Of the eight limbs of yoga, four — pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and that ever elusive mistress, samahdi — are forms of meditation. Clearly, Patanjali thought meditation was kind of important and who am I to argue with a great sage?
I often say that yoga has made me less of an asshole. I used to be a quick tempered, intolerant, ego driven human being. Many years of yoga have, thankfully, helped to soften some of those sharp edges. The person I used to be -- though she looks a lot like me -- has little resemblance to who I am now. It’s like she’s my evil twin and has been relegated to some far off place from whence she is seldom heard any more. Except for at work where she tends to make regular appearances.
Few things in life can elicit stronger emotions, opinions and debate than dietary choices. Yogis, of course, often have a lot of dietary predilections. Dinner parties with a group of yogis can sometimes seem straight out of a SNL skit or a “Shit Yogis Say” YouTube video. Guests will likely have one or more of the following dietary restrictions: gluten free; soy-free; sugar-free; vegan; raw vegan; or, of course, all of the above.
Having a crap body image sucks no matter your situation, but it can be particularly sucky-y, from my viewpoint, as a yogi. The idea of a yogi in Western culture is most often associated with lithe, willowy, bendy wisps. And that is not me. I struggle every day with body image. In fact, I am not sure there is a minute that goes by that, somewhere in the back of my mind, I am feeling self-conscious. Inadequate. Unworthy. Ashamed.
There’s been a bit of a debate going on among my Facebook friends this week about yoga in these here parts (e.g. the West). I certainly have my own issues with the topic. I get on my soapbox all the time about the commercialization of yoga here in the U.S.; the culture of yogalebrities and the focus on Cirque du Soleil moves. But, regardless of all this soapboxiness, one thing remains absolutely crystal clear in my mind; there is power in the practice. Regardless of what direction your path takes, the power will meet you where you are.
Sometimes I fear that Facebook, YouTube and Instagram may bring about the downfall of yoga. Every day, I see videos and pictures posted online of people getting their yoga on and it’s inspirational and beautiful. But I rarely (if ever) see someone proudly displaying mountain pose, triangle or a simple yet elegant forward fold. It’s more likely back- bend-to-bow-with-one-arm-tied-behind-the-back-asana. Or handstand balanced on a pinky while holding a pitcher of water on the toes. I exaggerate, but you get the point. It seems as though there’s a glorification of yoga as gymnastics – Cirque du Soleil, really – on social media and it’s giving me anxiety.