Don’t Be a Shmogi, Taking Yoga Back
Taking Yoga Back, I have some good news and I have some bad news. I’ll start with the bad news. There has been an attempt to hijack and kidnap yoga from us. And now the good news, you can take it back. Many practitioners call themselves yogis or yoginis but they have taken the sacred practice of yoga and changed it to an inaccessible and inauthentic practice. They are who I call Shmogis(ginis), or phony yogis! Many of these Shmogis have tried to take yoga away from the masses by spreading myths about the practice and I want us to take yoga back.
Yoga is over 4,000 years old and practiced by men, women and children all over the world. Yoga is the yoking or weaving together of mind, body and spirit. So why would it suddenly be subject to rigid formulations, mysterious rituals or incredible physical feats?
Yoga encompasses many aspects including physical postures, study of sacred philosophies, mindfulness, discipline, and meditation, acknowledging wholeness, to name a few.I personally believe that there are benefits to the suggested general guidelines and paths to yoga. But as you will see below, some of these have morphed into myths that seem to keep yoga exclusive only to those who follow very specific paths and keep all other seekers away. We must ask, why do some insist on portraying yoga as something to be done by the young, physically beautiful, fit and acrobatic?
How I discovered Yoga and You Can Too
Back in 2000, I was grieving the sudden death of my mother from a rare cancer, adjusting to moving across the country from New York to San Francisco. During that time, I had no permanent job or resources, and was dealing with other crises that lead to my physical, emotional and spiritual breakdown. I decided to try yoga as a stress management strategy. I practiced alone in my apartment because I didn’t have the money to go to a studio and didn’t want to expose my broken self to others.Slowly I realized and discovered that yoga was much more than physical poses.
At a certain point I became confused because I didn’t understand its philosophical or spiritual components very well. I learned through watching videos, reading books, and other literature the different ways to practice that would work for me. I’m pretty stubborn so I decided to do my own practice and customize it to fit my physical and financial limitations. It’s been more than a decade and I still consider myself to be in the beginning phases of my yoga exploration as an integral part of my life.I have also learned that yoga as practiced in the western world has taken in few meandering turns away from TRUTH.
I want to prevent others from feeling the discouragement I felt at times by exposing the myths and propaganda perpetrated by the shmogis and industries that have over-business-fied yoga. Many well meaning practitioners earnestly believe these myths and perpetuate them further exacerbating the issue. You may have completely different reasons and desires to explore yoga and every one’s path is individual. But if any of the myths below dissuaded you in the past, perhaps you can now return to what is your rightful place in the world of yoga.
Myths That Discourage the General Population From Practicing Yoga
- Paying for Yoga–I believe in energy exchange and compensation for any goods and services. But you should be able to practice yoga even if you can’t afford it. There are some studios that allow you to pay what you can. As long as you can give something with honor and within your means you can have access to their yoga studio. This arrangement obviously works better than paying sky high prices. It is also possible to be a solitary practitioner. You can practice by yourself using various resources that are available and some are listed below. When your circumstances change you can then choose to try a studio that charges
- Elusive and mysterious practices-Some individuals or groups try to cloak yoga in mystery rituals and jargon and that frightens many seekers away. Yoga brings so many benefits, physical, emotional and spiritual and like anything with so many opportunities, it should be open to anyone at any level. Yoga can be as simple as finding a place to sit for 5 minutes a day to be still or as complex you wish. The point is YOU choose not others.
- You have to be thin, super flexible and sinewy-Yoga can be done by anyone of any age, size and physical condition. Yoga is more than just physical poses. So even when doing certain hand gestures called mudras, or simple breathing exercises, you are in essence doing yoga.
- Convincing you to do yoga only ONE specific way-There are many types of postures, breathing techniques, meditation levels, philosophical depths that can be explored in yoga. But yoga is about life and it’s all in the balancing, yoking and going at your own pace. Different yogic practices today emphasize different things. Some focus on reaching enlightenment, another on mastering control over one’s mind and body, others on loving kindness, and various other focuses. So it is best to find what needs balancing in your life hence which type of yoga to begin exploring.
- Insisting group yoga is superior to solitary practice— Why is group yoga emphasized? Be in a group if you so choose to but not because you think it is absolutely necessary or superior to practicing on your own. Yes it is imperative to know how to do certain poses correctly and to understand the philosophy and history. Many people who practice yoga in groups do indeed feel it is useful, helpful and a very positive. However doing group yoga is a way not the only way to practice yoga.
- Gender-izing yoga-An illusion has been created that yoga practice is mostly for women. By featuring mostly woman in the media, magazines, and advertising, this myth is perpetuated. Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years by men, women and children of all ages. Sadly many men shy away from yoga feeling silly for even contemplating practicing it. Also men may fear feeling out of place going to classes which are female dominated. But that is not fair to anyone. Yoga is for all and all can benefit from it
- Over-commercializing-Just one look at any yoga related material will quickly take the searcher to a world where s/he is drowned in specialty advertisement of yoga-specific clothing, jewelry, fancy props, philosophies, clubs, travel spots, retreats and events. But this unnecessarily monetizes a sacred practice. Many of these “things”, devices and such do have their benefits and place but the cost and placement is indeed suspect.
