I’ve been teaching yoga for over 20 years now. One the one hand, that’s barely any time at all; just a blink of an eye. I’m still in beginner mind, filled with awe and wonder over how much I don’t know and how much I am still growing and unfolding into who I am. On the other hand, two decades plus a few more years is a long time. The teachings have taken root in such a way that the fruits of the practice are my now normal: Yoga is a way of life for me.
What? Dog pose is my way of life?? No. Yoga is my way of life, not asana. There is a distinction between the two.
When I first started out in yoga, I didn’t have a clue about this. Since there were no studios here then and I had never been to a class, I was completely self-taught. I was a long-time group exercise instructor and had gotten introduced to yoga at an international fitness conference in the mid 90’s, when mind/body disciplines began to appear on the “aerobics” circuit. I decided I wanted to bring some of this stuff into the cool-down portions of my classes, so I started reading lots of books and studying some VHS tapes. The internet wasn’t even a thing then, which is so hard to picture. But none of the books or tapes I had mentioned anything about yoga being a way of life, it was all about how to do the poses, the asanas. I didn’t know there was anything more yoga than asana specifics until The Universe blindsided me with a bizarre series of events that would lead me to my one and only teacher, Erich Schiffmann. When I miraculously crossed paths with Erich, my learning and my life started to rocket off into a whole new realm, to say the least.
I began to learn that Yoga is not synonymous with asana, as I had originally thought, and as most people think. The two are not necessarily the same thing. Again, the books and the tapes I had weren’t saying this. Yoga is about the experience of unity consciousness, our deepest truth; feeling the experiential fact that we’re not separate from God, never have been, never could be, and never can be. We are the specific and unique manifestation and expression of The Divine, and so is everyone and everything else. And it’s not just about experiencing this truth, but it’s about how we live our lives when we’re centered in that experience. Yoga is a spiritual lifestyle, such that we are inwardly guided by God/Source/The Infinite in every single thing we do, in every single moment of every single day.
The problem is that we have forgotten the truth of who we are. We think we’re all by ourselves, alone, separate from Spirit and everyone and everything else. Why is this a problem? Because mindstate (how we’re choosing to use our mind) is everything. Mindstate doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it causes ripples of effects that that flow through our body and out into the world. Being in Yoga mindstate (experiencing our truth and inseparable unity with Source) naturally ripples out effects of calm. A tension-free mind ripples outward into a tension-free body, and outward into actions that are inwardly guided and healing in every moment. Being in separation mindstate (mired in a false sense of separation) ripples out effects of conflict and tension in the same sort of way – mind, then body, and then ultimately out into actions that are hurtful and inappropriate. Those actions finally get our attention and we think, “There’s got to be something I can do, some sort of practice, so I can make a change in myself and start living a life that’s in the flow, so I can start feeling better.”
Yoga is a something we can do. It’s both a practice of bringing ourselves back into the experience of the truth and it’s also the state of experiencing the truth that has been here all along while we were off forgetting. So, this experience of feeling our conscious unity with All That Is, and letting it guide us through our daily lives is called Yoga and the practices that we can do in order to get back into that mindstate of truth is also called Yoga. Yoga is anything we do to bring ourselves back into the experience of Yoga. There are many ways and practices to do this, most of which don’t even have anything to with a yoga pose. In fact, everything we do can become a practice, a means, of feeling Unity Consciousness.
But here’s the thing: It’s not about the practices. The practices are simply a means to a greater end. The practices are only there to get us back into the remembrance of the experience of truth so we can live it. If we pledge allegiance to the practices only, if we glorify the means only, then we’ll miss the whole point of what the practices are for. You can do asana all day long and never do any actual Yoga. You can do Yoga all day long (which is the whole point of all the practices) and never do any asana.
This idea was not well represented in the books and video tapes I studied back in the 90’s, and it doesn’t seem well represented in the way most people learn about yoga today: the internet. A quick search on “yoga” brings up studios in my town, articles on best poses for beginners, yoga for weight loss, and image after image of people doing asana, mostly highly contorted asana. With yoga gaining such huge popularity, which is wonderful, I wonder if these images – often of white, thin women in expensive outfits doing what looks like gymnastics on a sunset beach – is representative of what yoga really is about?
I love JP Sears’ videos. In his video called “How to Meditate” he says this about meditation, though it can be easily applied to asana: “You’ve got to post pictures of yourself meditating on social media… 100% of all people will rightfully assume that an innocent bystander was walking by and they were so taken aback by the powerful tranquility of your meditation that they couldn’t help themselves but to take a picture of this natural wonder… If a tree falls in the forest and nobody’s there to hear it, does it make a sound? If you meditate and nobody sees a picture of it, did you really meditate?”
Since our world is becoming increasingly visual, I think it would be so great to have some accurate representations of real people doing Yoga, for real, not people just doing asana for the camera. What would that look like? Certainly not glamorous, exciting, or sexy enough to get many Instagram likes. From the outside, living the Yoga looks just like doing the ordinary things that you do in your day – drinking coffee, eating lunch, being at your job, picking up the kids, working things out with your spouse or partner, laughing, crying, looking at the sunset, feeding the dog. However, on the inside, it’s radically different. It feels like living a life that’s in the flow of universal harmony. It feels like being tuned into the listening state as we go about our daily live, following the feeling of rightness in every morphing moment. It feels vulnerable, finding the courage to rest in uncertainty and trust things that we cannot yet see. Someone scrolling through images of that in a news feed likely wouldn’t even stop.
I’m not saying that pictures of asana aren’t helpful or interesting to look at, because they certainly can be, but asana is just one of an infinite array of means, not an end unto itself. It would be so wonderful to see the means less glorified and the end – living a spiritually guided life – more talked about and represented and elevated. Completely unexciting on the outside, but man, what an incredible inner experience.
Here’s my first ever Yoga selfie. I took it this morning. Here I am, doing Yoga, for real. I’m centered in it, feeling the unity, feeling my truth, listening ears open for what I need to know, looking out at the light in the back yard. I’m drinking coffee from my Bob Ross mug. I often use Bob Ross analogies when teaching and a student gifted me with this mug and a box of Bob Ross bandaids that say “No mistakes, just happy accidents.” I’m wearing my robe. No makeup. I haven’t even brushed my hair or my teeth. That’s Yoga? Oh yeah… that’s Yoga.