The Only Real Yoga

I'm holding a grudge. That's bad for a yoga teacher, right? But I can't seem to help myself as I walk through a class of women (and a lone, older gentleman) moving and sweating in time with the fast beat and thrumming base playing during their nightly Zumba class. Each of their faces look bright and happy, but concentrated and present as they follow the movements of the teacher.

I hear a buzzer, loud and sharp, and I look through a window down onto a basketball court. Below me teenage boys scurry back and forth chasing that orange sphere, working team against team to score points. This basketball game looks intense, the boys are focused on one thing. My mind draws back to that nagging in my head, that grudge I'm carrying.

I've no grudge against these people nor what they do. How could I do anything but be joyful ... yes, that's the word ... joyful that they're practicing yoga. But wha...?!?

Yes, they're practicing yoga. Thus is the origin of my minor discontent. You see, my grudge is against those who would disagree that yoga is what these people are doing, being, engaging in the practice of. Those dissenters exist though and, maybe, you are one of them.

I was once, in a brief and frustrating Facebook exchange, told that the type of yoga I teach, a variation on Power Vinyasa, is not actually yoga. I was stunned, offended even, and caught completely off guard. The seed of this grudge was planted in that moment and was nurtured by what I then saw pop up again and again. Proponents of yoga passing their judgments, small and large, on various physical practices saying things like, "[insert style here] is not real yoga."

Yoga teachers shouldn't hold grudges. Apparently they should only teach a single version of yoga though. But I disagree with the former and not the latter. Grudges suck but so too does this idea some walk around with that they are somehow keyed into a singular rightness, a proper knowledge of what is and is not yoga.

In truth few of us teach yoga. Music or no, emphasis on one's buttocks or no, once you start moving the body about in these bizarre, if beautiful, opening and health-bringing postures, you've changed yoga's original directive for the body. Though, hopefully the intention remains.

Yoga, as described in the most ancient of texts has but a single asana. All but that one, seen in many statues of the Buddha, has been tacked on at some later date and more recently than most seem to realize. Only seated meditation posture, possibly lotus, was instructed and yet here we are with a myriad of possible contortions to put our bodies into. Yet, while being schooled on what yoga is and is not, I did not read these words come across my screen that day.

Our world is plagued by diseases that are preventable. Humans aren't living as designed (or evolved, depending on your beliefs) to. We sit too much, eat poorly, and are racked by anxiety and stress. Too many are afflicted with any number of diseases as a result. We're becoming an angry and obese species with wrecked bodies and minds.

Personally, I love a good sweat, having my own body challenged by a powerful vinyasa practice that stretches and strengthens my body to its limits, which are sometimes just self-limiting beliefs of what I can do. I like a good yin practice and even found myself getting some positive feelings during some Iyengar and Kundaline. None of them seemed to be more yoga than the other. They were each just ... different.

In a flow class, matching my breath to my body's movements gets me present and aware. The seemingly unending chaturangas squeeze the stress from my body the same way a strong hand might the juice from a ripe lemon. To hold a Warrior III pose, to activate all the right muscles and stack my body in just the right way puts me in the moment because the past (anxiety) or future (depression) would dismantle the delicate balance required.

Zumba, basketball, Jiu Jitsu or any physical practice can be yoga and achieve the same things. In the same way walking or cooking or driving can be a Zen practice so too can any physical practice prepare our bodies and mind for the here and now and for union with that something more.

I enjoy asana and the many ways the practice can take shape. I've an appreciation for the variety of practices out there, be it Baptiste or Bikram or 'Yoga for a Nice Booty.' I celebrate that there exists more than gateway to a happier and healthier life.

You should too.

This grudge I hold isn't against this person who said I didn't teach yoga. My grudge is against the blinders some of us wear to limit our view. Why not widen the lens used to look at yoga and see that there are countless ways to connect mind and body and spirit, not just your way or mine?

I see yoga in a Zumba class and on the basketball court. It's troubling, however, is that I see its antithesis rampantly spreading and being accepted. Our species requires movement and connection in order to pull ourselves out of this mire of modernity with all of its disease-inducing luxuries and separateness-inspiring conveniences. We especially need not judge one another for what we, as teachers and practitioners each, try to do to steer the world away from the sedentary and apathetic course it's already set upon. So dance, or dribble or vinyasa to your heart and body's content. Invite others to join you. Guide them. Or celebrate them for whatever practice they choose so long as they choose something other than sitting and thinking about yesterdays and tomorrows. Just don't nitpick. Don't put on that t-shirt that says "My Yoga is the Only Yoga."

Don't judge.

And don't hold grudges.