- Insisting yoga be done with a guru-A guru is someone that has undergone the right of passage, so to speak, in a particular path in life. Someone who has ascended to a place of wisdom and hence the ability to lead others who are inexperienced and students into the same passage of growth and learning. But is it an absolute necessity? Likely not. Having a guru is very personal and only you will know if and when you want one.
- Exotic retreats that are treated as requirements-Retreats are lovely and a nice way to get centered, relaxed, and rejuvenated. It is not a requirement for finding spiritual enlightenment. Hence it is not a fair or honest way to sell a very high priced luxury travel plan,
- Quoting fancy pose names and philosophies in Sanskrit-Sometimes some people use fancy names, terms and philosophies to intimidate the average person from practicing yoga and diving deeper into its philosophies. Thanks to technology, the good old fashion library or book store you can translate most terms yourself. Even pronunciation has become a big hoopla. Just check with the original Sanskrit when possible or call it by its translated name. For example don’t worry of saying Tadasana, just remember it is also called Mountain Pose. With time it all comes together like any other language.
- Featuring advanced poses as the ideal to attain to be a true practitioner-The truth is that one has to move within the limits of ones own body. Some believe, and I agree, in the idea that it is healthy to push ones self beyond what we believe to be our imitations. As long as we are careful and listen to what our body wants and needs, you will be living yoga.
- Complicating the process needlessly with naming types of yoga practices and gurus associated with each.-There is a huge list of the different types of yoga you can practice. It can be very overwhelming. It is both interesting and beneficial to learn about the history of yoga, philosophy, branches, persons who are influential in the yoga community, etc. As long as you don’t let this determine whether you’ll practice at all or become snobbish once you do learn a specific way that works best to you. It all depends on what your goals are at any given point during your exploration of yoga.
- Over-Sexualizing Yoga-One of the most interesting things that has happened to yoga is the over sexual-ization of it. Tantric yoga is very ancient and revered branch of yoga. It is also complex and interesting. But if you ask the average person or do a simple search on the internet, it is considered and treated like a sexual practice akin to the Kama Sutra. Sexuality is an integral aspect of Tantric yoga, as is breathing, meditation, right action, and so on. Sexuality is part of our humanity but doesn’t have to dominate it, otherwise we become unbalanced and fall into the myth trap.
- Making it into competitive events-There is yet another movement to create yoga competitive events. These events would have persons competing for form, complexity, flexibility and all sorts of acrobatics. Perhaps it would be interesting and entertaining but I’m not sure it would be in the spirit of yoga’s intention, which is whole and abundant living,
- Introducing circus type equipment-there seems to be a unlimited way in which yoga seems to develop and evolve. A lot of people use props, which is equipment to aid the practitioner in his/her ability to move into certain postures. But in a funny way, more “props” have been introduced and their function seems to be in the creating more of a circus-like atmosphere instead of aiding or expanding the yoga practice. That’s fine as long as it doesn’t discourage anyone from focusing on their own yoga process no matter how simple or complex that process may be.
- Certification in Yoga– To be considered a yoga teacher, there is a certification process. That is quite different from being adept at yoga. Again, the ancients we read about today who brought us yoga didn’t go through the official certification process that exists today. But the process does exist and again has its benefits like ensuring postures are done correctly, knowing some of the philosophy, encouragement and guidance on certain issues. But ultimately when you see how much it costs to get certified, it is clear the real reason this certification process exists. I respect the time, money and energy certified practitioners have put into getting to being yoga teacher certified. But are they “the” way to yoga salvation? No YOU are. You decide that you want to find a way of living your life in a holistic, compassionate, balanced way and you are yogic. Only you can make yourself a yogi or yogini not a piece of paper of approval from an organization that is profiting from your money.
Taking Yoga Back
Now that you have read of some of the myths you can take control back and explore yoga to the extent that you wish. There is so much information available but weeding through the fluff will make the process easier. So if you purchase a magazine and go through several pages of ads on yoga wear, studios, retreats etc., you can still enjoy the essence of what yoga is meant to be in some of the articles included in the periodical. Sure you will find all kinds of writers subscribing to the myths, but you will know better. At least we have the freedom to look at the material and choose what works for us and what does not.
I find exploring yoga can be so enjoyable and there so many resources to learn. Sources of information on yoga include online streaming videos, books, yoga classes (there are free introductory or donation-based classes), Magazines, and Websites/blogs/newsletters.
I don’t claim to be a yoga master by far. However, I do know what I have learned throughout these years and that yoga is available to everyone and anyone who chooses to explore it with an open heart and open mind.
If we keep stay flexible in the guidelines instead of making them inaccessible, VIP only routes to enlightenment, then yoga remains in the spirit of what I think is its real purpose. That is, to serve as a gift to us and the path to liberation, truth and awakening. Whatever your reason is for exploring yoga, I believe you should have the freedom to pursue it in a way that is most compatible for you. As I like to say, life liberty and And Yoga for All.