July 3, 2014

Is Asana “Real” Yoga? ~ Michelle Marchildon


One night last week a friend told me that I do not practice “real yoga,” because I have too much ego.

Hahahahahahahahaha! Right? Obviously she hasn’t seen me doing yoga! If you want to see a person without any sense of ego, or even a shred of decency, then by all means take a look at my pictures on Instagram including the one where I’m in a bathing suit. Or look at photos of my early yoga practice, available wherever books are sold.

Furthermore, anyone who has children cannot, and I repeat, cannot have an unhealthy ego. Children keep us humble.

To keep my ego in check, my children over the years have told me:

  • Do not wear shorts in public.
  • Do not speak, do not say anything, do not even breathe while my friends are here.
  • People like you should not be allowed to use technology.
  • Do you remember if I could have been adopted?

The reason that I apparently have too much ego is because I practice asana. And asana is no longer “real yoga.”

Something is happening when we no longer consider “asana” to be yoga. But I have heard this before, this allusion to “real yoga” and the idea that it doesn’t include asana.

First of all, “real yoga” seems to be whatever the speaker believes it to be. I think this concept stems from fear. When we try to define what is “real” by claiming that only we do this thing correctly, then that’s a person’s ego speaking. We are trying to protect ourselves from looking stupid.

OMG! Holy turn the tables Batman!

When a teacher states that his way is the only way, or when someone shows you an alignment technique and says it’s the only way to do a pose, here is my advice: Run as fast as you can.

I know this much for sure: There are many paths to enlightenment. You should take all the input you can, and then make your own decisions about what works for your body and your spirit. “Try it on,” is my motto. Remember, you are still in charge of you.

This “real yoga” label is ultimately self-defeating. Is the “yoga” you learned in gym class not “real?” Is Acro-Yoga or Yoga Fit total baloney? Is it yoga to trance dance? Every entry point into the practice is, in my opinion, meaningful. Whatever gets you to your mat, and therefore to an introspective place, is yoga.

Lastly, the idea that asana is not “real yoga,” is quickly taking hold. Three people told me last week that asana is not yoga. But asana is one of the “Eight Limbs” for goodness sakes. It’s in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. It is 2,000 years old! It’s at least as yogic as say, pranayama. It’s all yoga!

My feeling is that asana is under attack because of our current obsession with it. Asana is taking focus away from the other Eight Limbs.

I get that people are upset at the Instagrammers posting selfies. I get that you could be highly offended, especially by my photo in a bathing suit. I understand that yoga is a practice inward, so posting photos as an outward expression of your love is not, entirely, the point.

But still, it’s yoga and it’s real. The pursuit of understanding one’s practice, or just to practice one’s practice, is absolutely yoga. The pursuit of practice as a path to self-knowledge is not “ego.” It’s actually quite humbling. If you are doing right, it never gets easier. It may even get more confusing!

I know that many agree with my friend that asana is not yoga. In fact, I know her teacher, and I’m pretty sure he will agree that I am a naughty yogi mostly because I choose not to study with him.

Yes. I choose. That is not ego my friends. That is confidence. I choose what is right for me, and if someone wants to misinterpret self-confidence and strong boundaries as ego, well then I’m mostly okay with that. I guess to prove them wrong I’ll have to post another photo of myself practicing yoga in a bathing suit. Even if it’s slightly gross, I’ll be a humbled “real” yogi once again.



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Editor: Travis May

Photo: Wiki Commons

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Barbara Jan 14, 2015 8:49am

“At the base of our views are our perceptions…The Buddha advised us not to be fooled by what we perceive. “Where there is perception, there is deception.”…Most of our perceptions are erroneous, and that most of our suffering comes from wrong perceptions. We have to ask ourselves again and again, “Am I sure?” until we see clearly, our wrong perceptions will prevent us from having Right View.
There are right views and there are wrong views. But if we look more deeply, we see that all views are wrong views. No view can ever be the truth. It is just from one point; that is why it is called a “point of view.” If we go to another point, we will see things differently and realize that our first view was not entirely right. Buddhism is not a collection of views. It is a practice to help us eliminate wrong views. The quality of our views can always be improved. From the viewpoint of ultimate reality, Right View is the absence of all views.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching

amphibi1yogini Jul 4, 2014 4:18pm

I do think what people meant by "ego", is that they meant "advanced (in asana) physical practices"–the shazam stuff. The Instagram stuff. Cloak it in an evening gown or a ratty swimsuit or old-school dance leotards, stage it with kids and/or canines/felines in the background, or do it in a park, sandy beach or junkyard–that still is specifically what it is.

That said, now that I practice movement with breath awareness (nondenominational and/or interfaith), instead of what everybody calls "yoga" these days–I do not care so much anymore. Selfie all you want! But I call what I do, what it really is, too …and it is a physical (and aesthetic) workout.

Scott L Jul 4, 2014 1:15pm

I first started doing yoga after an injury that landed me in physical therapy. I quickly discovered some asanas that were the exact same exercises that the PT had me doing … of course the PT didn't use Sanskrit names to refer to them.

It also pretty quickly became clear that the intent and the tone of what the PT had me do … in their office and at home … was different – it had no spiritual overtones or feeling at all. That is of course what would be expected in a PT session.

All things being equal I enjoyed doing the same moves more in a yoga class … and there's no question in my mind that an asana practice *is* yoga.

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Michelle Marchildon

Michelle Berman Marchildon is the Yogi Muse. She’s an award-winning journalist, and the author of Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga. Her second book, Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga, is for yoga teachers who want to inspire their students. Michelle is a columnist for elephant journal and Origin Magazine and a contributor to Teachasana, My Yoga Online and Yoga Journal. She is an E-RYT 500 with Yoga Alliance and teaches in Denver, Co where she is busy raising two boys, two dogs and one husband. You can follow her on Facebook at Michelle Marchildon, The Yogi Muse. You can find her blog and website at www.YogiMuse.com. And you can take her classes on www.yogadownload.com.