Does anybody still remember when yoga was just plain weird, potentially dangerous and certainly a devilish Hindu practice? When you’d don your baggy cotton trousers and a shabby t-shirt in order to, well, just sit and breathe?
Well, I don’t remember any of this. Maybe my parents would. Actually, my mum does and when I started doing yoga she looked at me, really puzzled, and said: “Oh dear, I don’t recognise any of this.”
All this has been talked and written about at length. But what I wonder is this:
What does the style of yoga that is predominantly being practised at a certain time, in a certain country, tell us about society?
What kind of society is it that makes people push limits, target goals, and once reached, set them higher? What makes people sweat at over 30 degrees with the relentless urge to detoxify? Why do we feel attracted by a practice that is based on the strict repetition of a series? Why does ‘power yoga’ sound like such an immensely alluring choice to us?
Maybe it’s simply this: The yoga we practise reflects our mental state.
We live in a society where from early on we’re being told to “power on“, “push on“, in order to never fall behind, never be outdone. Only the very best get a place at an elite university, only the smartest get the top jobs. Who stagnates is already falling behind. Don’t stop and breathe. Keep going. Power on.
But isn’t the idea that by being quick we can outrun the rat race? That we can escape the hamster wheel by pushing harder, being more determined, more committed? Come on, really? How about those days when we just feel like sitting on the mat, breathing, calming the mind – does that mean we’ve been failing?
I’ve done quite a bit of Sivananda yoga. They do the weirdest thing there. They make you lie down between postures. Particularly between challenging postures. It’s in order to bring your heart rate down. For you to assimilate and digest the posture. To calm the mind. To truly reflect on what you are doing right now and how that makes you feel.
I remember having to chuckle when the teacher first introduced this idea, so alien to me at the time. But now, overwhelmed by the number of power and hot yoga studios, I wonder if there is still room in our society to dare – dare slowing down.