figure our own individual way out of it through knowledge of the righteous duties we must perform to pay off our karmic debt and be released from spiritual incarceration.
This is yoga instruction.
Yoga is so special, so unique in this strange creation. It deserves to be understood that the exercise portion of Yoga is necessary but done privately and purposefully for spiritual ambitions, not social accolades. Deities and yoga masters are astrally present as a true yogi or yogini practices the steps of yoga and the acknowledgement of our efforts are recorded and observed by them, not by our fellow Earthlings, as it is not with them that we aspire to be.
I would love for you to have a reason to move beyond the asana exploitation and your presentation of it as 'Yoga'.
I would love to see Yoga teachers either bring their philosophical teachings on the Yoga scriptures out from behind their backs and start teaching them as primary Yoga, or start learning Yoga philosophy in the first place and teach it along with the rest of the limbs.
I would love it if a Yoga class only sometimes included asana because yoga students already have a strong home practice and don't juvenilely rely on a teacher for this portion of their practice. They rely on the teacher for it to only some extent, but to a far greater extent the reliance is on the philosophical wisdom of the teacher. This is what makes a Yoga teacher a Yoga teacher.
To experience my own Yoga class in a book form please see my book: Kundalini Yoga Home Practice by devaPriya Yogini.
If we ask ourselves questions about our practice, maybe we will have a better idea as to what our real motivations in Yoga are.
Then, if we truly love the Yoga, its holy texts and its requirements, then maybe you, like me, can get to work and stop exploiting Yoga asana.