by Octavio Salvado.
It’s like Malcolm X said, ‘If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.’
Since returning from the east coast of the land down under and my time spent with some genuinely inspiring Yogis and their communities, a renewed sense of conviction has been ignited inside of me. I feel refreshed, tenacious, clear, excited and extremely motivated in regards to the future direction of The Practice and our offering to world of Yoga both on and off the mat.
What has become blazingly apparent to me is that modern Yogis are now ready and searching for more than the pasteurized, homogenized ‘call anything yoga’ kind of classes they’re being offered on a daily basis. And they deserve it, so I’m done containing this deep, burning compulsion to pick up my metaphorical bow and stand up for this path I hold so dear. Because Yoga is Yoga, not fucking Nasi Campur – A little bit of this and a little bit of that.
Even if it means polarization and occasional exclusion from modern studios that pride themselves on diversity and new school ways of the fancy, I’d far prefer that than watering down humanity’s oldest science – the science of awakening. We are talking about thousands of years of unbroken spiritual legacy here and right now we are teetering on the edge of complete disconnection from the very thing designed to orchestrating our own salvation.
A very immediate example is the complete absence of Meditation in relation to modern Yoga. Where has it gone? How can we, with any real authority, teach Yoga and not at some point involve Meditation? Yet still have the audacity to call it Yoga? Likewise, where is the Pranayama? And please don’t say Ujayyi. Breathing in and out does not constitute Pranayama. And please stop calling it ‘Sea breath’.
It’s time to collectively stand up for Yoga. It’s time to progress the dialogue and steer it back in an intelligent direction. Asana and Yoga are not the same thing and Yoga was not designed as a physical practice. These worn out ideas are no longer serving us. They have brought us to where we now stand, but they can take us no further. As someone very smart once said, ‘Evolve… or die.’ Does that sound dramatic? Good.
We have the choice. We can either embrace the universal truth of evolution and systematically tune ourselves up spiritually, or we can ignore it. In the latter case I’m surmising however, that ignorance will probably not be blissful.
We need only look over our shoulders to the teachings of yesteryear’s Masters to find Yoga’s eternal invitation. We are being called to make a conscious movement towards subtlety and simplicity, away from darkness towards the light, from the narrow confines of flesh, muscle and bone towards the ever present, luminous essence of being that we truly are.
As my teacher once said to me, it’s not until we slow down, deal with our minds, get present and cultivate a profound capacity to focus and be still that the real world of Yoga finally opens up to us, but this takes work. It takes commitment, sacrifice and real work which at the end of the day, bares minimal semblance to what we are doing with our physicality.
Many tell me that they find Traditional Hatha Yoga boring. Just a bunch of people standing around making shapes… and holding them for a really long time! Yet what most fail to recognize is that the shape is merely the container, the context. The real Yoga belongs to the vast, subtle universe existing within the boundaries of the flesh.
At some point in our journey, so it may as well be now, we must transition beyond the ideas that we currently hold about Asana. Aside from any physical benefits Asana may provide, which from a traditional vantage point are viewed only as byproducts, the true function of Asana is that of clearing stagnant energy from the inner energy pathways known as Nadis.
Each pose category initiates a specific movement of one, or a combination of the Pancha Vayus – the five subtle winds (or Pranas) within the body. Of course, in order to get the intended benefits, we must first stop squirming around on our mats and instead commit ourselves to getting still and holding poses for longer. These days, holding an asana for five breaths is considered a long time. If we really want to understand the gift of Asana then we are going to have to move our focus away from counting breaths and instead, start counting the minutes.
As a result of longer held poses, blockages restricting the free flow of Pranic energy begin to dissolve and a heightened state of consciousness often ensues. This is due to Prana’s influence on the mind. Once this occurs, then we can safely move forward to the next stages, the silent, invisible, internal stages which represent the true heart and soul of Yoga.
In terms of advancement, building Prana and containing it become the next objectives. Here we move the focus further inwards to the breath and begin the process of Pranayama by means of Kumbhaka (breath retention) and the complementary sister science of Bandha. Kumbhaka is the prescribed Yogic tool for cultivating additional Prana and Bandha is applied to contain and store it. These two practices go hand in hand and assist in deepening the personal relationship that we have to the vibratory, energetic aspect of who we are.
Finally, once our Pranic levels have been reinstated to their intended magnificence and a proficiency in Pranic sensitivity has been cultivated, then, with a laser like mind forged in the fires of Meditation, Mudra, to quote the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, should be practiced with great commitment.
We typically think of Mudra as ‘hand gesture’, however these represent only one of the five major categories of Mudra and not the form spoken of in the latter chapters of the classical Hatha texts. Although hand gestures do guide Prana throughout the gross and subtle body, (which is the purpose of Mudra – directing Prana), they are not powerful enough to direct it where we ultimately desire it to go – into the spine.
The Pradipika is very clear on that one point, ‘The Yogi is the one who has Prana in their spine.’ This is the specific work of the more advanced Bandha-Mudras such as Maha Mudra and Maha Bheda Mudra and represent the culmination of the entire practice of Traditional Hatha.
Mudra, just briefly, is a very beautiful word. It means much more than just gesture or seal. A more accurate translation of the word is ‘Attitude’, suggesting once again that Yoga has far more to do with the state of our mind than the shape of our body.
There is also a deeper layer to the word Mudra. ‘Mud’ translates to delight and ‘Dra’ comes from the root word ‘Dravay’, which means to call forth. Mudra therefore, and dare I say it, YOGA in its entirety, is the practice of calling forth our inner most delight, summoning the heights of our innate magnificence. This is the rise of Kundalini Shakti, the highest and only purpose for practicing Yoga according to the long lineage of Master’s spread out in an unbroken chain throughout history for thousands of years before us. By traditional standards, practicing Yoga for any other reason is a complete waste of time.
So just reflect for a moment, when was the last time your teacher began class by saying ‘Good morning. Today we will be working on quietening our minds, cultivating a deeper relationship to the Pranic body and conclude by directing energy inwards towards the spine for the purpose of awakening our highest potential’? And if across the board this isn’t happening, then should we really be calling what we are practicing Yoga?
My vote is No, because the more we throw around this sacred and very precise word, calling just about anything ‘Yoga’, then the more we lose sight of what it actually stands for and ultimately our own shot at living a truly extraordinary life.
It’s time to blow the conch, Yogis. It’s time for us to stand up for Yoga and fight for it, because if we don’t do it, then who will? And if it doesn’t happen now, then when? Don’t fall for what’s fancy, what’s fun or convenient. Don’t fall for what’s being offered if it doesn’t measure up to time tested standards and true Yogic principles. Envision more for yourself and demand more from your teachers. Stand up and fight for Yoga. It deserves that and so do you.