“The yoga scene has regressed so much in L.A.,” one of my good friends, a fellow yoga teacher from Venice Beach, explains as we eat veggie ramen on Melrose St in Hollywood. I’ve come to teach for the weekend at the new Wanderlust Studio.
“It’s become so much about fitness and doesn’t have much soul anymore. It’s so weird because most people go the opposite way; they get into yoga for fitness first and then discover the deeper aspects later.”
She’s extremely plugged into the yoga scene here so I trust her opinion. I hear the concern in her voice.
“It’s not just L.A.,” I reply. “I’m seeing this trend everywhere else too.”
It’s one I am obsessed with and it’s time to address this trend. In our Instagram crazed world the sweat factor and the number of contortions are increasing in yoga classes but are we really on the right path? I cant help but throw in my two cents.
I recently taught my last Wednesday class at Pleasure Point Yoga in Santa Cruz. It was ironic because after a long time as a traveling yoga teacher, I wanted to ground and create local community but circumstances wouldn’t allow this.
One student in particular was teary and I was trying to hold it together. She had just discovered yoga a few months back and in the classes led by my wife Insiya and I something opened. I remember how after her first class with me she commented about how confused she was about the purpose of yoga: Was it exercise or spiritual? She had basic questions about even how to breathe fully and with awareness.
I see this a lot in yoga classes: people have lost the connection to not just their bodies but to their feelings as well.
In an age when yoga seems to be losing much of its soul and becoming more and more about fitness, I am constantly reminding myself and the teachers in our school that the ultimate purpose of what we do is to reconnect people back to their heart’s wisdom. The workout and the relaxation are the byproducts.
I often wonder why the majority of us are so comfortable living from our heads and not from our hearts? Unplugging from our hearts starts early. We learn how to compartmentalize our behavior. “Nothing personal, just business,” “Take care of number one,” “Don’t talk to strangers,” or “It’s not my problem.” These are all programs we have downloaded into our collective psyche.
This has led to what I consider the biggest complex of our time: Isolation. To paraphrase Mother Teresa, the problem with humans is that “we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
I was explaining these ideas to a class at a conference in Hong Kong several years ago. “Why are we so comfortable living with our shields up?” I asked. A British lady in the group explained that she just doesn’t want to let people in. It would be draining.
We fear that we will lose control. We fear of being walked all over. Of being vulnerable and weak. We fear that once the barrier around the heart comes down, we will never again know how to put it up. We fear the negative judgment of others so we communicate only in the safe zone of the rational mind. Putting up our emotional guard becomes a cultural norm.
We think we can avoid energy exchange with others but this is a fallacy. I believe that there is always an energetic exchange between people. Even when we try and communicate to each in the safety of our minds, our hearts are speaking the vibrational language of energy. What I have come to realize is that even in the attempt to not to share energy, we are sharing the “energy of not sharing!” We are sharing the energy of being closed off.
Nobody suffers more than our own selves when we are closed down.
We own a townhouse on the stormy West Coast of Vancouver Island. It rains an incredible 14 feet a year there. To protect the building, the builders decided to wrap it in an extra layer of vapor barrier. No water was getting in that building.
But there were factors not accounted for in this protective strategy. The average family gives off 4-6 liters of water per night just from perspiration. When you add in water from from showers and cooking that adds up to a lot of moisture coming from the inside of the house.
Where does that water go? Well, it wants to go out but because of its protective vapor barrier, it stays inside inside of the walls. The building started to rot from the inside out. The protective layers were not letting the building breathe which caused damage that had to be repaired.
Like buildings with too many layers of vapor barrier, when our hearts close, we become stagnant. By not letting in, we are not letting out. We isolate ourselves from others instead of embracing one another.
I find that most people don’t realize how guarded they are until something opens them up like a well-led yoga class. This could happen if teachers have the skill and intention to tune us into the energetic field between us.
On NPR’s On Being, Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman spoke about the topic of “loving your enemy.” The Buddhists have a brilliant incremental way of moving toward loving your enemy. There are four stages; hatred, not hatred, like and love. It’s way easier to move from hatred to not-hatred than it is to love your enemy. In the same way, we need baby steps toward living from the energy of being closed off, to an open-heart.
I’ve started every Blissology class I’ve ever taught with hugs, we close in a “circle of light” where we feel power of the energy that binds us, we do massage trains, we even occasionally find ourselves in a puppy pile savasana. Every time we do these things, it feels weird only for the first 20 seconds or so. Then the only thing that feels weird is that we don’t cultivate more spaces of deep, authentic energetic exchange from our deepest heart.
When I was a younger teacher I used to judge my yoga classes by how much people sweat.
Now, my litmus test is crystal clear. It is “how much the barriers between all hearts in the room break down?” Without losing our grounding in peace, how much could we feel the collective pain and challenge we are all face daily in our lives. Even if it’s just a little more, are we more tender, more embodied and more present to each other?
I love a good sweat but we have to keep the heart and the connection in yoga.
Author: Eoin Finn
Editor: Katarina Tavčar