The other day, someone in my Facebook news feed posted a link to a yoga "competition", and I just cringed a whole lot. Ugh!
But it's so hard to define exactly what yoga IS. I think maybe it's easier to talk about a few things that yoga is not...
- A competition. I can't stand the whole "yoga competition" thing. Maybe you want to call it an asana competition, which is more accurate. But even then, the whole spirit of asana practice isn't, and shouldn't be, competitive.
- A religion. Yoga, all eight limbs of it, is an ancient spiritual practice, but it is not a religion. You can be a good Christian or Jew or Muslim and still practice yoga.
- Just asana practice. As I mentioned before, there are eight limbs of yoga, and only one of them is asana, or posture, practice. If you're going to practice yoga, there are many other things to explore - yama and niyama (ethical ways to living), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal or sensory transcendence), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and finally, samadhi (bliss or enlightenment). You see where I'm going with this? If you want to really practice yoga, it only makes sense that you spend at least a little bit of time exploring all these other spiritual acts.
- Yoga butt, i.e., achieving a "perfect" physical body. This extends to other aspects of the practice, as well. And it goes back to #1. This is not a competition to see who can look the best in their overpriced yoga pants and sound the loudest "ohm" at the end of class.
Yoga is about learning to observe without judgement. It's about cultivating a sense of compassion for myself and for others. It's about accepting and embracing life just as it is.
And most of all, yoga is a practice. It's about letting ourselves be human, while reminding ourselves that there is, within all of us, a tiny spark of the Divine.