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Mindful : October 2015
adapt our postures to create more ease. Our mission is to be gentle and kind to ourselves and to simply expe- rience “being” while sitting and while moving. This invitation to become intimate with oneself, to experience a steady mind and a compassionate heart, this is the essence of yoga as I know it. It seems odd, then, that a deeply satisfying class of this sort is not all that easy to find, even in yoga-sat- urated Northern California where I live. This quietly attentive, inward-facing practice feels, in fact, like a refuge from much of the con- temporary yoga scene, where work- out-type classes—pulsing with music and impossibly tiny, flexible bodies wearing next to nothing—exude a subtle pressure to push harder and to achieve ever-more advanced poses. These yoga classes often feel like another venue for challenging and judging myself, setting goals, and measuring progress, rather than one in which to step away from all of the striving I already do in life so that I might see and accept myself as I am. “The reality is that, as yoga grows as an industry and a commodity, there’s one BIG thing that is being lost: Yoga,” says New York City- based yoga teacher Alanna Kaivalya, founder of the Kaivalya Yoga Method. “The actual state of yoga, which is union and manifests as self-confi- dence, independence, and self-em- powerment.” When things get truly difficult— when your body falls ill, your lover betrays you, you lose your job—you need something more potent than willpower and six-pack abs. I met Kaivalya a few years back when she was a rising star on the traveling-yoga-teacher circuit and I was editor-in-chief of Yoga Journal, a media company dedicated to all- things yoga. Today, she is finishing a Ph.D. in mythological studies and “trying to stir things up,” she says, with social media posts asserting, cheekily, that “yoga is broken—let’s fix it” and suggesting that modern-day yogis would be better off demonstrat- ing the beauty of their practice not with images of their kick-ass asana on Facebook but through personal trans- formation making them noticeably more content and easy to be around. She is one of many teachers I know who are questioning how “yoga,” which is traditionally defined as a state of mental steadiness or the union of body, mind, and spirit, has become synonymous with a butt-beautifying workout, and who would like to help more of the 20 million Americans currently practicing discover the full spectrum of yoga’s benefits. “I see a lot of glorification of the body, a lot of ego-reinforcing. Yoga is meant to lead you deeper,” she insists, “not stop at the surface.” After having a front row seat for the mass adoption of yoga as a feel- good, look-good lifestyle—a popu- lar perception that’s helped turn a once-obscure Eastern practice into a $27 billion Western “industry”—I’m thrilled to see Kaivalya and others cel- ebrating yoga as an awareness practice. Yoga has the power to transform yes, perhaps our bodies, but definitely our moment-to-moment experience of life. A PHYSICAL EDUCATION It wasn’t too long ago that American yoga suffered an entirely different identity issue. Considered a pastime of hippies and an esoteric spiritual practice taught by Indian gurus in ashrams, yoga was perceived by many to be uncomfortably foreign and woo-woo. Even in the 1980s, exploring yoga with my mom meant visiting rundown dance studios and funky spiritual cen- ters for classes “too weird” to mention to friends. Still, I loved the experi- ence. My teachers’ understanding of body mechanics and their repeated invitations to listen to my body laid a foundation for trusting my body and my instincts, on the mat and off. Then, in the 1990s, yoga in Amer- ica started to boom and I discovered a physically challenging brand of yoga with lots of “yoga push-ups,” handstands, and ab-toning poses that punched up my endorphins at the end of hectic days as a tech editor at Wired News and Salon. A hip, mostly young crowd packed into my regular studio, 50 at a time, creating an exhilarating buzz. The experience was light-years removed from the slow-moving align- ment classes I was used to, but I loved this athletic practice, the community, → 42 mindful October 2015 yoga