After teaching a very slow yin-esque class earlier today at Red Pearl Yoga in Fort Lauderdale, then walking my French Bulldog afterwards, I came across an article that resulted in deep reflection of how I started my path 13 years ago, where I discovered Yoga at a Boutique Gym in Soho Manhattan (NYC). Like some or most – for me – years of working with a personal trainer on my outer body, not realizing at the time that I was Aesthetically shaping my body beautifully, I didn’t feel good about myself.
My discovery was like that of many others in the West, defined by my pursuit of the physical postures. I was working out at the SportsClub LA in Midtown Manhattan each morning at 6:00 a.m., do my spin class then my Vinyasa Fitness class at 7:00 a.m. before heading to work at a big law firm. It was something new I was beginning to love each day, attaching myself to perfecting the poses. It was a great distraction from the old exercise. After a couple of years, I broke away from the gyms partially and ventured out to the yoga studios around the city, as well as others when I went out of town for business/pleasure. I was immersed and grunted my way through many different sequences that usually induced soreness and a lot of sweat.
It felt like a trend, as well as the topic of conversation when ever I went into a studio or the Equinox Gyms, where they invested in their yoga program and brought the experts to teach students slightly more than just the physical part. It became the topic at the gym or at work “Where do you practice Yoga?” I’m sure I told them that I was a ‘nomadic yogi’ and practiced with the teachers that I resonated with the most – being in NYC there were choices (not like now, where it’s beyond choice/commitment but convenience, like fast food, profitable and saturated.)
In addition to Sportsclub LA and Equinox, I practice at Integral Yoga, Yoga Works, Jivamukti Yoga, Kula Yoga, Sonic Yoga, Vira Yoga and Om Yoga (Yes, I even went to the dark side and tried Bikram Yoga for a bit because it was convenient to work, but it wasn’t for me).
What I experienced back then is very common on several levels, the pursuit of the physical postures we so commonly known today. Wherever you went (and now), the focus mostly is on the attention of a physical routine, a “Mindless Body Stress Reducing Adventure.“
The question continues to this day in the yogic community, specifically in big cities, wanting to know whether the other person practices a routine inspired by Vinyasa yoga at a place like Jivamukti, Hatha yoga at a place like Integral Yoga, Kundalini at a place like Golden Bridge Yoga, Hot Headed Yoga like Bikram and as I like to call it in the Metaphoric principle of the West Side Story of Yoga between the specific personalities (The Yoga Gangstas of NYC) of B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois. And while both people might recognize a shared interest in seeking this physical discipline as an ancient practice grounded in the most sacred spiritual traditions of the Indian tradition, if they practice different styles, they likely see themselves as different categories of people as well.
In the years following my introduction to yoga postures, as well as doing a teacher training in 2008 at Sonic Yoga, I found other ways to explore my practice. I went on retreats, understanding the importance of nutrition, lifestyle and fasting, struggled to be in silence for hours and experimented with bhakti yoga (Kirtan). But these efforts were far less consistent than the physical act of practicing postures—until about eight years after my introduction.
Over the years I experienced how the practice of Yoga can actually liberate the mind from the body. But, I never found the discipline to truly pursue this aspect of it at the time. Not until 2010 when I went from practicing ‘asana’ to following a Yogic path.
A wise yogi once said that “An afflicted mind seeks the outer world to attain a sense of contentment and peace, which is evidenced by those of us who are excessive in our lifestyle. We mistakenly perceive that we will be happy if and when we get more things. But a similar sense of materialism can be assigned to those who attach themselves to a certain style of yoga postures.”
Somewhere along the way, some one took the concept of Asana and bought it to the West, embracing it as another “fitness fab.” The postures were never suppose to become the centerpiece of the entire practice. Only through the ego that people started to focus on them. As a result, more poses have been ‘invented’ in the last few centuries.
This mystery underlines Yoga’s importance. If we remain attached to a certain style of postures, we remain attached to the material aspect of our existence. When we’re no longer attached, then perhaps we can practice Yoga for its intended purpose and live in a state of joy.
BKS Iyengar (The leader of the Sharks, referring to West Side Story and Pattabhi Jois, the leader of the Jets), once said that “The practice of Yogasana for the sake of health, to keep fit, or to maintain flexibility is the external practice. While this is a legit place to begin, it is not the end. As one penetrates the inner body more deeply, one’s mind becomes immersed in the asana. The first external practice remains dry and peripheral, while the second more intense practice literally soaks the practitioner with sweat, making him wet enough to pursue the deeper effects of the asana… Were experiencing three levels in the quest: External reflects firmness of the body, internal reflects steadiness of intelligence and finally the innermost quest, reflecting the benevolence of spirit.”
Once we’ve reached our potential, that state of just being, we no longer concern ourselves with whether someone practices the same style as us or not. It took 11 years to discover that, the importance of my home practice and celebrate my experience through participating in one’s well-being through teaching or being a student in a community studio.
We move from using a physical exercise to become spiritual to knowing we are spiritual and using the physical aspect to keep our body as healthy as possible. With a healthy body, we’re able to fully immerse ourselves more in our practice.