Thursday, April 26, 2007

Attainment Yoga

After reading Regina Clare Jane's posts about her awful workshop experiences (with an instructor who has actually been to South Africa and is returning soon, I believe), I feel I need to have another vent about attainment yoga. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may have noticed this theme already: Yoga is not about being the best, buffest, baddest yogi ever. Not in the physical sense, not in the emotional sense, not in the spiritual sense.

I also (briefly) got caught up in the scary yoga trend . Handstands (although we now all know what a very bad idea that was for me with those wrists!), flashy backbends that caused me pain...you get the idea. What worries me is this: if we are saying yoga is union of mind, body and soul through the breath, why would we need strong adjustments to take us into poses our breath didn't lead us to? That is to say, if today you go into a split and can't maintain a comfortable breath, why not come out and do the pose another day when you are looser, more relaxed? Or maybe you don't need to do it at all.

If yoga is bad, or makes you feel like you are not good enough right now, then it is no longer yoga, it is an offshoot of physical or gym culture that looks a bit like yoga. Just because a computer-generated apple looks like the real thing, doesn't mean it is!

I am puzzled and quite worried that yoga in our society has become nothing more than a set of exercises to keep you in shape, and maybe allow you to contort in ways you couldn't before. I remember reading somewhere that before the resurgence of yoga in the last century, it was mostly practiced by Hindu holy men, and since they were practicing it only for spiritual purposes, they practiced about 40 poses. In total. Imagine that.

I know one yogini who has a personal trainer at the gym to keep her in shape. Now I have no problem with that, as long as she doesn't feel she has to do it in order to look a certain way because she is a yoga teacher. I have felt this pressure and suspect many of us do. This, also, is not yoga - it is just another layer of avidya, wrong knowledge, keeping us tied to our dukha (suffering). So if it doesn't make you feel better, or at least not worse, chances are it is gym culture in yoga's clothing.

13 comments:

Linda (Sama) said...

nadine, in his training last year, it was Paul Grilley's opinion that in order for yoga to be "popular" or "trendy" in the west, it had to totally stripped of its spirituality in order for it to become palatable for the gym rats as the new "fitness trend".

People have ALWAYS done yoga, however, 30 years ago, when I first dabbled in yoga and meditation, yoga was seen as the milieu of pot-smoking hippies sitting around half-naked and chanting. My claim to fame is OMing with Beat poet and Buddhist Allen Ginsberg in the early '70s!

But when the fitness industry grabbed onto yoga as a money-maker ("BECOME A YOGA TEACHER IN A WEEKEND!"), it is my humble opinion that's when the competitive, it's-not-a-good-yoga-class-unless-you-sweat attitude started to creep in.

It is also my humble opinion that the yoga industry itself -- and yes, it IS an industry in the west -- does not help matters when the yogis and yoginis who are considered the "masters" are shown and promoted in poses that the everyday yogi will never be able to do (because of their bones! thank you Paul!). I will not name names, but ahem, a famous yogini posting her yoga "performance" video on the Yoga Journal website does not impress me.

You know yourself that in India, no one asks what "type" of yoga you do. Yoga is yoga, there are no names, no trademarks, no copyrights.

So the people who truly get the deeper aspects of yoga will always be there. The people who latch onto yoga purely as the next "fitness trend" because they saw it on Oprah or read about getting that yoga butt in 20 minutes a day will always move onto the next trend, whatever that may be...."YogaLatis", "Iron Yoga", whatever it is that will engage the monkey mind for that moment.

But as I always tell my students: what is truly going to transform you life? Doing that fancy arm balance for 5 minutes or stilling the mind for 5 minutes and connecting to that True Self? What if something happened to you and you could never do another arm balance? Would that define you, is that your identification? "Bodyism" as Ken Wilbur calls it....

om shanti, nadine!

Linda (Sama) said...

as an addendum, I just want to add that there's nothing wrong in trying to attain that "perfect" pose, whatever that may be, for ourselves. hey, I was thrilled when I got this old arthritic bod up into upward bow for the first time, woo-hoo! I still struggle with crow but keep trying. and if I never do it, oh well. the perfect crow pose will not bring me closer to enlightenment....

the trouble starts when we cling to the idea that somehow the physical stuff makes us the "better" or "more advanced" yogis. as Paul says, that is both the irony and the tragedy that is modern yoga.

shanti

Regina Clare Jane said...

