At one point or another, we have all joined a bank, a company, a political party or a book club. Lets face it, subscribing to an organisation is almost a necessity in today’s world in order to function. While I’ve never been an much of a ‘joiner’, I have affiliated myself with groups and schools in the past and still do to some extent today. I love connecting to people who share passions, and savour opportunities to bring people together to make new connections, but in truth, there is something about an organization that leaves me feeling a little funny inside. Perhaps it’s the wearing of a label (though we all do wear various ‘tags’), the superficial fencing in of certain people versus other, the exclusivity, or the various forms of side agenda that may be more or less present depending on the organization. And then there are the politics. One of my dear friends and graduate professors once told me, “only hang out with, only work with people that celebrate you, that bring out your best and make you want to be even better.” If there was an organization that bottled that without all the additives, I’m pretty sure we’d all want to sign up.
Yoga, the state of ‘yoking’ or ‘union’, is the confluence of two things; when two things merge into one. This can happen when the small, individual self merges with the understanding of the universal, collective consciousness; when day becomes night, when the in breath becomes the outbreath, when the state of living transitions into the state of dying. Sometimes, when people seek a connection to others, they ‘join’. There are many things to join: gyms, book clubs, a yoga method or studio, a religion, you name it. But in the most traditional, purest sense of yoga, it’s not something you can ‘join’, rather, it’s something magical you can experience. Present day yoga, however, involving methods, expensive teacher trainings, dogma and heavily marketed yoga studios (not to mention yoga teachers ‘branding’ themselves) creates the potential for division when the original intention implicit in the word was union.
At a pinnacle time in my life, I remember being a philosophy student searching for meaning in the world. I enthusiastically studied the eastern religions, eager to discuss the similarities and differences, the things that resonated for me and the things that didn’t. Without knowing any better, I was “shopping” around for purpose. One day, my professor looked at me and said, “Lizzie, a religion doesn’t have to be something you adhere to or join. You can apply the principles of any religion to your own life and create something meaningful in your life that is all your own- your set of beliefs.” An idea so simple, yet so profound, as been what has shaped my ideas of the world, organised religions, and my yoga practice.
Yoga methods, school, teachers and studios are important and useful in providing insights about one’s individual path to experience yoga. However, if the student doesn’t know to ask questions, or isn’t aware not to take everything at face value, we may be in jeopardy in becoming isolated and separate in a world of others seeking comfort in their insecurity and ignorance by sticking together under a label. This unstable state of being forms cliques and supports ideas that one style, teacher, place, clothing is better than another. It is avidya at is finest hour. The aspirant in this state is a wonderful disciple, but separated from a much richer, more authentic path of union. Inquisition, the right to hold beliefs that are different from the group even while being a member, having a mind and a voice to speak out and up about ones own beliefs are such an important part of self expansion, creativity, and ultimate joy and freedom. Find the place where all these aspects of yourself can be celebrated and augmented, and never be afraid to go against the grain to question what is being taught and to try something new.
Caveat: I am a certified Jivamukti yoga teacher, a method that melds several types of yoga together on a backdrop of asana practice. I am proud of this lineage, I believe my teachers from this method to be two of the world’s talented, creative and generous teachers who have devised one the most thorough, well-balanced yoga teacher training programs available in the world today. However, I don’t subscribe to the idea of a ‘tribe’ within any one yoga school of yoga, nor do I consider myself a member of a specific yoga group. In fact, much of the desire to write a post such as this has been propelled by what I’ve witnessed within the constructs of organised yoga. As in any school of yoga, not all Jivamukti teachers are good, honest or compassionate teachers, and I don’t stand behind everything my teachers have ever said or done in the interest of yoga. They are human beings, and don’t profess themselves to be ‘gurus’. While I have been so blessed to find a handful of gracious, honest and down to earth teachers, the most valuable aspect of my yoga path has been enriched outside the doors of any one studio by the teachings of many, yoga teachers and non-teachers alike.