Say you practice Ashtanga yoga in India and most people will bow their heads and perhaps even touch your feet in hope of some transference of your wisdom and great spiritual aptitude into their being.
If you are practicing Ashtanga yoga you are on a life long journey, a spiritual quest to attain enlightenment and free yourself of the binds of the impressions of karma through the science and discipline of the 8 limbs of yoga. Go get em sister! I was met with some good-natured giggles and the occasional hoot from these two men when I described some practices taking place with the word yoga attached to them It went like this;. India and her people do generous well. It is one of the many reasons I live there. Generosity is weaved through daily life both physically and spiritually.
On every long train journey you will be offered food or a smile. At every chance someone will be generous with their thoughts and strike up a conversation. On numerous pilgrimages North I have been welcomed at the Golden Temple in Amrtisar by devout Sikhs and have sat in their holy rooms with their holy books and prayed alongside me as I quietly said Hail Marys and knew that our prayers would meet somewhere in the middle, on the way up.
I have been welcomed into mosques, churches, temples and family prayer rooms. Nobody ever knew what religion I was. Nobody cared. They were generous with their spirituality, they wanted me to benefit from their spirituality, they genuinely believed that their Gods would bless me.
They never tried to convert me or asked for a donation, they never asked me what religion I was. They simply shared their spirituality with me. In India I see where religion is transcended and spirituality and connection to God takes over. India is happy to share spirituality. People are overjoyed to learn that yoga has been so embraced outside of India. Yoga is not a religion. Yoga comes from India. India is sharing yoga with the world and no one there has asked for anything in return.
Peoples spirituality is sacred to them. Yoga is sacred to the people who have so kindly shared it with us. Although we were never given a set of rules when we borrowed yoga less than a century ago the same common basic manners should no doubt apply as when you borrow anything from anyone. If yoga is a science then so is baking cakes and in both cases taking essential elements out like the Yamas and Niyamas or self raising flour means that it usually ends up just not quite right.
If yoga needed to be changed so much from when we got it in its original form why have we all ran with it so much? Even the great guru Swami Sivananda did not call his teachings Sivananda Yoga- one of his disciples in honor of his guru named those wonderful teachings after Swami Sivananda. The founder of our school Yogacharya Lalit would never take ownership of yoga by placing his name in front of it. We have discussed this and his reasoning is that he is simply a teacher not the creator of yoga also his wife is pretty bossy and not much of a fan of that kind of thing… Some of the best yoga teachers in India will never tell you their names.
They are not a superstars out to impress you. They are a conduit to pass on to you what their teachers passed on to them. We had a wonderful trainer on our team a few years back from America. Sounded strange to me at first but then I thought back to my best yoga experiences.
My best teachers always helped me to connect to myself. To join, to unite, to connect my mind and body. I wanted to connect with myself. I wanted my yoga to be about yoga not Jane Doe. I had often left a superyogistars class thinking about what a great teacher they were, how many cool things they said, how great their lululemon underwear looked peeping out if their lululemon pants.
How amazing it was that they warmed up by dropping into scorpion…but I never really connected to myself. We are a traditional school however we are not a puritan school. Lalit wears jeans, has a laugh with his students and we even have dance offs in the shalla. In saying that we do have a process that help us with ensuring we are respecting traditions. Whatever choices we make as a school, as teachers as a collective is always placed under the light of that guiding principle.
When we recently opened a new studio in Ireland we were asked every day when we would start Hot Yoga. Rent day was looming- sometimes in the first week tumbleweeds rolled through the shalla… People kept asking the question and the answer never changed. We would not offer hot yoga, or yoga with weights or hip hop yoga, or doggy yoga. We would maintain our integrity and always honor the source. Some people will not respond to our passion for lineage and tradition.
Not everyone digs everything. Our responsibility however as a school is to continue honoring the source regardless of how popular or unpopular it makes us. Our message as a school is that Yoga is For Everybody and really it is- we learned that in India. It was shared with us in India. It is our duty to pass it on with great respect for the sacred science that is yoga.
The response to us sharing traditional knowledge is irrelevant but it should not stop us from having integrity and respecting our lineage. We would not be here without our masters. So how can we evolve past this as students of yoga and teachers of yoga? The traditional relationship of guru and student whereby the student credits the guru ensures we stay grounded. It helps us to be better teachers. It keeps us in the space of a student sharing our knowledge.
It helps us grow, for when we know it all, when we arrive at another teachers class full to the brim of our own ideas and knowledge then we simply learn nothing. If not, why do we even need to be there? They are both modern thinking, lighthearted and open minded people.
They were hurt because their spiritual practice had been taken and cheapened, it had been reduced to an external and possibly sexual practice. I wonder if those same people practicing nude yoga would go to church service naked? What about heading to a synagogue naked? A mosque? Well why not? They simply want to embrace their bodies right? Why should someone elses spirituality stop them? Yoga is for everybody, yoga has been gifted to us.
And what a gift it is. Thank you India for sharing it with us. Absolutely Perfect.