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Don’t get me wrong, I honour the history and lineage of yoga. But sometimes I feel that instead of honouring the past and moving forward, we emotionally hostage ourselves and each other into stagnation. We force-fit ourselves into how yoga was taught and practiced centuries or even decades ago. We get so caught up in the idea that we're not being authentic if we divert even just a little.
Consider this - human knowledge and understanding has been enriched tremendously. We’ve learned more about anatomy, nutrition, and safety in relation to understanding our body. Artistry and creativity have helped broaden the spectrum of human expression and expanded the yoga asana repertoire.
Like it or not, our understanding and practise of yoga needs to adapt and evolve to a version that resonates with the present, not the lives of men who lived more than two thousand years ago. My vision is a yoga that adapts into a practice that resonates with our modern, busy lives because we need its benefits even more so now.
But we also have to realise that our personal understanding and relationship with yoga has to adapt as well. We need to allow ourselves to fit yoga to us, not the other way around; and this starts with our perception of yoga.
I offer you 10 modern yogi mindsets to help start shifting your perception of yoga and make it a more personal,
Have fun reading, my modern yogis!
1. You know that if you want to keep on doing yoga, you can’t injure yourself.
You love doing yoga! You love the challenge and how it makes you feel. You love the movement and the sweat of it all!
But that’s the thing - sometimes we can get so swept up in the flow that we push the edge a little bit too far. Micro-tears can happen to ligaments and tendons and we may not even feel them (being avascular) and we’ve injured ourselves without realizing! So we learn to really listen to our body, utilise the breath, calm the emotions and clear the head for a more balanced practise.
2. The different “styles” are no longer important. What is, is how you feel after.
Every yogi started out trying so many different “styles” – Astanga, Anusara, Iyengar, Bikram, hot, power, somatic, yin, universal, calligraphy, slow flow… you name it! In time we end up sticking to one or two “styles”. But the modern yogi graduates from that to realising that they are all just different sequencing systems and we don’t have to be tied to any particular one. Eventually, we find or develop a practise that resonates with us and just makes us feel good. This is when our practise becomes more personal - because we've made it our own.
3. You are more amused and interested than annoyed by the newer varieties of yoga.
Beer yoga, vino yoga, naked yoga, goat yoga, doga (dog yoga!) … They’re springing-up like mushrooms and have attracted the ire of a lot in our world-wide community. It’s understandable to feel protective of our traditions, but really, is it worth drawing up the placards? The modern yogi remembers that yoga teaches non-judgement and unconditional love.
So, either try them out (why not, right?) or let them be.
4. You are confident to say “NO” if you think you are being led somewhere you cannot go!
Our beautiful human body – we are all the same yet all unique. No one knows your body and all your quirks, aches, pains and capabilities better than the owner...that’s you! So when we attend a class and are told to do something, let’s say a head stand in a crowded room or a tough bind, we know to say "NO".
Maybe we can’t, or maybe we’re not feeling like it, or maybe we know it isn’t safe! The modern yogi knows that it is their body, their practise, their responsibility. Not the teacher’s or anyone else’s. This applies to the mind and emotions as well - yoga philosophy can be confusing and downright confronting for some. We don’t force the study on a mind that’s not ready.
5. You realise that the only thing qualifying one as an “advanced” yogi is realising that there’s no such thing!
We all start off as beginners. Then we gain more experience and deepen our practice. How do we progress and define ourselves as an “advanced yogi”? Is it the confidence that we’ve read and re-read all the philosophies and can stand on our heads? That just says we’re well-read and have amazing balance. But I suppose there is one thing – the humility to accept and admit that we are and will always be beginners in the grand scheme of things.
6. To you, “modification” isn’t a bad word.
Every day is different for the modern yogis’ practise – there are days we can do a full wheel pose, no sweat. Then the next day, we can’t even go into a high Cobra! But maybe you’re more into meditating. Aren’t there days when you can plop down and go deep into your meditation, and there are days the mind just won’t stop! So, we modify. We pare things back.
Quite simply, you accept the state your body, mind and emotions are in and know that modifications to the practise are there to support you, not hold you back.
7. Some yogis eat meat, and that’s ok. You don’t judge them for it.
Let’s face it, eating meat is such a taboo in the yoga community. Vegetarianism (and veganism) is widely considered a defining characteristic of a yogi. But consider this – there are health conditions that require people to have meat in their diet. I, for example, am very anaemic; and anyone who has ever taken iron supplements will tell you that it’s not something you want to do every day! So, meat becomes a necessity to stay healthy. Then, there are those who enjoy an omnivore diet. Are we less of a yogi because of it?
8. Bring on the creativity, you say!
Different sequencing? Can’t wait! Different props? Exited to try! Non-kirtan music? Great!
You’re open to move in different ways and try new things. This isn’t just for the body - the mind and emotions benefit greatly as they do with every new experience, every new chance to grow. Plus, being creative allows us, teachers and practitioners, to redefine yoga in ways that resonates with us. What freedom!
9. You don’t force your practise on others. You invite them along.
Some yoga practitioners can’t quite get out of the excited puppy phase of their love affair with yoga and want to drag absolutely everyone into it! The flip-side is the cliquey sorority/fraternity air that some practitioners and studios exude (which actually attracts people!). But yogis with forward-thinking attitudes know that actions speak louder and will attract genuine curiosity and interest. They invest in another’s journey by giving them the time to reach the decision of starting yoga by themselves.
10. Your definition of a “dedicated practise” has gone through several revisions.
You’ve probably started out following the popular advice of setting a routine and sticking to it. For a while it was great!
But we all know that life happens, and we fall out of our yoga routine. It can be soul-crushing because we feel we’ve back-slid and are no longer a true yogi! Then we probably went back to it but with a looser schedule and label ourselves a “casual yogi”.
Eventually, what we realise is this – dedication and devotion isn’t about rigidity. It’s trusting that the practise, YOUR yoga practise, will be there when you need it - in its many forms.
If you’ve noticed, there’s a theme threading throughout the article, and that’s kindness. Kindness in various forms and towards ourselves and others. And that’s really at the heart of yoga – feeling, thinking, and acting from a place of kindness. Everything else springs from that - compassion, understanding, empathy, humility, acceptance, harmony, the freedom to be ourselves, letting others be themselves and the profound sense of wholeness - a oneness with ourselves and each other that comes with it.
All this comes from kindness. Unconditional loving kindness.
This is the mindset of the modern yogi.
So, modern yogi, what have you been up to lately?
Doing a flow or just chillin’?
Whatever it is, remember to be kind and you can't go wrong.
All my love,
Aileen, your Mad Yogi