In the 15 years I've taught yoga, I've begun to contemplate the most fundamental of questions: "What IS Yoga?"
On the most literal level the word "yoga" means union, or more directly to a "yoke" or "bringing together" as translated from its root origin, "yuj." Union could mean the union between higher self and lower self; the union between masculine and feminine energies; or the union between the individual and the greater whole.
The interpretations are endless, especially now that this ancient tradition has found itself at the forefront of mainstream fitness. As the "business of yoga" continues to boom, are the intentions behind its early origins being lost?
But what happens when someone's interpretation of yoga opposes another — does that make one person wrong? Not exactly ...
Yoga has changed a tremendous amount in the last decade alone and the ways a student can experience the practice are more varied than ever. It can start to get confusing. Is yoga a practice you do on a mat with booty-bouncing music pumping loudly in the background? Is it being a vegetarian and meditating every day? Or is it chanting ancient mantras to seemingly religious deities?
No doubt, there are ways in which yoga is practiced today that resonate more for me than it does for others. I'm sure the same is true for you. We are all unique individuals with many different opinions. But just because I don't like something or think that's not the most pure form of yoga, doesn't make it "wrong", per se. It's just a different way the path has manifested for one yogi, versus another.
But where do we draw the line? When does it cease to be yoga?
One of the fundamental truths of yoga is that it is an act of self-inquiry — an opportunity for a person to get to know thy true self, better. Yoga has a whole lot more to do with the kind of intention you bring to it, rather than whatever form it is you are practicing.
Is a person less of a yogi because they prefer loud pop music in the background while they do sun salutations? I don't think so, even though that's not my preference. I'm more interested in knowing how they're experiencing it. Are they being present? Are they taking accountability for their practice? Are they causing harm to themselves or others with judgement and comparison? No matter the form, we must always come back to intention.
The form is bound to vary. If we are to accept the whole we must accept the vast diversity that comes with it, so the intention can remain pure. So I invite you to look deeper within yourself, the next time you see a form of yoga you don't necessarily agree with. Just because it's not your preference, or it veers further away from the "original way" yoga was intended, doesn't mean it's wrong. Besides, we should be reminded that yoga was originally excluded to women and taught to men ONLY. Now, how many of us agree with that?
We all know that everything evolves in life. So with that in your open mind, try to make space for the natural variety that arises from a universal practice like yoga, especially given how dynamic it might continue to become in today's fast-paced, high-tech world.
So while not everyone will have the same opinion, that's OK too. We all need to honor our own truth. My only hope is that we can do that from a place of true inquiry and not from a place of judgment because let's face it, yoga is only going to continue its evolution. Hopefully we too can evolve with it.