While putting some thoughts to paper, I had a hard time coming up with a title for this. Would it be "Yoga, the new fundamentalist religion" or the "cheapening of an ancient focus" or "the superficial religion" or simply "What needs to be awakened"...
As a person practicing yoga for over 25 years, owning a studio and being immersed in wellness, I've had countless droves of people tell me that they are "spiritual" but not religious. But yet, they follow their own belief system, based mostly upon the writings and beliefs of others, almost blindly.
I want to preface, before the hate mail starts arriving in similar droves, that I am not against this spirituality nor am I against religion. In fact, I have my own belief system. And though I hold it personal, without a need to share, it is there, and probably matches a lot of what you, the reader, has in beliefs as well.
That being said, to me, when I hear people say that religion is breeding hate and spirituality is pure, I have to scratch my head. I mean, isn't saying that someone else's belief is wrong essentially hate mongering? How inward is a belief system if one is quick to demoralize someone else based upon their personal affiliation?
I've been around enough yoga enthusiasts, and most people who call themselves yogis are a hobby-loving people at best with the practice - even those who may make their "business" yoga. It does not mean that they are actual yogis per se, as there are a variety of yoga bigots.
I've seen some people who only want to work on having a tighter back side or remedy a physical issue, and that is fine, and it should be accepted. However, there are other yoga-loving folks who say that if you don't get into the esoterica of yoga (i.e, their way or the highway) then it isn't "really yoga." I have seen other people who focus so much on the other limbs and not the asana that they will also point a finger as if they are more evolved because they prefer the meditation. And I've seen people who think that if you practice yoga in anything less than custom designer or mall-store yoga wear that you are not "as evolved yogically," and it goes on and on. It's a circle of what I feel is like a large religion cut up into bite size cliques, and it seems to be happening before our eyes, devolving, and no one notices.
I'm concerned that we've had to create "cool" yoga, more circus-focused feats, a focus on competition, arguing if someone's yoga in a commercial met standards or was "fake," more ego-boosting avenues and so on, where the focus is not on anything that anyone touts. And we are all letting it go, turning a blind eye and choosing to look the other way. I've read Yoga Journal letters to the editor where a woman wrote in, in response to a male on the cover, and was annoyed because she could tell he had a penis - it was too blatant for her to deal with. Last time I checked, Yoga Journal did not shrink wrap or hide the breasts of the female cover models, and to focus on a very natural, not-to-be shamed body part - is this really acceptance?
I'm also concerned that those who are very lost and are looking for esoteric answers are attracted to yoga, and instead of helping people be more grounded, I've seen this "business" capitalize on them, prey on them and manipulate them. A Reiki healing can run into hundreds of dollars, but how is it honestly different from a free prayer at a church or temple? Only in its belief for the most part. Yet, no one is saying that we should display more ethics, or at least develop a measurement system for those who are true conduits of healing as opposed to those who wear their Reiki certification as a costume. This goes for yoga or anything else.... more ethics are needed in this business of wellness. It's exactly why it is sometimes seen as not serious or flighty, because we do not draw our own lines in the sand.
All religions - from Christianity to worshipping a star studded but naked Goddess Nuit, including yoga - have one centrical commonality; to make oneself a better person. All have some far reaching belief that is not easily explained, mostly best explained as "faith" in that belief.
This is all fine. However, this brings me to my view of what is wrong with yoga.
Yoga claims to help connect the body, mind and spirit. This insinuates and promotes an unspoken, undiagnosed problem, or group approved belief, that the body, mind and spirit, upon entering yoga, is somehow not connected. And the only way to achieve connectedness or a higher "level" or "plane" or "energy" is to practice yoga, according to the guru of choice.
The feeling that some people experience with yoga is no different than the feeling of peace and wholeness that others experience sitting in wooden pews at a church or temple, or going for a hike, when it comes to belief systems.
I am not stating that this is necessarily negative, but the reality is that many people who wander into yoga can and do state that religion does not work for them because they've "tried it." At the same time, there are very religious people who also practice yoga. The two go together often.
I am not, by any stretch (no pun intended) stating that those who practice yoga are all in alignment with this mentality that the body, mind and spirit is broken or even in need of unity, but I do think that we have to recognize, as a collective whole, that *sometimes* when people seek yoga, it is because they are not feeling whole and are looking for a fix. Yoga provides this much like religion.
There is nothing wrong with finding your nirvana where you can. But to assume that it must be a focus of unity, and anyone who isn't in alignment with this is not on the spiritual path or in "enlightenment" is both naive and pompous.
That being said, as we as a society evolve, we should take a closer look at practicing what we preach and accepting others more. And maybe, just maybe, we should stop insisting that our answer is everyone's answer, and that maybe not everyone ventures into a yoga class because they are not whole.
In hypnotherapy, as well as yoga, I see that people often behave upon unconscious drives, and that emotion may be hidden but the feeling that they experience drives the subconscious. It's a circle, and if self-abused, it can be a dangerous circle. To be able to enjoy something and share it without judgement or persecution is a beautiful thing. The moment that beauty of religion or yoga begins to separate who "is" and who is "not" enlightened, saved, grounded, spiritual, etc., is the moment I believe we've stopped on the journey.
My personal belief is that myself and others are already connected, body/mind/spirit, and that the ancient role of yoga does not always fit a modern paradigm. And I believe that yoga is for all people, not just people who feel or are deemed to be broken, as it can easily be inferenced in past scripture.
My personal belief may not be shared by others, but I hope at minimum it is respected, as I strive to respect others. If yoga is really a true personal journey, why is it becoming so measured, when in truth no one can measure another's experience? Why is "a beautiful yogi" someone who performs circus-feat asanas while a less attractive (according to society), heavier set person in bliss, seated with a non-perfect Warrior, is not recognized as freely and with the same arms as those allegedly enlightened?
I'm starting to see a very blurred line between ego and enlightenment much the way I see a blurred line akin to some religious folks and their blurred line between peace and power-invoked propaganda.
Of course, this is not insinuating all or even most yogis are stooping to this level, but some are and it is obvious we might want to begin working on our own preservation of peace.