Yoga has become commercialized, glamourized and sexualized in mainstream media.
Sex sells, and the depiction of yoga hasn’t been immune to this, which has frustrated me at times because yoga practice has been integral to my life ever since I was young. To have my life-path trivialized and debased to just a sexy way to workout left me feeling confused and demoralized.
Never have I felt so detached from the media’s depiction of yoga than when I became a mother.
As any new mother can tell you, those early days of sleepless nights, feeding and nappy changing can leave you feeling far from glamorous or sexy.
I wasn’t flexing in my bikini on any exotic beach, I was rolling around the carpet in my pajamas covered in baby puke and snot and playing with squeaky toys. Yet it was here that I gained insight into how to manage my conflicted feelings toward the representation of yoga in the media.
“That’s Not My Kitten” is a well-known, totally legitimate scripture that was read to me by my fully literate baby, translated probably from Sanskrit into English.
This sacred text describes a journey of exploration and discovery. Through process of elimination, various kittens’ qualities are examined and not found to belong to the owner, until finally the right kitten is found.
I mean, the subtext is clear; it’s the dualistic Sāmkhya philosophy. It’s the archetypal journey of Jiva (the living being) as he navigates around the universe of the intermingling between Purusha (consciousness) and Prakriti (matter).
Jiva (the living being) is played by the owner of the kitten, who explores the various manifestations of purusha-prakriti (creation) which is represented by the different kittens. Various gunas (qualities) arise from creation and the gunas (qualities) are represented by different features that the false kitten’s display—a shiny bell, a squashy nose, a fluffy belly.
The kitten owner exclaims, “That’s not my Kitten, his bell is too shiny, or his nose is too squashy or her belly is too fluffy!” when he comes across the various kittens with various features. This is a representation of Jiva (the living being) using his buddhi (intellect) and ahankara (ego consciousness) to decipher the real and the unreal amidst the web of maya (illusions).
The various false idols are rejected before the Kitten owner, Jiva is reunited with the true kitten. A reunion which leads to kaivalya (liberation) from the bondage of purusha and prakriti.
“That’s Not My Kitten” sheds light on how we are all wanderers who are trying to make sense of this world through discerning the real from the unreal. This can be applied to the context of defining what is yoga.
Throughout history, there has never been any one consensus regarding the origin and definition of yoga, or what constitutes a yogi. Yoga is an ever-evolving diverse tradition that spans across continents and cultures.
The yogic teachings don’t lend themselves to being pinned down to any one place or time, and so become ever-relevant and timeless. Therefore the appropriation of yoga is not only nonsensical, it is impossible, despite the attempts by many, which means that there is no definitive yoga but many manifestations of it.
Therefore can I, or anyone for that matter, really claim my definition and understanding of yoga to be better than anyone else’s?
I think not.
So, if you find yourself disillusioned by the depiction of yoga, go find your kitten! As a Jiva, we can be discerning, free ourselves from the shackles of maya and attain kaivalya.
If we actually use the tools and techniques presented within yoga, we can remain steadfast amidst the onslaught of depictions of yoga that do not resonate with us. We change things from the inside-out. Patanjali’s yoga sutras for example, provide insights in how to hone our attention, maintain focus, self-reflect, trust our heart, practice equanimity and sensory withdrawal. These are all skills that make us unshakeable.
So real peace becomes ours, and no one else’s representation of yoga can take that away. Each of us can rest assured knowing that they are not representing “my yoga.”
“That’s Not my Yoga,” “that’s Not my Yoga,” “that’s Not my Yoga,” until I find it…“That’s My Yoga!”
Author: Tammy Stefani Mittell
Images: Author’s Own; Adapted by author from Fiona Watt’s book cover
Editors: Emily Bartran; Catherine Monkman