I’ve been doing yoga since 2006. And I’ve seen it come a long way – in a path that has strayed from its true essence, many purists would say.
Yoga is a Sanskrit word, with big meaning. It has no equivalent term in English, but Dictionary.com has a crack at capturing its spirit:
A school of Hindu philosophy advocating and prescribing a course of physical and mental disciplines for attaining liberation from the material world and union of the self with the Supreme Being or ultimate principle.
The physical and mental disciplines of yoga are its lifeblood, and are broken down into eight ‘limbs’:
- Yamas: moral codes for behaviour, which include non-violence or non-harming (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), sexual restraint (bramacharya) and non-possessiveness (aparigraha).
- Niyamas: guidelines on how to live. These involve purity (saucha), contentment (santosha), discipline (tapas), spiritual studies (svadhyaya) and constant devotion to God (Ishvara Pranidhana).
- Asana: essentially, these are your yoga postures, which are done to help you to prepare your body and mind to sit still in meditation.
- Pranayama: yoga breathing techniques designed to boost prana or vital life force.
- Pratyahara: withdrawing your senses (to be able to calm the mind and go within).
- Dharana: concentration.
- Dhyana: meditation.
- Samadhi: is merging with the divine.
In modern yoga, I have witnessed that limb 3 – and sometimes 4, with an attempt at 7 – is mostly practiced. The rest might be referred to in class, where a yoga teacher might talk about yogic philosophy to entertain my mind while I hold a challenging warrior 2 pose.
But actions speak louder than words. And these actions have sprouted a ninth yogic limb: vanity.
Sure, vanity has been around as long as people have, but it has taken over the yoga industry in full force, as is the intention of a nemesis.
An example of this is the proliferation of active yoga wear businesses, and tattooed yogis promoting themselves on instagram whilst holding advanced poses, wearing said active wear, as they preach the yogic way of life. Of course, each preach ends with an endorsement of the brand of gear they’re donning.
Even so, I find myself getting caught up in the craze, longingly looking at printed yoga leggings online – especially if they come with a sales pitch ‘ethically made in Australia’.
Oi! Liberation from the material world cannot be grasped at, cannot be willed into being. This, I remind myself of.
Awareness of my habits, of thoughts, of behaviour is what yoga can help with…as long as I choose to see them and do something about it, despite the ego-driven commercialisation of this sacred practice.
Pretty yoga pants are simply a colourful test. Hopefully it makes me stronger.
PS: I’m writing this post while on a yoga retreat. There are a few fancy yoga pants around. Mine being one of them. Oi!