A yoga student recently commented to me that there were a lot of "serious yogis" in a class that she attended. When probed to explain what she meant it was clear that "serious yogi" was someone who was able to do more advanced poses. The comment got me to thinking about yoga posing and how in the seemingly ubiquitous yoga world there is a lot of yoga posing going on.
The notion of the advancement in yoga being equated to one's ability to do advanced poses is a flawed one. I've even had a student comment that he wouldn't recommend one of my trainings because it wasn't advanced enough in terms of the poses they learned. If the journey into yoga is limited to doing more complicated poses is that advancement, or simply posing?
Posing is endemic in our consumer society. The labels in our clothes say something about who we are. The kind of car we drive is an indicator. The neighbourhood in which will live is telling. Our career path and social circles tell a story. The style of yoga classes we choose to frequent put us in the pecking order of cool and not-so-cool yoga. And of course the level of class we attend is the ultimate revealer of how much we're arrived.
It is interesting that yoga poses are in many ways about posing. They actually say very little about our understanding of and immersion in yoga.
The paths to personal fulfillment are many and they are necessarily unique. In our quest for self understanding - our personal unfoldment - some of us will work on the physical level developing our capacity in a sport or activity, including yoga asana. Others will work towards developing our minds through study and intellectual achievements, such as completing a graduate-level degree.
A few of us will take a different path in our unfoldment working on a spiritual level seeking our Truth. We search for meaning in life by asking questions like: Why am I here? What is my purpose? Why do I suffer?
The word spiritual means different things to different people - as it should. Those brave enough to go on an inner journey of discovery will find the path that works best for them, usually by trial and error. The tradition of yoga and tantra offer up myriad techniques to assist us in our journey. There are many paths leading to the same end.
We short-change ourselves when yoga is about more posing. Advancement in yoga need not be limited to asana. In fact when students are given opportunities to explore more of what the tradition offers - both in the classes they attend and then in their own practice - their evolution in yoga blossoms. Sadly, there is a deficiency of opportunities for students to find deeper teaching, even among some of the big name yogis of North America.
How has Yoga become all about posing?
Many training programs offer a relatively narrow introduction to yoga with a significant emphasis on poses and the physical form. Hence the public perception of yoga as a fancy exercise experience often taking place in facilities that could easily be equated to glammed-up gyms. If, after these trainings where really only the surface of yoga is scratched, teachers don't seek out more on their own, they themselves are ignorant about much of what yoga is. They may well end up becoming fabulous instructors of asana in one of the many styles of Hatha that are currently taught , but how many are teaching a complete form of yoga?
The tradition of yoga comes through lineage and teachers. We can learn about poses in classes, workshops, conferences, through books, videos and the like, but the deeper aspects of the tradition - yoga philosophy, the "scriptures" or texts, the psychology, mantra, kriyas, and other more esoteric techniques - are harder to come by. They come through lineage-based teachers, of which there are surprisingly few.
In my view "serious yogis" are not those who have mastered complicated poses, but those whose yoga-as-asana has evolved to yoga-as-something more. The most important pose we can master is that of our meditation seat, yet how many yoga classes even offer anything remotely close to meditation? It is through meditation that the fruits of practice begin to unfold, that we are able to see more clearly who we really are, and to move past some of the obstacles that the mind creates to veil our true nature.
When more teachers move from being posers to seekers we will begin to see a shift in how and what yoga is taught. I don't know of anyone who has arrived at a more enlightened state through the physical practice of yoga, however it has most certainly opened the door to a deeper discovery.
There are opportunities to immerse ourselves more deeply in the tradition through programs like ParaYoga's Master Training, the Power of Yoga Program, by plugging into authentic lineage-based organizations like the Himalayan Institute and by doing initial training in a lineage based program. Maybe the most popular yoga trainings aren't the ones the give you the most bang for your buck. The more we grow as teachers, the more opportunities there will be for students of yoga to be more than posers.
I'm blessed to have an amazing teacher, to have access to my teacher's Guru and to be initiated in their lineage. A dedicated student must be ready for this journey which involves being able to park one's ego - which requires practice.
My commitment and service to yoga practitioners is to make more of these teachings available through my classes, training and on-line materials. The yoga journey from poser to seeker can be yours if you are ready, but there is no cookie-cutter approach. The more tools available in one's journey the more interesting it becomes.
Good luck in your journey. Keep an open heart and an open mind. The the student is ready, the teacher will come.