From Shmoga Back to Yoga
I have some good news and I have some bad news. I’ll start with the bad news. There has been an attempt to hijack and kidnap yoga from us. And now the good news, you can take it back. Many practitioners call themselves yogis or yoginis but they have taken the sacred practice of yoga and changed it to an inaccessible and inauthentic practice. They are who I call Shmogis(ginis), or phony yogis! Many of these Shmogis have tried to take yoga away from the masses by spreading myths about the practice and I want us to take yoga back.
Yoga is over 4,000 years old and practiced by men, women and children all over the world. Yoga is the yoking or weaving together of mind, body and spirit. So why would it suddenly be subject to rigid formulations, mysterious rituals or incredible physical feats?
Yoga encompasses many aspects including physical postures, study of sacred philosophies, mindfulness, discipline, and meditation, acknowledging wholeness, to name a few.I personally believe that there are benefits to the suggested general guidelines and paths to yoga. But as you will see below, some of these have morphed into myths that seem to keep yoga exclusive only to those who follow very specific paths and keep all other seekers away. We must ask, why do some insist on portraying yoga as something to be done by the young, physically beautiful, fit and acrobatic?
How I discovered Yoga and You Can Too
Back in 2000, I was grieving the sudden death of my mother from a rare cancer, adjusting to moving across the country from New York to San Francisco. During that time, I had no permanent job or resources, and was dealing with other crises that lead to my physical, emotional and spiritual breakdown. I decided to try yoga as a stress management strategy. I practiced alone in my apartment because I didn’t have the money to go to a studio and didn’t want to expose my broken self to others.Slowly I realized and discovered that yoga was much more than physical poses.
At a certain point I became confused because I didn’t understand its philosophical or spiritual components very well. I learned through watching videos, reading books, and other literature the different ways to practice that would work for me. I’m pretty stubborn so I decided to do my own practice and customize it to fit my physical and financial limitations. It’s been more than a decade and I still consider myself to be in the beginning phases of my yoga exploration as an integral part of my life.I have also learned that yoga as practiced in the western world has taken in few meandering turns away from TRUTH.
I want to prevent others from feeling the discouragement I felt at times by exposing the myths and propaganda perpetrated by the shmogis and industries that have over-business-fied yoga. Many well meaning practitioners earnestly believe these myths and perpetuate them further exacerbating the issue. You may have completely different reasons and desires to explore yoga and every one’s path is individual. But if any of the myths below dissuaded you in the past, perhaps you can now return to what is your rightful place in the world of yoga.
Myths That Discourage the General Population From Practicing Yoga
- Paying for Yoga–I believe in energy exchange and compensation for any goods and services. But you should be able to practice yoga even if you can’t afford it. There are some studios that allow you to pay what you can. As long as you can give something with honor and within your means you can have access to their yoga studio. This arrangement obviously works better than paying sky high prices. It is also possible to be a solitary practitioner. You can practice by yourself using various resources that are available and some are listed below. When your circumstances change you can then choose to try a studio that charges
- Elusive and mysterious practices-Some individuals or groups try to cloak yoga in mystery rituals and jargon and that frightens many seekers away. Yoga brings so many benefits, physical, emotional and spiritual and like anything with so many opportunities, it should be open to anyone at any level. Yoga can be as simple as finding a place to sit for 5 minutes a day to be still or as complex you wish. The point is YOU choose not others.
- You have to be thin, super flexible and sinewy-Yoga can be done by anyone of any age, size and physical condition. Yoga is more than just physical poses. So even when doing certain hand gestures called mudras, or simple breathing exercises, you are in essence doing yoga.
- Convincing you to do yoga only ONE specific way-There are many types of postures, breathing techniques, meditation levels, philosophical depths that can be explored in yoga. But yoga is about life and it’s all in the balancing, yoking and going at your own pace. Different yogic practices today emphasize different things. Some focus on reaching enlightenment, yoga another on mastering control over one’s mind and body, others on loving kindness, and various other focuses. So it is best to find what needs balancing in your life hence which type of yoga to begin exploring.
- Insisting group yoga is superior to solitary practice— Why is group yoga emphasized? Be in a group if you so choose to but not because you think it is absolutely necessary or superior to practicing on your own. Yes it is imperative to know how to do certain poses correctly and to understand the philosophy and history. Many people who practice yoga in groups do indeed feel it is useful, helpful and a very positive. However doing group yoga is a way not the only way to practice yoga.
- Gender-izing yoga-An illusion has been created that yoga practice is mostly for women. By featuring mostly woman in the media, magazines, and advertising, this myth is perpetuated. Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years by men, women and children of all ages. Sadly many men shy away from yoga feeling silly for even contemplating practicing it. Also men may fear feeling out of place going to classes which are female dominated. But that is not fair to anyone. Yoga is for all and all can benefit from it
- Over-commercializing-Just one look at any yoga related material will quickly take the searcher to a world where s/he is drowned in specialty advertisement of yoga-specific clothing, jewelry, fancy props, philosophies, clubs, travel spots, retreats and events. But this unnecessarily monetizes a sacred practice. Many of these “things”, devices and such do have their benefits and place but the cost and placement is indeed suspect.
- Insisting yoga be done with a guru-A guru is someone that has undergone the right of passage, so to speak, in a particular path in life. Someone who has ascended to a place of wisdom and hence the ability to lead others who are inexperienced and students into the same passage of growth and learning. But is it an absolute necessity? Likely not. Having a guru is very personal and only you will know if and when you want one.
- Exotic retreats that are treated as requirements-Retreats are lovely and a nice way to get centered, relaxed, and rejuvenated. It is not a requirement for finding spiritual enlightenment. Hence it is not a fair or honest way to sell a very high priced luxury travel plan,
- Quoting fancy pose names and philosophies in Sanskrit-Sometimes some people use fancy names, terms and philosophies to intimidate the average person from practicing yoga and diving deeper into its philosophies. Thanks to technology, the good old fashion library or book store you can translate most terms yourself. Even pronunciation has become a big hoopla. Just check with the original Sanskrit when possible or call it by its translated name. For example don’t worry of saying Tadasana, just remember it is also called Mountain Pose. With time it all comes together like any other language.
- Featuring advanced poses as the ideal to attain to be a true practitioner-The truth is that one has to move within the limits of ones own body. Some believe, and I agree, in the idea that it is healthy to push ones self beyond what we believe to be our imitations. As long as we are careful and listen to what our body wants and needs, you will be living yoga.