The Yoga “Lifestyle”
So coming into the fall, after my long summer of teaching, I’ve been thinking a lot about the yoga “lifestyle”. There’s this thing that we see portrayed in all of the magazines, and social media feeds: beautiful images that leave you feeling the possibility that you can inhabit them somehow - if maybe you practiced right, ate right, and found the right teacher and/or clothing store. But by now we’re also fairly media-savvy and are aware that whatever reality there may be behind the images, that they don’t speak to the reality of life.
The ancient texts behind the classical eight limbs of Yoga; however, DO speak directly to the realities of life. They point out that every person is born into this world seeking four things: Artha, well being (or wealth); Kama, sensual pleasure; Dharma, right standing with one’s self and community; and Moksha, liberation from the cycles of illusion. As we see it in the media, the “yoga lifestyle” is mostly about artha and kama but our inner self lets us know that is somehow incomplete. We know that we have obligations to our families and community, and if we neglect them we feel the conflict of it. This is the essence of dharma, and the topic deserves a discussion all to itself. But we also know that we wish to be free from all of these things and realize our essential self - which is the central experience of moksha that we taste sometimes on the mat and in our lives.
All of these form the life-pattern of the householder - Grihasta as it is called in Sanskrit. There is an alternate path as well: the life-pattern of the renunciate. In Sanskrit it is called Sannyasa. These two patterns are closely related; in fact, they can also be viewed as stages within one’s growth where you move from childhood through raising a family (grihasta) and go into retirement (sannyasa). The sannyasi’s emphasis has shifted from artha, kama, and dharma towards dharma and moksha. And this is where the insta-yogis and social-media yoga memes miss the mark, a life fully engaged as a householder is very different from that of someone who can spend three hours a day at the gym and two hours a day meditating and all the rest.
We have an interesting example in the life of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who, probably more than any other single person, was responsible for the modern revival of yoga practice - especially those forms which have come into the West. Krishnamacharya was an impressive student in his youth, impressing the local kings of India during the Raj as well as some of the British aristocracy. Eventually he found his way to his own guru, Sri Brahmachari, who lived in the Himalaya mountains, and studied with him there for seven years. Traditionally, students asked the guru what the payment should be at the end of their study. Sri Brahmachari’s answer to Krishnamacharya was famously “take a wife, raise children and be a teacher of Yoga”.
The man who became foremost yoga teacher of the modern era was directed by his own teacher to fully engage with the householder’s dharma. To me that speaks powerfully of the importance of understanding the “normal life” as part of the process of realising one’s true self. This is the process of uncovering our personal dharma and experiencing moksha as freedom to be our self and freedom from being chained to our illusion of the self.
Hatha Yoga is the union of opposites and in this we see how the feelings of struggle are the same as our expression of freedom as we play our game of discovery on the great stage of life. This is also how we can say that the guru is always with us. The true guru lives in our circumstances and speaks to us in every decision we make, every feeling, and every thought that arises from our decisions spreading out like ripples into the world.
So if your yoga doesn’t look like your instagram feed, the cover of Yoga Journal or even your favorite local teacher, that’s really OK. Your yoga looks like YOU.
This document was translated from LATEX by HEVEA.