I’ve been pondering this question since I got back from my recent annual “pilgrimage” to Sydney, where I got to hang out with many similar souls – people excited by all that is yoga; body, mind and spiritual health – and, of course, my teacher, modern-day “Guruji”, Simon Borg-Olivier. It’s fair to say that Simon has one of the most important scientific brains on the planet. Chances are, most physios these days – including the ones you might visit now and then – have studied material he has written and presented, not just for our workshop, but for Physiotherapy courses at Universities and conference programs around the world. With three degrees – including Physio and Genetic Science (micro biology), this is someone who doesn’t just check out the research, he is often actively involved in it. But, in the world of physical health, are we ready to see things differently? The reply when somebody asked how it would be possible to teach some of what was presented was that the material wasn’t really for other people. It’s possible that we have at least another 10 or 20 years before the pendulum might start to swing, so right now, “this is just for you. …”
I left Sydney a little flat actually, because the more you learn, the less you realise you actually know. It’s why those with superior levels of experience combined with years of on-going study, would rarely describe themselves as “experts” (“Ooops, I suddenly realise I know nothing!”). Generally, every time I attend one of these workshops, I come away inspired and ready to share, but this time, it cemented my thoughts of how difficult it is to actually teach and practise yoga for what it is in our society, which has diminished a massive philosophy and lifestyle discipline more akin to Buddhism than Pilates and turned it into nothing more than a fitness program for the body obsessed. Unless and until we can deal with our generally egoic natures, real “yoga” is unattainable. All of us tend to expect some “thing” from whatever it is we do. Think about it. Even acts of kindness are usually about making OURSELVES feel good (if we are totally honest). When it comes to the majority of our physical activities or pursuits, we generally have set goals in mind. It could be a strong and athletic body, a desire to be thinner or more muscle-bound. We may decide we want to be fitter or need the glory of winning and achieving. Even seemingly benign desires such as wanting to feel better or ease our aching back still come back to wanting and hoping for a particular outcome. And wanting some “thing” totally negates actual “yoga”. Yes. Even so-called Yoga Therapy isn’t yoga – even if it’s useful on a physical level.
When bodies are injured in “yoga” classes these days, it usually relates to ego creeping in on the side of the practitioner and/or lack of training and ego on the side of many modern yoga teachers, many of whom are young, have had barely any training and have an inadequate understanding of people as well as anatomy. Some will be upset with me for stating this of course, but how is it that a group of Westerners were able to take it upon themselves and decide that a 3000 year old ancient discipline required only 200 hours of study before trainees were qualified to teach to others? How has this been deemed possible or even safe when things like psych and physio degrees take 4-5 years of full time study? Certainly, yoga teacher training never used to be this way and it would have taken five years or so from start to finish. Sadly of course, it’s not just yoga since these days, there are all kinds of ubiquitous courses available that are far more about commerce than actually providing a graduating student with proper skills and knowledge. With regards to yoga though, it makes me feel deflated that such an incredible and worthwhile lifestyle philosophy has been so dumbed down, misunderstood and misinterpreted. Yes, for most of us, ego is ever present, whether we realise it or not… But let me make it very clear; there’s no such thing as a yoga practise that hurts or injures, or that you “think” you cannot “do” (since you are the one in charge of that ego/doppelgänger…)
Simply put, yoga is.
We find yoga when we let go of desire and just practise for no particular reason. Certainly, one day we might discover that there have been many useful side effects from our continued, attachment-free practise (such as, freedom from pain, increased range of movement, body awareness, better health and fitness etc) but in the scheme of yoga, those outcomes are neither here nor there.
Question: Are our lives of attachment and desire making us happier and healthier? I think it’s definitely something to ponder.