These days yoga is a passive and micromanaged experience.
After many years of not going to yoga because I tired of searching for anything that remotely compared to the deep and transformative experience I had with my first teacher at Integral Yoga institute in Paris, I decided to venture out some 20 years later to experience Yoga here in the Seattle area.
I have been a practitioner of yoga since I was a young child watching it on TV at age 7. I was drawn to it. Even at that young age, I felt complete by stretching and strengthening my body in what seemed like a spiritual way.
I spent many years practicing yoga with a master three or four days a week when I lived in Paris getting my graduate degrees in piano. It was my life saver and something began to happen to me in that practice coupled with daily zen meditation.
We were required to maintain asanas for long durations, experiencing strength, attention and “the melt” as I used to call it. It was what I would come to know as conscious labor and intentional suffering. It was the wrestle with my ego which wanted to always do better and to strive for more. I was taught that I had yet to understand the zen concept of effort no effort through this yoga practice.
I had to find the place of neutrality within me.
I began to experience the micromovement of my body within stillness.
I learned to accept what is.
I came to be the posture and embody the essence of the gesture.
I understood life force.
This followed an arduous struggle with striving to be better and achieving a goal. I had to dismantle the competitive nature within myself to push to do more, instead of allowing from a place of reception.
I have continued my private morning sessions for many years since those days in my twenties.
I decided to seek out classes in the last few months in hopes of finding refreshment and inspiration.
I have learned from sampling several classes in several studios so far that the state of yoga instruction is leading us farther from presence, stillness or any kind of freedom than ever before.
The merits of these classes is good exercise in attractive and trendy active wear, but the spiritual aspect is simply turned upside down.
This would not be so bad if it were being advertised as an exercise class.
The problem is the perception that these types of classes are a spiritual practice, and from what I experienced, it is taking people further and further away from what presence and freedom is truly all about.
I got more spiritual practice from accepting the frustration and sadness I felt after the class. We are being sold on the idea that these yoga classes are practices in presence, mindfulness, or the ever more popular term embodiment.
They are really practices in keeping the mind in the driver’s seat at all times, if the classes I took are any indicator..
One of the instructors kept asking people to evaluate their practice. “Without judgement, how was that for you on a scale of one to ten? Unfortunately, evaluating is judging and it has no place in a spiritual practice. Only the ego and it’s dualistic nature needs to evaluate anything.
I just about walked off the mat…
Many of the classes begin with breath and stillness, but in one class we were asked to notice where our attention was being pulled within the body and to “focus” on that. This is studying how the mind is unable to hold itself in attention and is pulled from one thing to another constantly. When this is being taught as mindfulness, it is a gross misunderstanding of how mindfulness is an active attention to hold… not following something that grabs our attention. We do that all day long..
Strength of attention comes from resisting that pull until it is able enough to hold itself in stillness while we do other things.
I began to realize that our times have led us to revere micromanaged yoga that enhances the busyness of the mind and caters to our likes and dislikes. These are the very things that we work against to gain any kind of freedom.
I found myself wishing that the teacher would shut up for at least thirty seconds so I could experience my own experience within my body, within my mind and within my process, but there was no room. It was a constant stream of do this, notice that, feel this, feel that and then leading us into noticing yet something else.
It was as if she was conducting a mind symphony.
If it wasn’t explaining how better to maintain the position, it was describing through analogy how to feel the posture in the moment like my eyeballs dropping to the back of my head, or peeling back this muscle or some other clever imagery.
There was no room for my silence and there was no room for my own experience.
I was constantly being given a choice…
“Now if you feel like doing flow for this part go ahead, paddle your feet back and forth or do child’s pose if that suits you.”
It reminded me of the style of parenting that has gotten us into so much trouble. We give our children choices because we are afraid of saying no and holding them to the fire. God forbid they experience struggle, failure or something they dislike.
When there is no struggle presented from a practice, and no subsequent wrestle within oneself that bubbles up from holding the asana (or the incessant noise from within), we cannot bring the value of that experience into our own daily lives. When we are not required to do what we don’t like, we get away with the culprit and pat ourselves on the back for having a good spiritual practice.
If there is someone constantly narrating for us, we have a passive experience. It is like listening to a meditation app “done for you” all the time, also a very popular practice which diminishes our ability to learn presence.
I began to see that people in the class when given a choice did a moving thing, (and this was not a breath flow vinyasa class) an “improve and stretch while in the asana” kind of movement. I saw no one maintaining a pose when given the choice.
I sensed the fear of stillness everywhere in the room.
In every class, I could not rest in my silence because of a constantly talking teacher and I could not find the chance to experience the stillness in a position because we did not stay there longer than 20 seconds.
It was the complete opposite of what I knew and cherished so many years ago; an experience that allowed me to figure out within my own body what I needed to release which was more often than not my pride hooked into the activity. That realization took silence with my own self in the asana and staying in it for what would seem an eternity.
Our classes back then were what they were for all levels to struggle with and fail or adjust to our own physical state by not pushing past a safe limit.
The decision came from an active place within ourselves.
My sadness about the current state of yoga classes is not so much the classes themselves. Anyone can benefit from doing exercise, but please stop calling it a spiritual practice that stills the mind. Stop talking incessantly and describing an internal experience that I myself need to discover. Stop giving me choice that allows me to wiggle out of my own struggle.
We have become afraid of silence of stillness and now immerse ourselves in constant talking and engagement of the thinking center as master of an ancient practice that is meant to disengage that very thing.
Back to my mat upstairs where the silence is my refuge.
I would love to hear about your yoga experiences these days.