Thank you for this excellent post, Nadine and also, Linda, for your excellent comments on my blog and here as well.
I wondered to myself why I went and did this particular workshop in the first place and I found all my motives to be pure in the sense that I wanted to connect with other yogis and yoginis, I wanted to learn more about the yogic philosophy itself, I wanted to try a handstand at least to say I did do one... and that's about it!
I did not count on almost 4 hour long asana practices that left me fatigued and unsure about practicing safely and being "assisted" (as they call it) into someplace where I could not physically go by myself and my reaction to it. And they called this "playing"! It was not "play" to me! I felt like I was taken in- lied to, essentially. I was left more in a state of shock than in a state of calm, something I never thought would happen in a workshop, but, and I admit this now, I was totally and grossly naive about this whole yoga thing... I left myself too open and then refused to protect myself. But then again, why should I have had to done that in the first place?
It was an experience I will long remember and hopefully, can learn from, but it was painful.

Linda (Sama) said...

thank goodness you weren't hurt, at least physically, regina dear.... the Path is a Lesson, is it not? All things happen for a reason...

I can also relate an experience, albeit not a physical lesson, but I was constantly "picked on" in a workshop by a famous yogini, verbally abused because I was not in "her" correct version of chair. I just kept my mouth shut until her last comment and then just laid into her in front of everyone. She looked shocked, as if no one had ever talked to her like that before, and I am sure they hadn', because this is a "yoga master" who one either loves or hates. I have heard since then that she has softened her style in recent years....

even so-called yoga masters are not immune from egos and avidya....

Lisa said...

Thanks for this post. You know, I have to admit that I want my yoga practice to also be a good workout. I want to lose weight and with two little kids and a part time job, I don't have time to practice yoga AND go to the gym....

Still, I understand that the yoga asana isn't yoga in and of itself. Apparently there has been some arguments lately on ashtangi.net, and the attitude of some people there had me thinking "Wow. These people might DO asanas, but they do NOT practice yoga."

I'm lucky to have a great studio here where I can do a vigorous practice, but the instructors continually talk about the "real" practice of yoga and never push us beyond where we are, but let us know that wherever we are is perfect...

Nadine Fawell said...

Thanks for your comments, girls!
I agree, there is absolutely nothing wrong with vigourous yoga, as long as it is done with the breath as central focus. Hey, yoga is my workout too!

Linda, I saw that video, and I am not sure how I feel about it. One one level, great, inspire people etc - Sri Krisnamacharya did it too. On another level, maybe it was all just grade-school showing off. Who knows.

Brenda Plakans said...

There must be something in the air (spring? the "threat" of swimsuit season--at least to us in the northern hemisphere), but I also just wrote a bit on removing judgment and competition from your practice...as much a message to myself as my students.

Such inspiring thought...now I need to practice it!

Cheers,
Brenda

Cupcakes & Yoga said...

What a wonderful post! We always need to be reminded of the spiritual aspects of yoga, especially in the west. I get annoyed too when I see how superficial it can get and I kick myself when I get caught up in it.

Nadine Fawell said...

Thanks Brenda and Marilyn!
Yes, the practicing of these sentiments is easier said than done, and I think the yoga media tend to make things worse in that department.

shinyyoga said...

fab post all! And just a grin moment.. I love paul grilley. isn't he wonderful in the way he describes the body??

Thanks again for a great and inspiring site Nadine! X

Total Health Yoga - Kris Kramer said...

Thanks for the post and reference to Regina's site. Interesting story and educational!
I've never heard the phrase "attainment Yoga", but have talked about this very thing a lot in classes and to myself during my own practice :-) It's so important to realize that Yoga is a very personal journey. Yes, a teacher is great, but in the end (middle and beginning) the real teacher is our own comfort and inner knowing.
Also, thanks to all of the posters here. I'm new to the whole blog "thing" and it's nice to see such an intelligent and wise network of people here :-)

ombites (mary) said...

Thank you this post! My teachers try to instill this kind of thinking with us too. Why do we do yoga? I hope I do it for healthy reasons and ones to challenge the way I think so I can have balance and compassion in my life. I feel more in tune with myself and the people around me since doing yoga and certainly a lot more aware of how we can try to make the world a better place. That sounds a bit wanky...but you know what I mean :-)

I am so glad I stumbled across your blog! I really love and appreciate the way you think and write.

Nadine Fawell said...

Hi you guys!
Thank you all so much for commenting - at least I know someone out there is reading.
Kris, welcome to blogland.
Mary, the feeling is mutual!