When I first got serious about yoga (read: asana), I loved the super-sweaty classes with the mega-impossible pretzel-y asanas and the many chaturanga dandasanas. I still do. Sometimes. But there has to be a reason for them. Not just a zillion senseless chaturangas.
I don't think I had a very strong idea of what a good teacher meant when I first started going to class regularly. I just liked the teachers who made us sweat a lot and played good music in class, meaning Jimi Hendrix, Patti Smith and Nirvana and none of that horrible and embarrassing kirtan shit (I still don't like most of it).
Then slowly I started to understand a few things. Some teachers helped me feel more, understand the shapes, the asanas on a different level. Through verbal and physical guidance. Or by sequencing in such a way that the hard work would lead me somewhere. Wow! Surprise! I had found myself in an asana I had deemed out of reach. Impossible. And just like that, just like magic, I would embody it while still breathing deeply and (at least that's what it felt like) with a little mysterious smile on my lips. Some teachers had the ability to stitch a path that would take me deeper into myself. And, on rare occasions, I would go even further, I would go deep into myself only to find that I was dissolving and I would be beyond. I guess what these teachers were able to do, was channeling yoga in a way that I could touch it, or be touched by it, if only for a second.
Now that I am a teacher, these are the kind of experiences I would like my students to have. I want to take them on a journey. First, I want to take them on a journey into themselves, and from there, further, catching a glimpse of --- It's hard to know what to call it -- Light. The Eternal. Divine. The Real real. Sometimes the path is steep and rocky. Full of snakes and poison ivy. Sometimes the path may be boring because everything and everywhere looks the same. Sometimes it may be frightening or ugly. At times you may think you know where you are going, and at other times you may feel lost and confused. Sometimes the trail may veer off, and you'll end up at a fountain. Or in front of a mirror. Or at a mirage.
The tools I have at my disposal are: my voice and my words, my hands (and other parts of my body), my knowledge, my experience. I also use music to craft an interesting journey. I may use lighting and scent too.
Anyone who starts practicing asana regularly will notice change in their bodies. They will become more supple, muscles will start to bulge under the skin. Hopefully pain and aches will diminish (but if practicing un-safely, the effect could sadly be the opposite, resulting in lower back pain, wonky knees, wrist pain etc). This change is exciting and empowering. But ultimately the practice isn't about sculpting the body, looking good naked or being able to stand on the head. It's about liberation. It's about ending suffering.
Yoga has gone from being a difficult path for the chosen few, to being a weird counter-culture activity to being mainstream, and the huge multi-million industry that it is today. Venture-capitalists swarming like flies around a sugar-cube, using all THEIR creepy tools: money, algorithms, market analysis, advertising agencies for maximum profit. And as a result the popular yoga archetype has gotten very tangled up with the capitalist idea of productivity. Of making humans as productive as robots. Many corporations offer yoga to their employees. But many of them do so not out of the goodness in their black hearts (although of course some corporations are also nice work places that truly care about the well-being of their employees), it is because they've heard it could make the slaves work better if they get to stretch and relax a bit in between the long and demanding shifts. Yoga has also gotten very mixed up with body culture, which in turn is fueled by the same capitalist/consumerist culture shit that wants to make women (largely, but also men) feel bad about themselves in increasingly novel ways (anal bleaching anyone? Vaginal rejuvenation surgery?!?) to keep on selling us the products they keep on inventing that nobody truly needs. Think about how little of all the stuff we own we really need ...
So it's not surprising that all over instagram, and in the mostly shiteous yoga publications out there, but also in many popular lineages of yoga (even those who claim to be spiritual), there is an underlying, and very creepy, not to mention totally fake, implication that the more you can pretzel your body (and looking good while doing it) the closer to enlightenment and liberation you are.
Believe me, I do understand the pure magic of a good sweaty workout. It can shake you out of a bad state of mind. It releases chemicals and hormones that help battle depression and anxiety, that release stress and makes you sleep well at night. I love trying new strange poses and I love watching a student finally being able to do an asana that she may have been struggling with for years. It is sweet, but it has little to do with the aim of yoga. Which is freedom. Transcendence. An evolution of consciousness. You can take little steps towards it through asana practice, but the practice needs to be about paying attention, to the breath, to the body, to the present moment. It shouldn't be about reaching the goal of this or that asana. Many asanas, if we talk about optimal health and not maximum performance, aren't good or even attainable for every body. There are bone structures and pelvic shapes that may prevent a student from ever doing the shit Kino McGregor does, no matter how much they practice.
Asana practice should be about increasing awareness. If you can challenge yourself and maybe even get a good workout to lift the mood in the process, that's awesome. I want to give you that. But just because you can do Eka pada koundinyasana and do a jump-through from handstand doesn't mean you are a better or happier person.
Let's stop the madness! Let's reclaim yoga as a force against the machine!!! Not as a tool for making women feel bad about their bodies. Or for selling leggings or 'Spiritual Gangster' yoga t-shirts (barf!).