In my near decade of practicing, studying and now teaching the art and science of yoga I have come to a deep and controversial stand- yoga is a lie. Yes, that’s right, you heard me correctly, yoga is a big fat lie. Part of me feels frustrated and upset to have dedicated a large percentage of my life, career and faith into a practice that has lied to me for many years, another part of me just sits back and laughs as more of the veil becomes removed. The modern practice of yoga has become so convoluted and so loaded with connotation that it’s to the point of being a big joke. To understand why I’m making this claim, here’s the first thing you need to know: Yoga means “union” or “to yoke”, it does not mean poses or “asana”. In fact, poses only make up 1/8 of the total scope of yoga (and that’ s Hatha yoga to be exact, as there are numerous other forms). The word yoga brings up thoughts of hippies, blonde babes in Lululemon pants, handstands, hot and sweaty rooms and teachers who are borderline insane. For all of these reasons and more, the word yoga has become a product, a commodity and a misguided movement. But just to be clear, here’s 5 reasons why modern yoga is a lie.
1) The poses aren’t important: Yoga poses are only part of a practice and are referred to as “asana”, literally translated as “seat”. What this means is that yoga poses are designed to prepare oneself to sit in meditation, and therefor don’t represent more than a physical preparation of the body for stillness. As one begins to practice yoga more, one begins to feel a shift from a focus on the external practice to the internal practice. As one becomes more adept in asana, the physical poses themselves become secondary and the breath becomes primary. The ability to control the breath and the mind in challenging and sometimes even painful poses teaches us something extremely important: there is discomfort and there is our reaction to the discomfort, they are two very separate things. Refinement in one’s practice leads to applying this understanding to all aspects of life and not just to the awkward poses we place on pedestals and grasp to achieve.
2) Your teacher doesn’t know what they are talking about: That’s right, most teachers don’t really know much about yoga. Why? Because yoga studios are making a killing on training teachers, and at over $3,000 a pop for that matter. Studios are unfortunately not in the business of teaching yoga, they are in the business of teaching what’s popular and driving revenue. The pool of knowledge and quality has become diluted and saturated as a result. Yoga has traditionally been a system passed down from lineage, with direct learning coming from master to student. It is now more often than not passed down from a teacher with limited experience (maybe less than a year or two of their own practice and own growth.) It is great that yoga has become so accessible to so many people, it has however come at the cost of quality and understanding. Be refined in the teachers you chose to learn from, my suggestion would be to find 1-2 with whom you resonate with, who challenge and push you outside of your limits AND continually knock themselves down off of their own pedestals.
3) Confetti doesn’t fly out of your ass once you can do a handstand: Sorry to burst your bubble here, but it’s true, I checked this one out for myself recently. It’s taken me three years to achieve a handstand, when I finally did it no one cared, confetti didn’t fall down from the rafters and I didn’t become enlightened. This is great news by the way, it means that you can stop trying so hard to perfect your practice and to perfect yourself. It also tells you that there is no goal, nothing to strive for and nothing to accomplish in yoga– this is very profound and important to understand. Now your practice can become exactly what it was designed to be, a practice. Your practice isn’t something that you have to check off of the to-do list, it’s not something you must religiously follow as a lifestyle and it’s not something you need to compare yourself with or against. Take a deep breath and know you can just practice yoga because it gives you guidance and growth without any pressures or timelines. That feels good to know, right?
4) You can’t be good or bad at it: It is impossible to be good or bad at yoga. I always hear people say “Oh I can’t touch my toes so I’m not good at yoga.” Can you see the lie here? There is an assumption that being able to achieve yoga poses means something more in the grand scheme of life, that being able to touch your toes somehow means you have a greater understanding of happiness and of yourself. Guess what? I can touch my toes and judge someone at the same time, I can balance on my head and have negative thoughts and I can even sit with my eyes closed on a mountain top and still be a jerk. Don’t ever mistake physical ability for mental clarity and don’t mistake calmness for niceness. One of my teachers likes to say “I can be calm as hell and still judge you.” Here’s my take on it “I can wear Lululemon to yoga, drink a green juice and still be a shitty person.” Yoga means union, it implies non-judgement and therefore by definition, does not live in the world of good or bad, it only lives in the world of oneness and non-duality. To be adept at yoga means to be present in the moment and to be connected to reality. Nothing more, nothing less.
5) You don’t have to do it #everydamnday: If your teacher ever tells you you need to practice yoga every damn day, tell them they don’t know what the hell they are talking about. If you have to practice yoga (and by that I mean asana) every day, then it’s not working and it has become a crutch. At some point, physical poses begin to have less impact, at some point poses become easy and therefor have served their purposes. When this occurs, it’s simply time to explore deeper and more challenging practices such as pranayama, mantra, meditation or levitation if that’s all too easy. If you need to practice yoga to be happy, to be calm and to feel connected you’ve bought into the biggest lie of yoga- that yoga is the only path to happiness and freedom. It is a tool, sometimes it’s the right tool for the job, sometimes it’s not. If the moment calls for you to get to your yoga mat then get to your mat, if the moment calls for you to get to the bar and support your friend in need over a drink, then that becomes your practice for the day.
Nick Palladino-King teaches students and clients how to reduce stress, to increase happiness and to elevate health through yoga, wellness coaching and strength training.