Mea culpa. I was one of them. A conversation between fellow yoga practitioners who are getting to know each other will invariably feature the question “What type of yoga do you practice?” Congratulations, we managed to label a thousand-year old discipline, divide it into levels and morph it into just another fitness class down at the gym.
Yoga practitioners tend to be very proprietary of their particular branch of yoga, be it ashtanga, flow, vinyoga, tantra, raja or any of the other branches, more or less legit, yoga has spun. And, worse still, they look down on those who don’t practice what they do as if “their” yoga was the “one”. I know, because I was one of them. But let’s all take a collective breath (in and out of the nose) and hold our judgement.
The same way each body is different, so is each yoga pose and, despite some poses or sequences having being trademark (see Bikram), I don’t believe dogma has any place in the yoga world. A good teacher is one who keeps you from injury, holds your interest and, maybe, will inspire you to want to know more, not the one who requires sworn allegiance to her/his yoga style.In defense of the yoga nazis, all I can say is that yoga does have the potential of changing one’s outlook on many things, including our bodies and how we go about life. As a person who started practicing yoga already pretty fit, I do remember engaging muscles I wasn’t previously connected with. It led me to wanting to know more and I sought out meditation and read the yoga sutras but none of it was rammed down my throat nor did I take all of it at face value.
I recently participated in a short demonstration of Qi Gong practice and the group leader was so inspired, so determined in making us believe that by practicing Qi Gong our life would change, that was the way. Well, it was her way, her path, what made her click, what she stumbled along in her search but it doesn’t make it more valid than what I found or what somebody else might get out of running marathons.
Many disciplines, especially Eastern ones, emphasize common points using alternative names: energy channels, mindfulness, breath observation, living in the moment. We are all different, we all require different stimuli and paths of engagement. Mine happened to be yoga but I cannot look askew at someone who practices a different type of yoga than I do or who finds their spiritual fulfillment in swimming 50 lengths. Observed from another angle, it’s all the same under different guises.
There is no one wand that will keep us free from injuries or disease or overeating or overstressing – the key is to find what works for each individual who is willing to even engage in such a search. Whether it’s on a yoga mat, a pool lane or a track field, it’s still the journey that matters.