If yoga is about *so much more* than just the postures, why isn't that reflected in the way yoga is presented in mainstream culture?
I guess I can consider myself lucky. I never got into yoga for the sake of being able to touch my toes or stand on my hands. I grew up as a gymnast and could already do both of those things (and I knew that these things didn't bring me closer to enlightenment.) What drew me to the practice was the desire to get rid of my misery. I hated the way I was living and knew something, aka myself, had to change.
My yoga practice began by study. I read the books on the philosophy of yoga. The ideas I was reading about- freedom from the afflictions of the mind and ultimate bliss- were far beyond what my mind could grasp.
The postures, I came to realize, were just a way to embody the ideas and philosophies of yoga. Our perceptions are based out of our understanding of the physical world. We identify and label things based on their physical characteristics. In some instances, like identifying poisonous versus safe berries, it's been beneficial to the survival of our species. There is undeniable value in working through things physically.
The yoga mat is a safe, controlled environment in which the practitioner has the chance to fully examine their self. The poses are a tool to explore how the body, mind and breath respond when exposed to different sensations. They help us to gain a deeper knowing of ourselves. That's their purpose.
As I joined the yoga community around me I was thrilled to find "my people." I quickly started teaching at studios. Although there was constant chatter of "freedom to teach how you like," there was a undeniable pressure to teach mostly asana-based classes. This further perpetuated the idea that yoga is nothing more than a pose. Some places I taught at even discouraged using Sanskrit yoga terms or anything else too "out there." (This watering down of the practice, by the way, is cultural appropriation.)
I witnessed, and unfortunately participated in, turning yoga into an instagram trend. I watched us take all the goodness of yoga and suck it out until all that was left was an ego-filled, purpose-less vacuum. Yoga become synonymous with contortion. Anyone could create a shape and hashtag yoga every damn day without ever coming to know or understand the fullness of the practice.
Yoga was reduced to a pose that could be easily replicated without understanding or purpose. Almost any advertisement for a yoga class will feature an asana- sometimes with poses that aren't accessible to the mass of peoples. The problem with this is that it creates exclusion. It stops people before they even start. It promotes the idea that the asana is the end goal, thing to strive for. Can't we think of a more creative way to showcase the practice?
To practice yoga is to practice finding inner peace through the turmoil that everyday life brings.
As students and teachers of yoga I think it's important we ask ourselves, why the poses? Are you doing them to feed some form of ego? Or are you using them as a tool toward liberation?