My Theme: Yoga. For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200. As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.
Western yoga, as you can probably imagine, is so far removed from the traditions of yoga practiced in India that they don't even call what we do yoga. For them, yoga is a series of deeply spiritual practices designed to align one with the universal energy that flows through all living beings. It involves intense meditation, chanting, lifestyle disciplines and (often) no asana (poses) whatsoever.
It's been around, in some form, for around 7,000 years over there. We didn't pay any attention to it here in the US until the mid 19th century and there was no one here teaching it until the 1890's. Early on, the spiritual practices and disciplines of the practice were taught but as the esoteric views of the late 19th century faded from popularity it faded as well. It wasn't until the 1960's that yoga began to be seen again in the US.
The rash of yoga that's we've seen in recent decades reflects a shift of perspective as to what yoga is- namely exercise. When I tell people that I'm studying to be a yoga teacher they comment on my assumed physical fitness, flexibility and other physical attributes. No one says "Wow, you must be a very spiritual person" (even though that's why I do it and want to teach it.)
I say this without any intent of soapboxing (though it may sound that way): yoga was not designed to be exercise. Calling yoga exercise, exclusively, is like calling music noise. Could you technically characterize it that way? Sure. Is that why people make it? NO.
Don't get me wrong, I think it's fantastic that yoga has experienced a re-popularization over here in the West and the incredible health benefits of the practice are never going to be anything less than extraordinary. But to view it simply as a form of exercise is to throw away some of the greatest gifts that mankind has known.
Thankfully, I am not the only person who feels this way. In fact, I would argue that most people who stick with yoga and make significant lifestyle changes associated with it do it for spiritual purposes. People who are looking for the next great exercise routine will likely do it for a while, never even scratch the surface of the deep spirituality contained within, and then drop it in favor of the next fad to come along. Which, for them, is fine- health benefits, basic introduction to some really helpful concepts and whatnot are still great things to be exposed to.
But for me, it's so much more than that and I will always respect, revere and honor it as the life-changing process I have found it to be.