The Asana Dilemma
Reading this... you’re probably somewhat interested or aware that modern yoga is evolving and changing at a speed quicker than a Snapchat post disappears.
Information on moving anatomy has begun to have a big impact on different approaches to asana. Developments in understanding of the nervous system have changed our perception on movement and the language that is used to convey it, and perhaps most importantly, we’ve discovered via historical research that much of what we’ve considered “classical” asana isn’t more than 100 -120 years old.
So, how do we move forward with so much new and conflicting information and try to navigate our way and reconcile what our own personal practice is about?
What we call yoga
Firstly, we have to be aware of what we call yoga as it can actually be very confusing. And I’m not going to try to tell you in this article what yoga “really” is, because it is highly subjective and deeply sacred to the individual. But let’s look at a useful analogy to help us find clarity.
"Yoga is highly subjective and deeply sacred to the individual"
Take the word “Dance”. If you tell me you practice dance or that you are a dancer I will probably follow up with “what kind of dance?”. The reply might be anything from Salsa or Tango, to Ballet or Hip Hop, Musical Theatre or Irish dance and everything in between. Is one of those more “dance” than the others? Of course not, and I don’t think anyone who does Ballet concerns themselves with people doing Hip Hop and calling it dance despite the fact that Ballet is commonly referred to as “Classical Dance”. In fact many people interested in dance will practice more than one form and get the same joy out of it. Despite dance not being considered a “sacred” practice we could find many people, myself included, that have had incredibly spiritual experiences in a dance class. A feeling so deep and sacred I wouldn’t be able to explain it in words. So it’s a helpful way to look at when we consider the dialogue in the yoga world right now.
Yoga is diverse
I get curious when I hear people say “The point of yoga is…..” and whatever definition comes I want it to be qualified with what KIND of yoga is this person talking about. There is a lot of diversity in yoga. If you are practicing Raja yoga, the practice of meditation, then yoga is about Chitta Vritti Nirodaha (Cesation of the fluctuations of the mind). If you’re a Bhakti practitioner, then your practice is surrendered devotion to the divine with worship, chanting, singing and often dancing. The aim is to surrender yourself to the divine. If you’re a Karma yogi you’re doing a practice of selfless service. The point being serve others as if they are the divine in order to find that union. If you’re a Hatha practitioner then you’re using the body to move prana. The movement of the kundalini energy up the spine to achieve the union of shiva and shakti. Within the Hatha spectrum itself, you’re most likely practicing some form of asana and the current asana climate has more styles and variations than ever before. It can be a minefield of choices and I think that’s a good thing.
Is it Asana?
A lot of energy gets wasted these days on social media with discussions dissecting whether certain practices are or aren’t asana. What is yoga and what isn’t. This has created many a heated debate. And while some really good arguments can be made I feel like we’re missing the point altogether. My suggestion is to ask this question instead: “Why do you practice?” What is the root of what you are looking for? If you are finding your way to filling a deeper connection with yourself, if you’re alleviating stress, if you are discovering a new relationship with yourself, does it matter what it’s called?
Labels create judgement
Labels create judgement and this has become a current gaping wound in the yoga world right now. I have to pause and exhale when I think about it. It creates tension in my body. We’re not going to heal ourselves or this planet if we, in the yoga community, are worried if what others are doing in the name of yoga is wrong. Surely we’re cultivating awareness in our practice to understand that we’re all individuals and therefor will all have different ways of practicing and be at different stages of that understanding.
I’m a Tantric based Hatha practitioner. I call myself a yogi and yoga teacher because what I teach and experience is a cultivation of energy through the body. Whether I’m sitting in stillness doing work with energy centres, moving to release prana though the body. Having a relationship with the divine above all that allows me to honour and revere a higher power that connects us all. My asana practice looks very different from many lineages as my focus is different. From the outside some people may insist that it’s not asana.
If you decide what I’m doing isn’t yoga, that’s fine with me. I will show up for myself and practice. I don’t need to justify it to others and I don’t need for you to justify your practice to me. It’s too personal to open it to a debate and not even necessary.
"I don’t need to justify it to others and I don’t need for you to justify your practice to me."
We’ve got to get rid of the naming and shaming. We’ve had some very bad press with the sexual abuse coming to light out of Matthew Remski’s work (Practice and All is Coming), Videos of Iyengar teaching via physical abuse, and on the other side of the coin the Core Power Yoga system showing us the dark side of yoga employment.
We’re looking like every other industry on the planet and yet we should be the sanctuary from that behaviour. I don’t personally blame the commercialisation of yoga. I think it’s great that at this point in time it’s almost impossible to find someone who doesn’t know what yoga is, whether they’ve tried it or not. No, I think the popularity led to commercialisation because that’s what we do as humans. Personally, I think it’s that we have a culture of self judgement from way back and we will always look at others to compare and ultimately, from fear, decide who is right and wrong.
Trust your inner compass - Yoga is evolving!
If we truly want to obtain the benefits of our yoga practice, we’re better off looking inwards for our own inner compass to figure out what we need. What works and what doesn’t. Having a teacher you trust (whether you call them guru or just friend) to help guide you is important. But remember, yoga is evolving, has always and will always evolve. We are always evolving as change is inevitable. it’s ok, we’re ok. We’ve often been suffocated, paralysed by fear and doubt. As Krisna says in the Bhagavad Gita “doubt is the great immobiliser”. If we use the practices, whatever that may mean to you, to allow the voice of your inherent intelligence to be heard, then listen to that. Tune into to yourself and trust where you are headed.
This is where the practice begins.
“Doubt is the great immobiliser”. Krishna - Bhagavad Gita