Is Asana “Real” Yoga? ~ Michelle Marchildon

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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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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.

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anonymous 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

anonymous 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.

anonymous 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.

anonymous Jul 4, 2014 10:44am

It is troubling to me when people use differences to create a separation with others. I believe our differences should be celebrated and embraced. Hemingway said it best, 'There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.'
Love to all
🙂

anonymous Jul 4, 2014 9:21am

What a coincidence. My reading last night from B.K.S. Iyengar's Light On Life: "Often people think that sitting quietly is meditation. This is a misunderstanding. True meditation leads us to wisdom (jnana) and awareness (prajna), and this specifically helps us in understanding that we are more than our ego. For this one needs the preparations of the postures and the breathing, the withdrawal of the senses and concentration. This process of relaxing the brain is achieved through asana…In asana our consciousness spreads throughout the body, eventually diffusing in every cell, creating a complete awareness….Asana and pranayama are the apprenticeship to that transcendence of duality. Not only do they prepare our bodies, spine, and breath for the challenge of inner serenity, but Patanjali specifically said that asana teaches us to transend duality, that is hot and cold, honor and dishonor, wealth and poverty, loss and gain…My asana is meditative, and my practice of pranayama is devotional."

I think he knows what he's talking about….so I'm off to my asana practice. Great essay.

anonymous Jul 4, 2014 1:07am

This article is a good start. I often wonder if the "asana isn't yoga" bunch have ever really, fully experienced asana. Once you've experienced what moving a certain way can do to your mind and emotions you don't really care what people who feel threatened by the fact yoga is more than just lectures about how to behave think.

I don't think we do emphasise asana at the expense of the other limbs, I think we take what is unique to yoga and similar disciplines – approaching the mind through the body – from the experts in those disciplines and then go to experts in other disciplines for what they have to offer. If I want sermons, or philosophy lectures, I'll go to some one qualified to give them. I've yet to meet any one in the "ooh, ooh, what about the other seven limbs" brigade who was remotely qualified for that in any way.

anonymous Jul 3, 2014 5:03pm

They only say that because they don't want to do any physical "work"! No Yoga is not "posturing" but what are they doing? One thing I would say, western teachers should bear in mind how deeply impacted their students are by the environment in "The West" now-a-days, that they are often almost totally "pranically unfit" and that it is therefore necessary to work on heart-rate and breathing with basic aerobic and anaerobic excercise with their students as-well (I play Frisbee games, hacky-sac all-sorts).

    anonymous Jul 4, 2014 1:01am

    I agree that people want something for nothing out of yoga and attack those of us willing to accept the "effort" part of "effortless effort" rather than face the fact they're not going to get it. I don't agree this anything to do with "The West"; there are plenty of "pranically unfit" people in India

    anonymous Jul 4, 2014 6:20am

    That has occurred to me as well, William.