Many centuries ago the practice of yoga was first documented. Ancient yogis moved the body into posture after posture, designed to purify the physical body and prepare it for the sacred practice of spiritual unity, meditation. The body was treated as the temple that housed the soul. It was to be cared for with kindness and reverence, kept clean and healthy in order to provide an ideal vehicle for the spirit's journey. Yoga teaches us of the three bodies man possesses: The first body is physical and, having sprung from the earth, returns to the earth after death. The second body, or subtle body, is where emotion, intellect, thought and senses originate. The subtle body governs the physical, and when the subtle body is out of sorts, it shows up in the physical. Above these two bodies resides the casual or seed body. It is here we find enlightenment, rising above the material world and finding spiritual unity within ourselves. Here, yoga as union becomes the whole truth.
Yoga's purpose has always been finding the state of union between physical, mental and spiritual, a place where the self transcends the physical into a higher realm of consciousness. It is through this integration that the yogi finds a deeper connection, a peaceful existence and encounters the true nature of self. People who find yoga are usually on this path, seeking to leave behind that which is trivial and really matters nothing to self. Yogis find the present moment as the one true reality and abide by that knowledge. Yogis, instead of seeking to change the world, change their reaction to that world. This process has worked well for centuries and centuries, and centuries.
Enter the Western world. Although yoga is practiced here with the same path in mind, the Western world tries to add a little something. As a yoga teacher, I come across yoga hybrids such as:
Yogalates — Combines yoga and Pilates
Budokon — Combines yoga and martial arts
Dragon Yoga — Combines yoga and kung fu
Disco Yoga — Combines yoga and disco dancing
Aerial Yoga — Poses performed from a swing or soft trapeze
While these hybrids may lend a new excitement to yoga practice, do they move too far from its original intention? As Americans, we want to look good, feel good and have fun. And that is certainly fine, but are we missing the message? Are we putting too much emphasis on the physical body and forgetting those other two? Are we neglecting the subtle and seed bodies in favor of gratification of the physical? Doesn't that miss the point?
Let's think of it this way: You're an avocado. The avocado has a layer of thick skin, a fleshy interior and a large seed in the center. All three layers exist together to create this lovely fruit. The skin is green and glossy because of the inner flesh and seed. Remove the skin and the inner flesh will rot and the outer skin will whither. Only the seed inside will live on, the seed being the one true constant. The avocado grows and ripens through care of its entire self; separate its layers and it can no longer grow, no longer ripen. Finding a balance between physical perfection and honoring the deeper realms to discover self is the yogic path, as is the whole avocado's existence.
Where it might be fun and novel to try out a yoga hybrid and disco dance your way through practice, let's not confuse a surface enjoyment with the true bliss yoga promises.
Yoga would never deny you joy and pleasure; it reminds you that they already exist within you.
Diana Reed is a Hernando County yoga instructor. Her website is dianareed.net.