“Do yoga, and attain the body and life of your dreams!” blare headlines. Yet what if modern yoga’s effects are not unilaterally positive? As a microcosm of life, any form of yoga may unwittingly engender or perpetuate the basic human tendencies to engage in competition, judgment, denial, or striving. With conscious practice of yoga, these patterns, or samskara, are elucidated and transformed. Yet cultural elements of “modern yoga” may actually exacerbate these samskara, blinding us to truth and perpetuating western cultural myths that engender more harm than good.
Prototypical yoga consumers are targeted by corporate progenitors of modern yoga (e.g., Lululemon), who traffic in stereotypical imagery of idealized bodies, promote cultural beliefs in unhindered agency, positive thought, and grit, and unabashedly cater to the exclusive, highly privileged group that comprises US yogis. In sum, very little challenges us to own yoga’s true revolutionary potential, because this would require a paradigm shift in how we relate to ourselves and our “identities” as modern yogis.
This paradigm shift means acknowledging that our beliefs and worldviews are constructed and frequently unconscious, requiring unearthing and deconstruction as we peel the layers of our ego. It means accepting that we can’t control everything 100% of the time; acknowledges that the universe is not our “shopping cart”; and nor, contrary to the tenets of our cultural conditioning, are we at the center of said universe. It necessitates that we fearlessly face hitherto repressed and uncomfortable aspects of ourselves as we increasingly embody our wholeness.
Indeed, authentic contemplative practices are far richer. With practice we may notice ourselves maniacally traversing the hedonic treadmill in futile efforts to maintain our defenses, privilege, bodily appearances, or economic status. Ideally, this noticing occurs with self-compassion, acceptance, and perhaps, a commitment to peer more fully into our souls, acknowledging that for every truth revealed to us, that much more remains unknown.
When we discover the uncomfortable truth that we aren’t always in the driver’s seat, we cloak ourselves not in the law of attraction’s flimsy gossamer of “manifestation,” but in humility, gratitude, grief, meditation, presence, breath, emotion, allowing, and reverence. When inevitably faced with our prejudiced thoughts, whether racist, sizeist, sexist, or so on, we face them courageously, inquire as to their origins, and invite ourselves to notice the subtle ways in which such thoughts interact with our behaviors towards others. And we forgive ourselves, recognizing the multiplicity of factors that gave rise to these beliefs.
I can understand why this is not such a popular path. It promises no perfect body or soul, no unlimited wealth, and no promises of unhindered control or agency. There are no fancy marketing campaigns selling the inner journey, or the presence, silence, spaciousness, and compassion that are its hallmarks. In this era that claims to sell certainty, a worldview that advocates living our way into the answers can be terrifying.
Yet this is also extremely powerful. When we can fully engage with life while stepping into the unknown, and surrender, we open fully to possibility. When we step away from “I” and “mine” as the center of the universe, and embrace ourselves as contextual beings whose well-being is inextricably intertwined with the well-being of all, our hearts can open to the truths, suffering, and joy of others, kindling our innate divinity.