Fresh from a week of intense and enlightening dialogue with my teacher Mark Whitwell and a group of sweet souls with brilliant minds, and currently preparing to spend next month learning from longtime Krishnamacharya student Srivatsa Ramaswami, I've been pondering this very thing. Last night we watched a film that featured Mark—Yoga Maya—that called into question the depth of the yoga currently being taught and practiced in the west. The filmmaker and a couple of the interviewees (like Annie Carpenter) gave me the impression that unless we are continually practicing all the eight limbs of Patanjali's yoga (for at least 10 years), we aren't real yogis.
So, how much yoga is enough? Does there come a point when we need make a decision that we're all good just where we are? That we have reached a state of physical health and general mindfulness that allows us to live a pretty darn good existence thankyouverymuch?
Because if we keep following Patanjali's program, we will (theoretically) need to remove ourselves from the external world more and more as we approach Samadhi, whereupon we will (apparently) leave our body and get freaky in the astral planes with Shiva and Shakti.
Or can we follow the true yogic path with dedication and perseverance and still enjoy watching Survivor and eating too much guacamole? Is Pratyahara (withdrawl of the senses) or even Samadhi (merging with the absolute) something that we can drop in and out of as our life allows? That we are supposed to drop in and out of? What about Ishvara Pranidhana...surrendering to the Lord? Does that mean I have to give up listening to Lorde?
From my own experience, the more you study and practice, the more you end up distancing yourself from the typical post-modern lifestyle anyway. Without even trying, you find yourself choosing vacation destinations based on where the good teachers are, spending all your money on workshops and trainings, and opting out of Saturday night potlucks because, well, you'd rather get up at the crack of dawn to chant and do your asana and pranayama.
As Richard Freeman put it so wryly—and alarmingly accurately—Yoga Ruins Your Life.
If you charted the yogic path where x equals the depth of your study and practice and y equals your level of disillusionment with the life of the Average Joe, it's clearly a growing concern.
But that's kind of the point right?
I'm trusting that my curiosity will only take me as far as I'm meant to go, but what if that means going full Sadhu? Isn't it convenient that you stop caring about the external world more and more the deeper inward you go?
If all goes according to Patanjali's plan, we run the risk of self-actualizing ourself into oblivion.
So, maybe all this rave/dance/ecstatic/party/power yoga isn't ruining yoga, but rather saving us from yoga itself.
Something to ponder while the next episode of Orange is the New Black loads up.
Safely far from Samadhi, B