It was this past Sunday morning, around 8am to be exact, when my first client of the day told me there was an interesting article in the NY Times about yoga. We proceeded to do an hour of yoga, after which I taught my 75 minute yoga class at Equinox Columbus Circle, after which I was told again, by two separate people about this yoga article I just had to read….so I read it. And I have many thoughts about it, hopefully they will come through as clear as they are in my head.
At first I imagined I was going to be offended by what I read, as the slant seemed to be “spiritual yoga” vs. “non-spiritual yoga”, if there is such a thing – that is an entirely different issue in itself. But what I found instead was a sort of kinship in some of what Ms. Stiles feels and perceives, and how she has translated that into a successful business and brand. I am nowhere near her level of success as measured by financial gain or renown, I don’t necessarily have the desire to be in that place, and only wish her well in her pursuits. What I can relate to is the feeling that yoga has become something that is exclusive and not always accessible to mainstream practitioners, or would be yogis. There is something to be said for the value of maintaining and being loyal to the inclusion of spiritual and ritual-like practices within a yoga class. These practices have been shown time and again to have tremendous potential as ways to deepen our understanding of ourselves, and through that deeper understanding gain empathy and compassion when we deal with the world, either on a large or small scale. Having said that, there has to be the willingness to put faith in these practices, and to be somewhat educated about their history. If a person is not willing to open themselves up to chanting, or learning a spiritual lesson based on a Hindu text, then perhaps that type of yoga class is not for them. It has been said that our physical practice prepares our body for our mental practice of mediation. Perhaps when people practice on a physical level they are doing the work that may one day help them delve deeper into a meditative practice. Life, and the process of change, and the process of using our bodies to cultivate greater self-awareness, strength and resilience is just that – a process…meaning that where we are today is not where we were yesterday, and not where we will be 2 weeks from now.
Back to Ms. Stiles – are people getting hurt or injured in her classes? Does she neglect form, alignment, cuing and corrective strategies? These are things we should be critical of, for this is a potential danger to people who are in a vulnerable position. As far as where people feel comfortable practicing yoga and how they choose to define it, I believe we should not stand in judgmental but in tolerance of individual differences and preferences, and reserves labels for containers of food, not people and lifestyles. Yoga is expensive, and it should be affordable. It is intimidating, and it should be welcoming. It can be confusing where it should be clarifying. If we really understand the principles of yoga and leading with an open heart and beginners mind, we embrace all the versions of yoga that exist and see that they serve to enlighten and inspire, just in a different way. Especially in New York, there are plenty of spaces for people to chant, study scripture, learn and listen to Sanskrit and integrate spirituality into their practice in a supportive and like minded community.
I don’t see any reason why yoga cannot accommodate differences. Once we start thinking “my way is better”, we have lost our spiritual path anyway. I say good for her, and good for you – is there is something you believe in that you feel good about that has brought you success and makes other peoples lives better? Maybe the first step is finding that and being inspired, rather than being critical of others.