Why do you practice?
I have written this in response to the repeated scandals that have been happening not just in yoga a lot lately, but seem epidemic in modern culture generally….
I never wish to put down another system of yoga, or say my perspective on the practice is more correct. That is not my intention.
I asked myself this question as a natural response to the most recent scandal to come out of the yoga community regarding abuse of power over one’s students, and the dangers of ‘Guru’ worship. I have been to yoga events that are empowering and inspiring, and others that feel more like a misled cult. I hope we can gain insights into the subtleties of the larger yoga culture we are all a part of….
People practice for many different reasons but I feel there are two major themes in motivation- Personal development via:
1) Cultivating one’s body seeking an external result (perfect poses, looking awesome, being part of a culture/community etc.)
2) Cultivating one’s body seeking an internal result (more sensitive experience, inner inquiry, healing injury, calming the mind etc.)
These are both valid, but there needs to be balance. I believe these unfortunate events are a symptom of the underlying imbalance in a practice. I also believe that in the pursuit of spiritual development we are our own greatest teachers, and handing too much responsibility to someone else in your path to development, both physically and/or spiritually, is rarely going to yield good results. To an extent we submit to our teachers and must trust them in order to learn, but there needs to be a healthy boundary. A good teacher will seek to remind you of that even as they offer you their knowledge.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is nothing original about these men that abuse their position over their students. Off the top of your head, I bet you could recall 5, maybe 10 similar stores where a leader abused their power over others.
I also train Jiu Jitsu, and in response to a similar abuse scandal surfacing in that community, Ryan Hall wrote a brilliant letter than has value to all of us as seekers, weather it’s yoga, martial arts, meditation practice, or any student teacher relationship. (http://livingthemartialarts.com/) Here is my favorite passage:
“What I came to realize is that we, as students of the martial arts [read yogis] as people, really, become deeply emotionally attached to the idea of a superhuman individual or group of individuals who, in our minds, must possess privileged knowledge that allows them not only to be an incredible fighter (Or politician? Or pastor? Perhaps a high-profile university football coach?), but also a shining example of humanity.”
So as this applies to yoga: What are we practicing? Are we becoming more of ourselves, or are we selling ourselves short? Are we echoing someone else’s perspective, or becoming more authentic in ourselves?
Why do you practice? I guess there’s no right answer. Just being honest in your inquiry will help you better understand yourself.
Yoga is complex because it works on so many levels, but I think in writing this I’ve revealed what my personal practice is (partly) about… to become more authentically who I am. It’s not ‘correct’ it’s just my answer.
Why do you practice?