Life is about connection, and experiencing the interconnectedness among all things and beings and being established in the connection with our authentic self is the highest goal of yoga.
Our present understanding of connection, however, seems to be about how many Instagram likes our tree pose gets or how well our healthy breakfast post does on Facebook. We seem to be drifting away from the awareness of how tuned, centered, and balanced we are in life, on or off the mat.
So, let's go back to the beginning or at least as far back as our memories allow. Ask yourself: Why do you practice or teach yoga?
In fact, why do you do anything? Why do you get out of bed every morning? Go to work? Want fame and recognition, money and power? Want relationships and families, experiences, feelings, and objects in your lives?
If you ask me, the only thing we all truly want out of life is happiness.
Everyone, from the most powerful humans to the tiniest ants, long to be happy — permanently, not temporarily. We can be happy for days and months and years, and we certainly don't complain about it. But when we experience even a pinprick of sorrow, we are desperate to escape it.
Why? Because happiness is our nature. It is when we are at our best, when we feel balanced and strong, generous and grateful, alert and efficient. And rightly so — the happiness we seek is synonymous with peace and is aligned with our authentic self. Not excitement, restlessness, or neediness. Not dependence, control, or approval. Not fame, wealth, or power.
We seek the security of peace, whether we know it or not. However, we search for this permanent peace in all the impermanent and transitory things and beings of the world. In how popular or respected we are, in the ever-changing opinions and thoughts of others. This, in itself, is a perfect recipe for discontentment, agitation, and suffering. People and things change, our bodies, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and values change over time. What is great today doesn't work so well tomorrow.
Transitory happiness is in our mind and is fleeting. Permanent happiness is beyond the mind.
In the search for happiness, the system and practice of Raja yoga is a powerful means of helping us maintain a steady and balanced state of mind beyond the ever-changing outer circumstances.
The internet and social media are perhaps the first places we go to find out more. No doubt, there are many sincere and highly laudable practitioners and teachers from India and the world over who have helped make yoga a household word and a respected field of knowledge. For many, however, social media is a place to upload yoga selfies and superfood yummies and sell yogi sweat-towels and other products or teachings that promise to make us fly forward into a bendy state of bliss.
It has become a platform for only one aspect of the yoga system: the asana. The outcome of this is that it puts much attention on physicality and body image rather than going beyond the body to identify and experience our authentic selves.
In analyzing our preoccupation with selfies, marketing, and social media, we need to gauge if this way of life is bringing us peace or breaking us in pieces.
Social media can reach many people with powerful messages of empowerment, peace, and inspiration. It can also cause a disconnection for people from their authentic selves. On our personal missions to reach the masses, to get more followers, to sell our "yogi" lifestyles and our products, are we really getting people to reconnect with themselves, or are they just buying into another form of materialism — spiritual consumerism?
For those who follow, to become dependent on others for approval, to see ourselves only as others want to see us, to live to fit a certain image and buy into products that endorse that image is a dangerous path where it is easy for the mind to become diseased by self-adoration or self-deprecation.
Both eventually lead to pain and sorrow through an undue focus on self-image and materialism taking us far away from our authentic selves and a real sense of contribution. All we really need to connect is a daily and consistent practice to watch, quiet, and go beyond our minds. The eight-limbed system of yoga (of which asana is only one-eighth of the practice) is one path to help us reconnect to the peace, strength, and happiness that is always there.
The purpose of the yoga practice is about the inner journey, not the outer social media bubble. Yoga is about connection. It's also about disconnection. Disconnecting from the world around, to go within — a deep inner journey back to the authentic self.
Personally, I'd rather know myself than take an awesome selfie.