As Yoga becomes ever more popular, the ancient and traditional aspects of it can sometimes become diluted or confused, and the messages send out to students new and seasoned can often leave us feeling even more confused than we were before even stepping on the Yoga mat.
Practicing the postures is one thing, but getting a glimpse into the vast universe that is Yoga in its entirety is enough to make reincarnation completely palatable – after all, there’s not enough time in one lifetime to learn everything this Yoga world has to offer. In the modern Western world, we’re just about getting our heads around ancient practices, however with such a fast paced lifestyle, there’s never usually enough time given to letting things fully sink in and embed, meaning information is shared amongst modern Yoga communities that isn’t always completely true, and isn’t always completely beneficial….
The mantra Om can be heard throughout almost every Yoga centre across the world – it’s the universal sound, representing past, present and future, and considered the most sacred mantra in Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. This sacredness has lead us to adopt Om as a mantra to chant at the beginning and end of Yoga classes, and is often used as a prefix to many Sanskrit recitations, prayers and texts. “Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha” for example, is the mantra dedicated to Ganesh, and is said to help remove physical, emotional and mental ‘obstacles’ that may be preventing us from getting ‘where we want to be’.
Interestingly, ‘where we want to be’ always changes – and no matter how many times we chant to Ganesh, no matter how many rituals or pujas we might perform, it’s very difficult to ‘get there’ and experience real contentment or samtosha.
Discontentment Through Yoga
Seeing practitioners experience Yoga for the first time and develop a love for the practice is something heart warming and exciting, yet when people become dependant upon Yoga, when they just want to ‘do Yoga’ all the time, and begin to resent the rest of life for ‘getting in the way’, it’s actually heart breaking. Yoga often encourages us to be present, yet in reality we spend our time on the Yoga mat thinking about having to go back to work tomorrow, and we spend our time at work thinking about wanting to be back on the Yoga mat.
The whole ‘being present’ thing begins to backfire – as instead of actually being present, the mind is focussed upon where it wants to be. It wants to be meditating, practicing yoga, and just generally being in that wonderful wellness world full of white clothes and expensive artisan water. But it isn’t. it’s in the real world, with tracksuit bottoms and diet coke…
“Householders Should Not Chant OM”
The Bhagavad Gita – one of the most revered Hindu texts from the Mahabharata – outlines the fact that our real work and our real practice is in the world, living life fully, being the bets we can be and fully engaging in every action. In the 1970s, Maharishi Mahesh shocked modern Western Yogis by categorically stating that householders (people like you and me) should not chant OM. He said it would encourage renunciation and detachment from the world and all the responsibilities within it, which are not the goals of householders. He emphasised that householders could achieve spirituals goals without “living the lifestyle of a monk”. Buddha in fact said the very same thing 2,500 years ago, but hearing it from the man who founded Transcendental Meditation and taught the Beatles to meditate was enough to grab even a small handful of people’s attention.
What Maharishi Mahesh was getting at, was that by trying to enhance spiritual practice, we become encouraged to drop everything in life in pursuit of something apparently ‘better’, when really in traditional communities in India, a man would wait until he had retired and his family had grown up before he renounced family life and work and went out into nature to meditate full time. It was only Brahmins (high caste priests and very very wealthy people) and ascetics (renunciates who threw away all of life’s comforts, family, friends and work) who were supposed to spend the majority of their time meditating and practicing spiritual rituals. Householders were never supposed to spend long hours practicing yoga – their Yoga practice was a tool used in order to help them live more fulfilling and engaged lives in the world. The Maheshi tradition encourages 15-20 minutes of meditation in the morning and 15-20 minutes in the evening, along with asana (physical) practice. If we take a look at Patanjali’s Yoga system, there’s no mention of physical practice, and the various sutras were originally intended for recitation by Brahmins and academics – not people who had things to do in the world.
This all comes at a very interesting time at which the heights of narcissism and self-obsession are at epidemic levels. Everyone is told you can ‘be whatever you want to be’, and ‘do whatever you want to do’. Cloaked in encouragement and positivity, these phrases can actually be incredibly damaging; can we really be and do anything? Should we want to be and do incredible outlandish things? Can we all become enlightened? Should we want to be?
For the most part, the Narcissist generation (people aged between 16 and 35 right now), believe they’re entitled to everything, even enlightenment. It’s this way of thinking and speaking that pushes us to believe we aren’t good enough, and that living a ‘normal’ life is completely inferior. It encourages us to chase after something ‘better’, causes relationships to break up, jobs quitted, and modern ‘normal’ lives renounced in the hope of finding a more spiritual and apparently ‘better’ path to tread. Our actions therefore are never done wholeheartedly, because we’re always thinking about where we want to be when we’re doing them. Our effort, attention and intention is fragmented, and therefore the results of those actions are fragmented, and a cycle of dissatisfaction is inevitable. We’re not Brahmins, we’re householders – but is that too difficult to hear? Does it crush dreams of becoming ‘someone else’, ‘someone better’, instead of just who we actually are?
A Yoga practice is a wonderful wonderful thing, retreats and incredibly valuable, teacher trainings can be life changing, and workshops help give insights into deeper and more meaningful aspects of something we have so much passion for. The thing is, what we learn through Yoga could be best put to use in our daily life, helping us to be better friends, mothers, lovers, managers, businesspeople, sons and daughters, and members of the community. Chanting OM for hours a day and wishing we were in a Yoga class when we just aren’t is the opposite of being mindful, present, grateful and engaged in life, and it’s certainly not what the tradition of Yoga intends. Especially for those who come to Yoga looking for comfort, for healing, or to overcome addition, consider practicing to live, not living to practice….
Contentment Through Yoga
Once of the biggest causes of human suffering is discontentment – not being where you want to be, and not wanting to be where you are. When we have a good experience, often we remember it with a rose tinted perspective, and keep thinking about it, re-thinking it and evaluating it, whilst simultaneously enhancing negative feelings towards our current situation. Suddenly the life we have right now is the very thing preventing us from getting ‘there’, to the part where everything is ‘ok’.
Though we might try, practicing for long periods of time in the real world seems unrealistic – because it is. To the majority of the demographic of Yoga practitioners (women aged 25-60), many of whom have children to raise, families to care for, jobs to go to, bills to pay, and lives to live – give yourself a break. Don’t let your Yoga practice be another thing you feel attached to and guilt tripped into ‘keeping up’. So you don’t get up practice physical Yoga postures for a few days, you don’t wake early to meditate, or you opt for the double shot coffee instead of the green juice; don’t beat yourself up. The person who uses their time usefully and positively in the world – whether they practiced today or not – is the one living the true principles of Yoga. Becoming obsessive about Yoga practice, needing to do it every day for sanity, and letting it be another addiction or crutch is the exact opposite of what it’s for….
Say we let Yoga do what it’s really supposed to do for householders – to help them live more engaged and meaningful lives – instead of having our awareness and desires somewhere far away in the future in a distant land, we would see more clearly exactly what stands in front of us. We would engage with each action and each day more fully, celebrating what we already have around us, the friends we have, the family that surrounds us, the job we have and the moment that exists now – it’s no less and no more perfect than any other. We’d intend to nourish the world around us and the life we’d cultivated, and we would in fact reach enlightenment or Samadhi, meaning ‘equal understanding’, or ‘equal perspective’, the ability to live in the world with no grasping and no need to be anywhere else apart from here and now. We would be content.
Enlightenment isn’t found somewhere else in a far away place. It’s found within you and without you, around you and through you, and it’s way closer than you think ….