Apparently there is a new phenomenon in the world of yoga: designer yoga. Last month it was John Friend’s Anusara Yoga in the New York Times Magazine, the biggest yoga story by a mainstream publication. Ever. Now suddenly there is a new contender: Jois Yoga. As in Pattabhi Jois of Ashtanga Yoga fame. The new brand of yoga seems to be characterized by a clothing line, as this is the first section we come to on the new website. And this makes sense, as we are informed that the founder was a fashion model before designing a new style of yoga.
So I’m a bit confused. When I studied Ashtanga with Pattabhi Jois and Sharath and Richard Freeman, I learned that this system is all about practice: 99%practice, 1% theory. I don’t remember the bit about marketing. I must have been absent that day. Suddenly Yoga Brand-Name Wars are the focus of much “theorizing” and my guess is that it’s become more than the recommended 1%. This phenomena comes just after the era of the Teaching Authorization Wars when Ashtanga teachers were asked to re-think their commitment to the system and its regulations. And what I’d like to know is: what does any of this have to do with practice?
When I get on my mat each day I focus on breath, movement, awareness of mind and body. I try to let go of the distractions for the moment and tune in to the spacious mindstream of primordial purity. I’m digesting yesterday’s experience and opening to the new day’s adventures. I’m settling and centering and listening for any wisdom that may reveal itself. And afterward, I feel more connected: to myself, to others. I feel more available to life.
Please tell me: how will a new brand-name and fashion line and growing numbers of fans on facebook augment my experience? How is this related to yoga?
Ok, I admit it. I do not practice yoga naked. Each day before stepping onto the mat, I confess, I (gasp!) dress myself. I contribute to the yoga fashion industry, minimally, but it’s true. Clothing is useful for certain activities. But what I wear when I practice has nothing to do with how I practice. What is becoming apparent to me with the Yoga Brand-Name Wars is that somewhere, somehow, we are missing the point.
Yoga is a 5000 year old tradition (give or take a few centuries) designed to lead us out samsara: a menu of practices to help us transcend our attachment to the phenomena of this worldly life, enabling us to taste happiness. I can assure you that if you practice regularly, and authentically, your relationship to samsara, the endless wheel of conditioned existence that we call life, will change. But there is no fooling Mother Nature. The practice only works if you are being honest with yourself. If you use the practice for self enhancement or strive only for worldly fruits, then, in my mind, it is no longer yoga practice.
Yoga is the dialogue between me and my guru, both the outer guru, who is now but a memory after passing last year, and the inner guru, which is the voice of my heart. Most days it’s just me and my inner guru on the mat.
And my inner heart guru is somewhat disillusioned. Recently I’ve seen deep friendships broken over greed and grasping, teachers striving for fame and cutting ties with one’s lineage. Lineage in the tantric tradition is the source. The roots. And yoga is a tantric tradition. Without lineage, a practice is some person’s creation, a hybrid, and this sacrifices the integrity of the situation because suddenly there is someone who demands recognition for their creation. So the lineage must be kept pure if we are to avoid falling into the trap of striving for recognition.
So where does this leave us practitioners of Ashtanga yoga? A few years ago I actually found myself doubting the Ashtanga system. Because (I now realize) the system was losing its roots. But I now know more strongly than ever that Ashtanga is my home. My root practice. Not because of any media stunts or political standing, not because I want to honor my guru’s name or take sides, but because every day practice of the 8 limbs of yoga, with particular emphasis on breath, asana, bandha and dristi, feeds and informs my life. And because if nothing else, it helps to keep me honest with myself.