Sunday, October 14, 2012

What does fitness have to do with Yoga?

So, I work for a Yoga studio and recently I was asked to change the format/style of my teaching to better suit the general philosophy of the studio. After much reflection and discourse, I came to the conclusion that this was a request I was a) comfortable with for now and also, that some of my classes were considerably different than most others on the schedule. Until this request was made of me, I was not fully aware that I was doing something very different. Some simple qualifiers that could accurately describe the class style might include; slower, quieter (meditative), grounded (on the mat for most of the class). I was being encouraged to create more consistency in my class by following a formula that had the class build to a apex 'build up to a peak and wind down', thereby increasing the energy, providing an 'experience that is physical enough to create energy in the body and allow a good sweat'. Nothing I am not familiar with, as this formula seems to be commonplace in the studio's have I taught/taken in past, present in three different countries now (U.S.A. Chicago, Illinois & various cities in Canada, as well as various cities in Australia).

 Recently, (as in over the past 6 years), I have begun a discovery of some of the 'quieter' Yoga disciplines (namely Restorative and Yin) and, in studying and practicing these disciplines had a little bit of a revelation... slowing things down was good for my muscle-bound body (namely upper-body and shoulders). The soldiers that are (dare I say were?) my shoulders had begun to release and relax, my heart had begun to pour open (this is a BIG deal!) and my hips broke like a levy one fine day! I walked through space as though I had a new pair of moon boots on, a bounce to my step that was never released fully prior to this, despite years of firey, heat-inducing yoga practices; like ashtanga and dynamic vinyasa flow. No relentless number of suyra namaskar had been able to do for my body what some quiet but determined and very very deep work had done in less time. For the first time ever, I could enter into poses like headstand and full-wheel without feeling 'clenched' or locked up in certain muscle groups. These deep, slow, meditative practices had taught me to let go (or be dragged). They allowed me time to 'look at myself' and figure some stuff out, and after hating it for awhile, I had really started to dig it.

So I taught it, and people liked it, or so I thought as the class in mention was always full and the faces were regular. I felt good about allowing others the time to look deeply at themselves, and to look deeply at the asana or gesture they were in, as it is an expression of the self also. I liked that they seemed to like it too. Until the bubble popped. I was reminded of what I already knew, which is that the collective WE in North America (The West) have this idea of the body that as an object (and object in the West means consumable - a product) and that energy means movement, at a certain pace and vigor, through space. There is a destination (the end of the class?) and while on the journey (on your mat?) there is an apex (the literary crisis/climax); a mountain to climb, something to obtain. A goal. I guess in all my blissful surrender to the Yin, I had simply forgotten where I was. That producing energy means moving quickly, from point a to point b. OUR science tells us this... An object at rest will stay at rest, and an object in motion will stay in motion at constant velocity, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

Should Yoga be a class, and should the journey begin 'as a wave, warming up to a crest and then winding down' as it was describe to me. Should Yoga exist outside of the walls of a studio and perhaps, if you are lucky Yoga may enter into your practice while you breath, in a moment, in a gesture, whether in movement or not, whether in the studio or driving in your car one sunny afternoon on your way home from work? If that later is relevant, than I ask you, what does fitness have to do with Yoga? My unbalanced force was the reminder that my Yoga is not fitness and that this concept of 'fitness' as purely physical is yet another way of consuming 'body' as a product or object to be obtained. 


  1. How interesting. I know nothing about Yoga and have always seen it as a phsycial thing. I find as I get older I am far less in the interested in my spirtual state of being. Is this my western culture telling me what is here and now and is where it's at? I wonder if you were involved in a more eastern type of class if this would be the same or if you would be allowed to go down the Yin path. Very interesting post.

  2. @Peter...

    I am more suspicious of the results of consumer culture on(to) the Self... and consumer culture dominates the West. The word 'product' was used in the conversation (in reference to Yoga), which I found very interesting. Yoga is a consumer product now, internationally. Bikram was the first to brand his sequence of poses and the rest is history. I think it is sad, as I have discovered that Yoga is a path to knowing the Self better and that, even for a person who enters it from a secular mindset, if they are open, it can be very healing to the (unfounded?) soul. Yoga, the word, in Sanskrit, literally means "yoke", "to join", "to unite", or "to attach" from the root yuj... It, historically and philosophically, is a spiritual practice (Hinduism). I find it very interesting that studio spaces are homogenizing this element of the practice to suit a 'new age' perception of body, mind, soul and self. Thanks for your interest in this blog!