I was speaking with one of my close friends (who also happens to be a yoga teacher) yesterday. We were talking about some of the articles we’ve been reading lately, about the complicated and relentless western society we find ourselves living in, and about yoga’s place in all of it.
So much of what we are surrounded with tells us how we should act, what we should look like, what success is (or isn’t), and that contentment is a far-off dream that takes years of hard work and sacrifice to find. In my opinion, it has led to an unrelenting desire for a quick fix, an adrenaline shot of happiness, a quick-fire solution to all of our problems. As a result, we have lost an appreciation for what occurs on the journey to get there. Not only that, we want our journeys to be fast and painless, with little to no disruption occurring in our lives.
The same can be said for the overall approach to yoga in the west. Coming to North America 1920s, yoga was initially introduced to the masses via a studio in Hollywood set up by Indra Devi (a yoga pioneer for sure). Before this, those who wanted to pursue yoga would most likely have had to travel abroad to find and then study under a teacher. To appeal to our overall desire for a better-looking body, the entry point for many to this practice was via the physical. As time has gone on, our ability to commodify and package yoga as a “quick fix” for body, spirit, and mind has taken off in ways I’m sure the original yogis could never have imagined.
Here’s the catch, yoga isn’t just about the physical practice and it surely isn’t a quick fix. If anything, a deep and intentional practice of yoga will deconstruct and potentially ravage your world as you know it. Through mediation, breath, movement, and philosophical study, we have a tool that will bring deeper levels of awareness, and – as a result – can create a world in which we become seekers, critical thinkers, more empathetic, and in tune with “the-way-things-can-be” as opposed to “the-way-I’ve-always-done-this” or “the-way-things-should-be”.
Enlightenment comes at a price and it is a long path that leads there. It means breaking out of your comfort zone and seeing what lies beyond your boundaries. This is the reality of our practice both on and off the mat. If you are truly invested in exploring these practices, it requires a brave heart and a willingness to delve into the darkness and not just hover where the light is.
The Yoga Sutras touch on this in a variety of ways. They explain the discipline required, the mental clarity and focus needed to truly practice. In fact, yoga only begins once a person has done their preparation. That occurs even before we begin we actual practice of yoga itself! Imagine that!
Consider this the next time you are looking for that easy way out. Yoga is a discipline and one that asks you to work harder, deeper, and with way more heart. In my mind, a yogi is one that is willing to go that extra step…the one courageous enough to stay in it for the long haul. The one who may never achieve balance in Vrksasana (tree pose) but is always ready to give it a try. The one whose mind wanders during meditation, but makes the time to pursue the practice. The one whose breath goes deeper with every inhale and exhale. That is what the journey is all about…trying, striving…and finding grace and ease along the way.