July 21, 2016

In Defense of Yoga Girl & Penny the Goat.

A photo posted by Rachel Brathen (@yoga_girl) on

I usually try to ignore any drama and debates about what yoga is or is not on social media.

But after seeing an overwhelming number of angry posts about everything that is wrong with yoga in North America, or everything that yoga is not, I’ve decided it’s time to chime in.

I see a lot of posts saying that photos of advanced asana (yoga poses) and yoga celebrities on social media are giving yoga a bad name. I hear a lot of discussion that practicing in a heated room isn’t yoga, that practicing on a beach in a beautiful location isn’t yoga, or that practicing with a furry little creature is definitely not yoga.

Although I wholeheartedly believe yoga is much, much more than asana in beautiful locations—yoga is that, too.

I know that yoga is an ancient practice, rich in philosophy and its practices are as intricate as the ocean is vast. And as a dedicated student and teacher, I’ve spent countless hours studying the texts, as well as spent time in my own personal practice, both on and off the mat.

But to my understanding, yoga is simply a journey of the self, to the self. A bringing together of all aspects of who we really are. All parts equally welcomed, seen and heard.

And as rich and deep as it is, in my experience, it always seems to boil back down to the same few concepts:

Self observation, non-judgement, self-compassion, and radical inclusivity.

I don’t think social media, yoga celebrities or even the business of yoga is giving yoga a bad name. I think it’s us, the people screaming from the rooftops about what it is and what it’s not.

Instead of wasting our precious time arguing, should we perhaps ask ourselves why there’s so much rage and anger about defining it and being right?

Why does it matter what temperature the room is, if it’s done on land or water, or if our practice is accompanied by a cute little goat? If we’re truly sitting from a place of inclusivity, allowing everything to be exactly as it is, and simply witnessing all that is occurring, are we not practicing yoga? Can the external circumstances define the inner experience of yoga?

In my opinion, I think not.

I have a ton of admiration, curiosity and reverence for the teachings of yoga, but to attempt to define it in such a limited way is like trying to fit an elephant inside a shoe box; it just doesn’t make any sense. To be waving our fists and yelling about what yoga is or is not, to me, is totally missing the point. To blindly follow and accept all parts of the path of yoga is a little naive, too.

There is no one right or wrong definition of yoga—part of it is an art, an inner experience, and it can be purely subjective, just like everything else going on in this life experience.

I believe yoga and meditation are simply practices that bring our sweet selves a little bit closer to home. They’re tools to help us understand our habitual patterns, and provide amazing practice space for the things we’d like to cultivate more of off the mat.

To be starting social media wars over tools of self-inquiry seems like one of the silliest ways we can waste our valuable time here. Perhaps we should argue a little bit less and give up our need to be right a little bit more.

As a collective, let’s shift the focus back to what’s going on on our own mat (with or without a cute little goat, cow or newborn baby), as we plunge a deeper into our own experience and spend a lot less energy thinking about what’s happening on everybody else’s mat. Because really, this world does not need any more hate, ridicule or oppression.

If anyone’s taking the time to care for themselves and explore the mind-body connection, let’s applaud them, not scorn them. As yoga teachers, I think it’s our duty to lead by example and demonstrate inclusivity, instead of scaring new students away by saying if they do this or that, they’re doing yoga wrong.

If practicing yoga in a certain way, in a certain location, with certain non-human creatures brings someone joy…fantastic! The world sure needs more of that.

I’m off to practice yoga with all of my animals, at whatever location I desire, wearing whatever I desire, with any sort of music I’d like.

From the bottom of my heart I truly hope that you feel free to do the same.

Because in the grand scheme of things, it’s all yoga.



Author: Alexa Torontow

Image: Rachel Brathen on Instagram

Editors: Catherine Monkman; Emily Bartran


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