Everything in life contracts and expands, much like our inhale and exhale.
Living in the West we are usually striving to live in the expansion: more money, bigger homes, super-sized menus, extra large coffees. Even within the yoga world we often see an attitude of: “I am more spiritual than you and take my practice more seriously because: I have 10 pairs of Lululemon pants, a Manduka mat, drive a Prius, and have a Lakshmi tattoo on my back.”
I like to think of this as the material-spiritual girl or boy. Let’s face it, the yoga lifestyle is hot! We look pretty good from the physical practice, and we can keep calm under stressful situations in the office, as we practice our ujjayi breath. We go on yoga vacations that allow us to travel the world, and we are able to manifest powerfully.
I founded a yoga school and have lived, worked and breathed yoga literally 24 hours a day, for the past six years since deciding to make the leap from powerful obsession to full time career. However in many ways, the business has kept me living my yoga more so, I believe, than if I was just practicing.
I have been able to witness service in action, beyond the products and external benefits, and it is the core of the practice.
We have many yoga products in our school’s boutique that are necessary for us to sell to be a sustainable business. It is my dharma, to teach what the truth of yoga really is.
Yoga has gone into a bit of a contraction with the more-yoga-stuff lifestyle approach. The industry is bringing in more money. According to a poll conducted by Yoga Journal in 2008, yoga had declined in practitioners from 16.5 million to 15.8 million in four years. At the same time classes and products had doubled from 2.95 billion to 5.7 billion.
Within this contraction are the recent attacks on yoga’s integrity, as seen in the articles published by New York Times Online that our community has become so familiar with. We are in the exhale phase, which is all about letting go so we can receive the benefits of the next wave, the next cycle of yoga.
Are you a material-spiritual girl or boy?
You don’t have to be interested in reciting the Bhagavad Gita every day before breakfast but ask yourself, how can I put down my gear for a moment and get inspired in a new way?
Many yogis are already doing this. My first teacher, Nikki Myers, is doing this with her Yoga For 12-Steps program. The program combines yoga with addiction counseling, and was inspired by the Off The Mat, Into The World activism started by Seane Corn.
Shiva Rea, my other teacher, has launched her energy activism campaign for a greener future. There are many more groups out there bringing yoga to people who would never be able to afford practicing at a school like I own.
I am not saying that we need to live the live of Saint Francis of Assisi, although most of us can agree he was pretty rad.
Maybe one day a week we could leave our yoga mats rolled up and reach out to make a difference. As a yoga school owner, I have started a foundation for teaching yoga to people with cancer and chronic illness, inspired by Jnani Chapman’s yoga therapy training.
You could volunteer or raise money for a local charity that is important to you. If you are a teacher doing trainings, have karma yoga (service in action) as part of the requirements for certification.
There are many ways for us to embrace yoga. Sometimes it can be just reaching out and offering someone a hand, some humor or a hug. This is the shortcut to opening the heart.
We don’t always need one more back-bend.
Editor: Jennifer Cusano & Brianna Bemel