Y'all ever had a good look at the Instagram hashtag yogalife? I had a look recently, and what I saw was a bunch of mostly thin, mostly white, mostly cis-female bodies in advanced asana, assuming an expression of jubilation at having achieved a pose, or one of quiet internal reflection, indicating to me as the viewer that this is a pose that brings them into great peace and stillness.
So it would be really easy for me to bag on this sub-community, for me to express my concern for folk who seem married to showcasing the fruits of yoga as a headstand in their kitchen or a seated backbend on the curb at a taxi stand. I mean, hell, maybe the only place a yogi can practice is in his kitchen; maybe a yogini was struck by a wicked cramp while waiting for a ride, and just had to assume ekapada rajakapotasana in a sports bra and Victoria's Secret leggings in order to find relief. Part of me thinks that there are only two things keeping me from wading into that posture-selfie pond: the fact that I don't have a handy iPhone stand to take a great photo, and frankly, I don't know how many advanced backbends or inversions I can do! If I ever photographed or videoed my practice, I bet I'd be pretty humbled with the results.
It's easy to get caught up in the beauty of the physical practice, and the yoga industry here in the west has done a fine job of stripping the spiritual practices, the practices that don't photograph so well, out of yoga. You'll never see someone posing in an Athleta catalog showing off their pratyahara: not when they're trying to sell you hundred-dollar pants, anyway. But what if you could? What if you could showcase your practice of contentment, or of moderation, of conservation? What if you could capture an image that would illustrate your truthfulness in such a way that it motivated someone to pursue honesty in their own practice and their own life? Would that still be a picture of adho mukha vrksasana?
In a class with Elesa Commerce once, she taught us about the practice of using our mat as a home for walking meditation, not just seated. She invited us to imprint the word peace on the sole of each foot, and to imagine that we were imprinting the word onto the earth with every step we took. I'll never forget that; it really made sense to me to think of taking every step in peace, toward peace. Sometimes, when I need students to transition on their mat, I ask them to do so in this way.
I've also been thinking a lot about Bryant Terry. (Incidentally, he's part of the reason I became vegan.) In a demo he did at my alma mater a few years ago, he talked about being in a history PhD program in New York, and doing lots and lots of yoga. He didn't talk about whether or not he could drop back into Urdva Dhanurasana from standing; but he did talk about the revelation that his life shouldn't be spent in academia, but instead should be spent in changing hearts, minds, and communities through cooking. Yoga, he said, was part of the catalyst that helped turn him on to his professional path, and arguably his life's path.
That's not a story I hear told about yoga very often. I hear stories of physical change, of healing, of joy and surprise. I also hear stories of injury, of body dysmorphia, of lack of consent, of maladjustment and damage. But I get really excited when I hear folk talk about what yoga does in a space not governed by asana.
I remember someone saying to me once that he didn't do yoga because it took away his anger. That has NOT been the case for me: I get just as angry as I ever did. But letting go of it feels a little easier than it used to. Of course, having a yogalife doesn't make choices or relationships any easier at all. I still fall into the same dangerous patterns I always have--of control, of condescension, of thinking I can do it all--so when I fall into these samskaras, yogalife makes me kinder to myself, more compassionate and forgiving, and less demanding.
I don't know if I can take a lot of pictures of the moments of my life that feel like yogalife moments. Sure, I could try to find a way to photograph myself in asana. But how do I take a picture of the thought process that leads me to choose to prioritize a lifestyle choice of sitting and breathing over one of watching TV? How do I snap the feeling I get when I ask my friends for help and they rally to show up for me? What's the hashtag for stillness and self-reflection?
Sometimes I feel like I want to say to some voice inside my head, "yoga is not my whole life, you know!" But maybe that's not true; maybe it's just asana that's not my whole life. Yoga is the thing that leads me to the work I do outside of the studio, meeting people in places of personal responsibility, facilitating awareness, education, and healing. Yoga leads me to a plant-based lifestyle. Yoga encourages me to be vulnerable with others, and to release expectations from our interactions.
I think that maybe the practice is showing up. The rest is just details.