What is With All the Weird Yoga Stuff

One of the major transitions in my yoga journey has been my acceptance of what I used to refer to as “the woo-woo” [accompanied by the waving of hands]. This was my general catch-all phrase that referred to everything about yoga that wasn’t an actual asana (physical pose). I started doing yoga in a gym and without any interest in it beyond how it fit into my fitness routine. Our instructor, a long-time step and body sculpting trainer, didn’t delve at all into yoga philosophy and I was happy enough to avoid the whole creepy mess.

question-resized-600.jpgMy first exposure something other than poses was an instructor who did a chakra class. Ironically enough on the fifth, or throat, chakra, which governs how we communicate with others. It wasn’t a bad experience. I didn’t for a moment think there was actually a glowing blue disk in my neck, but it was interesting to ponder how the words that come out of my mouth (and the electronic devices we use to write and text) might impact those who receive them. And then I shrugged, rolled up my mat and went home.

The company that trained me also avoided yoga philosophy, at least at the time of my first training in 2002. We were encouraged to only use the English, and not the Sanskrit names, for the poses we taught. The traditional names were considered too off-putting. Too confusing for newcomers who were difficult enough to get in the door in the first place. Fine by me. I wasn’t about to say any more Sanskrit than savasana. Ok, maybe I’d throw in an occasional tadasana, but that really was it. Oh, and Namaste. But that is really, really it

I can’t really say when my attitude changed. Somewhere along the way, I got enough yoga philosophy from studio classes that it sort of started to stick to me. I’d look up the odd historical topic. Researching yoga trainings I wanted to take, I found that The Yoga Sutras were required, so I bought a copy. And it sat on a shelf unopened for five years or so. But I owned it. I felt a bit more like a legitimate yoga teacher.

A fellow teacher brought more of it into her classes. I found myself mildly amused at first. Her prayer flags and Tibetan bowl. Not for me. But I’d tolerate it, do my poses, roll up my mat and go on my way. Was all that philosophy and chanting and Sanskrit really necessary? As always, it depends on who you ask. Bryan Kest said in a workshop I attended that if you are only doing asana, then you’re doing “Indian Calystenics”. He told us that the asana practice was developed secondary to the meditation and breath practice that were the beginning of yoga. Really? I had to go look that one up. Ok, so asana practice is actually secondary, historically, to the process of cultivating a right mind. Well, asana makes my butt sore, so I’m sticking with that.

But can you do asana and leave the rest? Well, yes, you can do whatever you want in fact. What are you missing when you do that? You’re missing a deep and rich tradition that can actually improve your life – your mood, the way you treat others, the way you treat yourself, the voices in your head. Yes, asana is a great way to get and stay in shape. But so is swimming. If you’re not going to at least examine what comes along with yoga, why are you doing it?

So start slowly and explore the rich tradition of yoga. Maybe there’s something a teacher said in a class that you can look up. Or maybe take a class at an actual yoga studio if you’ve only ever taken classes at a gym. There’s certainly something that piqued your interest along the way. Go find out more about that. You might be surprised by where it leads you.

Categories: Insight

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