Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow* (originally published 11/10/13)

It seems as though every time I log onto the Facebooks these days an article or status update is attempting to define what yoga is and is not.  To label certain styles / methods / teachers / trainings / clothes / foods / practices as more or less “yogic”.  Good or bad.  Right or wrong.   Depending on the day and my mood my responses to such posts may vary, but overall I can say that it just bums me out.   So I decided to write about it.  Is that just me trying to convince people to see things my way because I don’t like that they are trying to convince people to see things their way?  I hope not.  But if so, I direct you to the Walt Whitman quote below…

I suppose it’s fair to point out that as a fairly independent spirit I’ve never had a difficult time living with perceived contradictions of identity.  To provide a simple example, I was captain of the cheerleading squad, but I wore my motorcycle jacket over my uniform.  I was never a joiner, or found any identity from belonging to one particular group or another.  When I read Walt Whitman for the first time it was quite validating: Do I contradict myself?  Very well then, I contradict myself.  I am large.  I contain multitudes.

So it makes sense that on the yoga front, I have no sworn allegiances.  I practice many different styles and love them all for different reasons.  I have read various interpretations of the sutras, but ultimately the meanings grow as I evolve through life experiences and shifts in perspective.  My practice has changed through the years, and the practice itself in this fair city alone has expanded tremendously just since I began practicing almost a dozen years ago.  The more people who bring their expression of movement and breath to this thing we call yoga, the more the meaning, the very definition of this powerful practice grows.  After all, without all of our unique experiences bringing the practice to life, it ceases to exist…it’s just ancient history.

I definitely support the process of inquiry that allows us to let what doesn’t serve or resonate to fall away (neti neti), but why do we devalue and attempt to disallow others their experiences?  If you don’t want to eat something, don’t eat it.  If you don’t want to support a particular business, don’t spend money there.  If you don’t want to dress a certain way, wear whatever you do like.  If you have tried a particular studio, experienced a particular teacher or sampled a yogic style that doesn’t resonate, then let it go.  But what happened to the whole, “many paths one truth” idea?

Yoga is infinite, like love.  To try and define it and divide us is a sacrilege, as I see it.   We don’t all have to get along, but a little tolerance and respect would be nice.   When it comes down to it, doesn’t my criticism of another’s choices say more about me than about them anyway?  And along those lines, those of us who read critical articles and FB rants about yoga have the opportunity to recognize that the internet provides many people with an outlet for their frustration/anger/fear, when they don’t have adequate or sufficient structures of support in their lives.   Sending love rather than engaging in arguments via the comments section or bitching about it with friends could be a much better use of energy.  Hard, I know, but for me it’s a worthy (albeit occasionally challenging) endeavor.

I’m not suggesting that lively debates about yoga and its practice are not valuable, but when we undermine our ability to listen over the internal static of our own judgment, such discussions are not particularly productive.  If your way of understanding and interpreting the world truly serves you, then it cannot be devalued because of someone else’s way of being.  And what if, just maybe, someone else has a different perspective that opens you up in a way that you’d never considered – a way that grows you, that allows you to evolve.  Why shut that out?  Ravi Ravindra attributed the following to Krishnamurti at a recent lecture: As long as I am love is not.  If we are building walls in defense of our identity, we cannot be engaged in the oneness that holds the universe together.  Where’s the Namaste, y’all?

So in short, if you spend 15 hours a day levitating over your meditation cushion, I salute you.  If you have an Instagram account thick with Coyote Ugly yoga photos, I salute you.  Whatever you are doing out there to make sense of the body you live in, the ego you dance with, and spirit that lights you up, I appreciate you.  Because this “living” thing, this human experience, is a crazy fucking ride.  And like it or not, we really are all in this together.  Our varied ways of making it through are each beautiful in their own right.  So you show me yours and I’ll show you mine.  Let’s inspire each other with our creativity and imagination and resilience.

*Big love to George Clinton for the quote, one of my all-time faves.  Funkadelic…