Get off my Limb: Why Asana-only yoga is still yoga.

In my early twenties, I ordered the popular DVD workout series, “Yoga Booty Ballet” out of desperation to get a slammin’ hot yoga bod.  My only exposure to yoga before this was another exercise DVD, but the Yoga Booty Ballet late night infomercial viewed after a evening of binge drinking had me convinced that I needed this in my life.  I can laugh about it now, but I distinctly remember YBB instructors, Gillian and Teigh, talk about setting an intention while holding their hands in anjali mudra. I had wondered what hippie cult I had just bought into.  Although, I wouldn’t say I had a strict religious upbringing, at the time, I didn’t have much exposure to any sort of spirituality outside of a church.  Despite my reservations about the word, “Om,” I continued my YBB practice, and dare I say it, it got me rolling on this path I am on today.  It’s true.  My egotistical, shallow, narcissistic desire to have perky buns started me on a trajectory towards union with my true Self.

I hate to admit it, but YBB got me to open up a bit.  It began this insatiable hunger for all types of yoga.  I eventually started taking studio classes, and later I became a teacher.  I’ve had a pretty solid yoga practice since then, and yet again I’ve had this insatiable hunger to add in a meditation practice.  I recently began taking a “Yoga as Meditation” course, and it has helped me get started.  Let me start off by saying, I didn’t know what I was getting into.  Like many Westerners (and previous YBB fans), I mostly associated yoga with asana, despite the fact that I am a now yoga instructor that is fully aware that 8 Limbs of Yoga exist.

In this course, yoga meditation is defined as:

 the art and science of systematically observing, accepting, understanding, and training each of the levels of our being, such that we may coordinate and integrate those aspects of ourselves, and dwell in the direct experience of the center of consciousness.

Asana (physical postures) is a part of this art and science, but it is only a part.  For many people in the West, asana has become yoga in its entirety.  I would like to think that even my classes had some of the other limbs of yoga discussed, but the more I have studied I realized that to some my yoga practice was not a yoga practice at all.  It was an asana practice.

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with an asana only practice.  Asana appeals to our very American desire for hot looks and physical efficiency; however, when we practice these postures with breath and stillness, we can’t help but to start building awareness.  You start becoming aware of how much you multi-task, how it feels to drink a six-pack of beer in an hour, and how you really feel about working that job you don’t like.  This building of awareness is the seed for all change.

Although some yoga teachers would have us think that our physical practice isn’t an actual yoga practice, I disagree.  There’s a place for yoga-inspired exercise like YBB because there’s people who need some “pre-yoga.”  If my 20 year old self went to Indian ashram, I would have lost my mind (and not in the enlightenment sort of way) simply because the cultural leap was just too far for me at the time (due to my lack of open-mindedness).  If yoga is truly about removing obstacles, then even the practice has to be one that can remove the obstacles to participating in the actual practice.  Yeah, you may need Diamond Dallas Page to serve as your yoga ambassador for a time.  He bridges that gap for some people.  As the student grows and develops awareness, they will begin to search for more substance and less “six-pack abs.”

When I first began my yoga as meditation class, I feared that studying these teachings would invalidate my current practice (and consequently my present career!).  It has not; it actually has enriched and quite irrevocably changed it.  I agree with Sri Pattabhi Jois when he said, “Practice and all is coming.”  Granted, he may not have had white Americans with a desire for “dat booty” in mind, but I take this to mean that the practice (even an asana only practice) will open you to change.  It will turn your awareness inward and remove obstacles.  It’s a practice that meets you where you are no matter who you are.

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