Not so long time ago, but still before Covid, a friend was telling me that he noticed a Yoga lesson in the park few days before and he was impressed by an older men. How good yogi he was as he was able to do multiple I suppose flashy asanas. In contrast with the majority of non-skinny middle age women participating, he said.
In all honesty, I didn't know exactly how to approach this declaration. If on one hand, I'm happy to cheer the old men, clearly long time Yoga asana practitioner and most likely with a musculoskeletal system in a good shape. On the other hand, in my opinion the scene in the park was showing not much of how “advanced” were yogis in the park. But I see where my friend comes from. For a layperson in the West (I have no personal knowledge of other places), Yoga is the sole practice of asanas, the more complex the poses the more yogic you are, the best you are as a person even.
To give the picture I get from the media. It is a mostly women sport, quite expensive and somehow exclusive, that comes originally from India, aeons ago. It is associate vaguely and with no apparent logical connection to meditation and mindfulness. Yoga comes in a sort of bundle wellbeing-calm-focus that even your internal corporate communication is telling you it's required. As proof of this, you can see ads advertise stuff associated with peace and physical strength, using beautiful young women, mostly very skinny and very white, in a yoga pose.
As we all know, the more you see something, the more this something becomes true. So here we are.
Is it true though? Yes it is, and no, it is not.
The various Yoga we teach and learn today in the studios and on the apps are versions of the multiple versions passed through the centuries to us. When I say US, I mean people living in this time, even if we can see again that there are quite differences between what we see here in Ireland, than what we see in India or Japan for example.
So no, it's not true.
Yoga it's not originally an exclusively physical practice, but asanas/poses are part of it.
Yoga is not how long I can hold and how perfectly aligned I am in Bound Side Crow Pose (Parsva Bakasana), a difficult hand balance pose. And this is a good thing, as for examples I have a chronic problem on my wrist and arm balance poses are mostly off limits for me. It would be awful and very much unfair if you cannot reach whatever Yoga is supposed to give (or what you are willing to get), like balance, peace, enlightenment... if you have to have a Instagram perfectly able body.
And yes, it is true.
Yoga is a physical practice as many others, but it's likely that if you really follow your teacher you're going to get much more than a fit body.
Yoga is already in origin many different things, sometimes even contradicting each other. Not surprisingly, in the last 100 years we added to this complexity even more nuances and completely new bits to the original traditions.
Everything in this time is poisoned by the dominating greed of this economic model, we are led to think that our image is everything that matters, that we are alone to deal with life and this is good. Yoga is part of our culture for quite some time and inevitably it is influenced by it, in the good and in the bad. So Yoga can be as well a body shaping popular gymnastic and a mean to fit more calmly and silently in the machine supporting this economic model. So I think we cannot deny that holding a pose for a beautiful Instagram picture is also Yoga now.
I think we live our version of Yoga on our own right, and we will find our way starting from any point. All roads lead to Rome, as we say in Italy, and each of us have our own Rome to reach.
I still fight my ego in not replying irritated that the yogic quotient is not calculated like for the gymnasts at Olympics, but this is just showing the struggle in my own path.