January 13, 2012

Ugly Yoga: Pierced, Tattooed & Packing Tapas (Heat). ~ Bronwen Beacher

Purple stretchy pants, mantras, meditation, $90 mats, studio passes, kirtan, the Sutras, veganism, healing, certification, clanky aluminum water bottles, cocktail poses, acro-yoga, peace, approval, Yanni, MC Yogi, enlightenment, yoga butt. 

Yoga was imported to the U.S. of A. less than 50 years ago and already we have remade it in our own image a couple of times over. Earlier incarnations of yoga on this side of the planet included a kind of low volume speaking, pseudo  Buddhist (with Judeo-Christian overtones), sacred crystal-clinking, gong gong new age purity which, for good reason, was off-putting to many. I wasn’t there during those days but stereotypes have to come from somewhere, people.

Fast forward to the present and you have studios popping up everywhere, a multi-million dollar clothing industry, DVD’s, blogs and classrooms filled with people aged 12-80 and more tattoos and piercings than all the Pirates of the Caribbean put together.

So what was the missing link that shifted modern yoga from the geeky fringe of our culture to a full-throttle main stream boom? Here are a few guesses for your perusing pleasure.

Yoga Grew a Pair:

Gone are the days when the concept of “pacifism” was bastardized and became an acceptable excuse to avoid confrontation and difficult conversations. Maybe it’s the tattoos but yogi’s now are not only toting the necessary Shakti (force of manifestation) mojo to live life honestly, no matter what you say. They are now running successful yoga businesses which, frankly, you can’t do if you’re a pansy.

Enlightenment was Questioned:

Consider the image of a muscly woman, yoga mat slung across her back, tagging the walls of the ancient halls, adorned with the famous Ganesha (the Hindu god with the elephant head)-on-the-lotus-flower image with the question, “Is this the grand prize? What the hell kind of flower doesn’t sink under the weight of an elephant? No thanks.”

Inauthenticity Need Not Apply:

Maybe it’s the sense of entitlement that comes with a life lived in the first world. Maybe it’s the Indigo children or plain old delusions of grandeur, but many North American yogi’s will not accept guidance from those they feel are not accountable. As a teacher, I have found that the more brutally honest with myself I can be in a class, the more students seem to want to hear what I have to say. Yoga students are looking for the real deal and they can smell it if they’re getting spoon-fed rehearsed crap. 

So where do we go from here? Hold on to your fake tan, it’s time to get ugly. The next revolution in yoga as we have created it is the journey to the deepest darkest places of our being, body, and psyche. If  we want to experience life in joy and freedom we must also be well familiar with our shadow side.

Now don’t shake your head and tell me you’ve already dealt with your dark side through yoga. First of all, it’s a rare few of us who really have and,  secondly, I’m not just talking about how you can find your center when someone flips you off in traffic, or the minute size of your carbon footprint. I’m talking about everything from your childhood “mom” issues to the little flashes of self- judgment you get but ignore in your yoga class at the gym. I’m talking about Ugly Yoga. Ugly Yoga is the practice of using yoga to address the shadow side or disowned aspects of the self.  You neutralize the tension and stress in the body and psyche and you get a free V.I.P. pass to the spirit and soul. That’s right; Ugly Yoga is the yellow brick road that takes you deeper into your own beautiful self.

Try this:

1-During your next yoga practice notice all the places of tension in your body at any given moment. Just notice. Now you have an idea of what you’ll be working with.

2-Notice the stressful thoughts or beliefs that happen right before the body tension appears. This is harder to detect but trust me, the triggering thoughts and beliefs are there!

3-Every time you notice the triggering thought or belief, come up in your yoga practice meet it with a strong lion’s breath exhale. This is where the “ugly” comes in. (I love it when the ugly comes in.) Lion’s breath is a strong exhale where you stick your tongue out as far as it’ll go (lick your chin) which also makes a creepy ninja-hissing sound at the same time. In Ugly Yoga, as opposed to the traditional lion’s breath, the rest of the face is relaxed.

It’s like lifting the lid for a few moments in your day to let some of the steam out. Will you look like a freak doing this kind of breath in a yoga class? Absolutely. But consider the pay-off. A bit of self-consciousness for some honest-to-Krishna peace and freedom in every yoga practice.

Ugly is a good thing. Ugly Yoga is the shiny bullet train that will take you straight to the mystery of yourself. Though it is seemingly against what traditional  yoga has  dictated, with a little practice the truth becomes clear. Ugly is an essential part of the great big beautiful.

Bronwen Beacher – Having completed teacher trainings with both Ana Forrest and D’ana Baptiste, Bronwen has found that her expertise in yoga revolves around introducing students to their own “shadow side.” So far this has involved two main elements. 1)Using yoga as a means to teach students to heal themselves physically and emotionally 2)Her innate ability to truly piss people off.   You can follow her on her blog here.

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