Me, Myself and Yoga

12rfd-yoga-custom1A debate over at the NYT begins: “In a Times magazine article last weekend, the author quotes a yoga teacher blaming 'ego' for yoga-related injuries and pointing out that 'the whole point of yoga is to get rid of ego.' If that’s the case, then why is narcissism so often on display in the yoga studio with students spending huge amounts of money on gym memberships and gear and even clamoring to mark their territory with their mats, hours before the class begins?” Suketu Mehta, Kaitlin Quistgaard, Sarah Miller, David Surrenda, Joslyn Hamilton, and Ganesh Das debate. Suketu Mehta:

The Hippocratic Oath should also apply to yoga: first, do no harm.

Yoga was never meant to be a competitive sport, like ice hockey. But when it spread to this robustly competitive nation, where it got turbocharged by money — the U.S. yoga market is worth $6 billion a year — its original meaning got dispersed. What is now called for is a broader understanding of the meaning of yoga.

The yoga that most Americans are aware of is hatha yoga, only one (and perhaps the least important) of the various types of yoga. Krishna in the Bhagvad-Gita defines them: karma yoga (the yoga of action), bhakti yoga (the yoga of devotion) and jnana yoga (the yoga of knowledge). Volunteering at a soup kitchen is yoga; raising your voice in praise in a gospel choir is yoga; trying to understand how the galaxies shift and why the poor lack shoes is also yoga.

Hatha yoga is not for everyone. The other forms are. Not everyone can — or should — stand on their heads, but everyone can use their heads to make the world a better place; yoke their emotions to their intelligence and feel more centered.

In this sense, the greatest teacher of yoga is not Iyengar or Bikram, but Gandhi. “The yogi is not one who sits down to practise breathing exercises,” he wrote in his interpretation of the Gita. “He is one who looks upon all with an equal eye, sees other creatures in himself.”