Starting from sometime around a couple of months ago, my email inbox (the one attached to the hotmail account listed in the top-right-hand corner of this blog) became inundated with tons of promotional emails from yoga retreat centers, marketers of cool yoga/enlightenment T-shirts ("wear our tee, and you will experience more-or-less instant enlightenment... or at least look super-good!"), and even vegan cookies.
I'm not at all annoyed by all this spam; most of the time, I just chuckle to myself ("Wow, they actually think I can help them make a milllion dollars by selling or promoting their products!"), and then delete them without even bothering to read. I'm guessing that, since I'm not a famous yoga teacher (or even an un-famous one), all these assorted peddlers of yoga/enlightenment wares must have gotten my email address from this blog. Which adds even more to the irony, since I have hardly been posting over the last few months, and when I do, it's usually shit about my personal practice and/or my own personal idiosyncratic stories about things and happenings in my immediate little environment. Hardly the sort of thing that would make me a famous yoga presence.
Anyway, the mere presence of all these emails from yoga ware peddlers wouldn't have warranted breaking my by-now-usual blog silence (as I said, most of the time, I just delete these emails without a second's thought), were it not for the fact that somebody recently directed me to this Elephant Journal post by Harmony Lichty, an authorized Ashtanga teacher living and teaching in Victoria, British Columbia. In her post, Harmony said something that resonates with my experience in this area. She writes:
"There is a beautiful, glowing, tantalizing, nymph-like monster called
“The Business of Yoga.”... If you’re at all
interested in yoga, I’m sure you have already come face to face with
her. She is obvious and yet somehow still deceptive. Agitating our minds
and seducing our desires, she is invoked whenever business mixes with
yoga, which is pretty much unavoidable these days.
Recently, I’ve been bombarded with messages from various sources all
saying that, as a yoga teacher, you need to find some angle to market
“your unique talents and abilities.” Lessons on using the right catch
phrases and how to sell yourself will help to create more buzz.
Of course, everyone has the miracle solution on how to do this, and
for only $9.99 you can download the latest e-book that will change your
Whether it is YouTube or Facebook, what seems to matter most is how
you brand yourself and I fear that all of this advertising is merely
another distraction that keeps moving further away from the essence of
what yoga is supposed to be about..."
I think that Harmony's fear is quite well-founded, but I'm not going to go into a long rant here about how this whole business-of-yoga business takes us away from the essence of yoga; I'm sure the yoga blogosphere already abounds with plenty of erudite articles written on this topic by a whole bunch of--who else?--smart yogis. But I do want to share what Harmony has to say about what real yoga practice is about, because, again, what she has to say really speaks to me:
"It seems obvious, but it must be said: yoga is not about the clothes
or the mat, nor is it about the way we look or even the way we feel. It
is actually not a hobby or an activity to keep you occupied in your
spare time, and perhaps contrary to popular belief, it is not simply a
class you can drop-in to or drop-out of.
Yoga is a way of life...
It is meant to permeate our entire existence and
shine the light of awareness into every corner of our lives. That is, if
we can just get out from under the pile of stuff we are hiding in.
Yoga is a process of self-transformation...
Yoga is a discipline.
It is a discipline that works to renovate your mind, body and habits.
It can be challenging and frustrating.
Some days you won’t feel like getting out of bed to meet yourself on your mat or your meditation cushion.
Some days you won’t want to look in the mirror of your life choices
to experience the veracity of how they are affecting you. Yet, when you
do begin to clean the dust off your inner mirror through a regular
practice, you will feel better for it...
Practice. Serve. Love. Repeat.
Try getting up and practicing without anyone watching, without fancy
clothes or your favorite mat, without any goal in mind except to sink
deeper into your own present moment awareness of breath. Practice as
best you can on any given day, regardless of how you feel or how you
look—this is the yoga.
I believe that there is one way to wade through all the distracting
illusions that deceptively disguise themselves as yoga and that is to go
deeper into our own personal sadhana, spiritual practice..."
What Harmony says here really speaks to me because most of the time, I practice by myself at home; I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of days I have practiced with other people in the past year (most of these few days occurs during the times when I travel to attend workshops with senior teachers). And I definitely do not wear fancy clothes when I practice; in fact, I typically practice in my briefs (TMI? My apologies...). I mean, really, why even bother to put on yoga shorts when nobody's watching?
And also, I quite often make myself practice on days when I seriously don't feel like getting on the mat. For instance, last night, a couple of friends from work invited me to their place to hang out and play chess. They proceeded to offer me wine, which I could not resist, and I drank a couple of glasses too many. As you can probably imagine, I felt rather groggy (no hangover, fortunately) when I woke up this morning, and almost fell asleep standing up! I made myself roll out the mat and practice. My body movements felt really sluggish; throughout the standing postures, it felt like I was moving through a thick karmic sludge. But I somehow managed to make myself go through my usual practice (half-primary plus second up to Karandavasana), and definitely felt much better at the end of the whole thing, and was happy that I made myself do it anyway.
None of any of this is really ground-breaking or earth-shaking; I'm sure most of you out there also have plenty of experience with making yourself practice on days when you just don't want to. But, as Harmony would say, sometimes the obvious is what needs to be said.