The Truth of Yoga

   For the past several years, after Thanksgiving dinner at the friend’s house where I enjoy good food and great company, a fire is built-in the backyard, and we enjoy the cool night and perhaps some burnt marshmallows. Last night was no different. There were two people there that had shared Thanksgiving with my friend and I for the past few years. Two new people attended (my friend always opens his door to people who have no place else to go for Thanksgiving dinner), along with another woman who I have met a handful of times.

   A few of the people had wandered away from the fire, so it was just three of us, J., F., and me, staring into the mesmerizing flames. J. (initial used to protect the person) and I have known each other for about fifteen years. He is an avid hiker and engineer for one of the government agencies and is also a practitioner of yoga. Sitting around the fire, the conversation naturally led from how things were going in his life, to me inquiring about his recent hiking trips and projects he was involved in at work. I had offered before to give him free yoga sessions when I was working on completing my student teaching hours, but he gracefully declined. (I then heard him confess to another person at that gathering that if the other person was a ‘butt man’ then he should take a yoga class. I remember my face flushing, as the clothes worn by those of us in the West when partaking in an asana class is for the ease of movement, not to show off any particular body part!)

   When I asked if he was still doing yoga, he said he was, and talked about the location of the studio and when he takes classes. Then F. (the woman who I had met a few times) said she had paid a bit of money to see a ‘guru’ from India with a friend of hers who was into yoga. She said they were both disappointed in that all they received was a summary of a movie. I suggested that perhaps the teacher was using the movie as a metaphor for what he was attempting to teach. She agreed that could have been the case.

   To J., I asked, “Does the studio where you practice begin each class with philosophy?”

   He answered, “Yes, the teacher reads something out a book.”

   “Oh?” I said. “Does she read from the Tao? Patanjali?”

   Annoyed, he admitted, “I don’t know.”

   “Rumi?” I continued with my inquiry, looking for similarities in his teacher and mine.

   “I don’t know. I don’t listen,” he told me in a voice that he was not interested in continuing the conversation.

   I was quiet a minute, wondering if I should say something to perhaps illuminate these two companions of mine, one who has been a long-time yoga practitioner, and the other who failed to ‘get enlightenment’ from a guru, as to the truth of yoga. I glanced from the fire, the orange flames dancing along the dried wood, to the stars overhead. It was a clear night, and though we were in the middle of a city, several specks of white glittered overhead. In taking these moments to respond, rather than react, I thought it might serve them if I were to tell them what I knew regarding yoga.

   “It could well be that you had a difficult time understanding the guru visiting from India because in their culture, yoga is a way of life. Here in the West, we view enlightenment, and spirituality, very differently. Really, each of us is already enlightened. It’s just the optional misery and the stories, judgements, and comparisons and criticisms of the ego that we buy into that covers it up,” I said to the woman, who nodded in understanding.

   To J. I said, “Often people who ‘practice’ yoga refer to the asanas on the mat. Those asanas arose spontaneously because the physical body needed to move before it would sit still as the yogi practiced training the mind to quiet meditation. Yoga isn’t about yoga. It’s about stilling the vrittis in the mind to give us an opportunity to see who and what we truly are. If one is brave enough, they take the lessons learned on the mat out the doors of the studio to create more peace and harmony in their lives. There are many who attend asana classes to get a ‘yoga butt’, and that’s okay, too.”

   What followed was their attempt at a humorous conversation about what a ‘yoga butt’ was. I sighed and looked again at the stars. I was prepared, well versed enough in my understanding of yogic texts and the truth of yoga to share what I knew, what I had experimented with and discovered for myself. But these two people who shared the warmth of the fire with me were not yet ready to receive anything I might have offered. Maybe sometime later, they will think about what I said, perhaps ask a question, or even do their own research.

   In reviewing where these two people are in their lives, I knew why the discussion did not go any further than it did. J. had told me some years back that he was a ‘card carrying athiest’ for many years. I guess I had forgotten that when I found out he practiced yoga. Apparently, he chooses to use the asana as exercise and forego any teachings the instructor might offer. And that is fine. I wonder, though, if not a bit of studying of the Eight Limbs might offer him more happiness in his life when relationships end and he spirals into depression, desperately clinging to something that no longer exists. For F., her conversations abound with drama she creates in her own life. She plays the victim role very well, and a part of me longs to suggest some tools and techniques of yoga that would bring her some peace to her self-made turbulent world.

   In this conversation, as in others I have had, I find myself caught between religious dogma, esoteric fear and misunderstanding, and spiritual misalignment. As much as I’d like to offer those that I’ve engaged in conversations with about yoga (who are not students of yoga), I find myself treading carefully around strong religious upbringing, ‘woowoo’ deterents, and those simply not interested in having any more happiness or ease in their lives. So I’ll wait.

   The students that I teach privately are learning the tools and techniques that have brought peace and harmony into my life (and countless others). If it is my purpose, then I know others will excitedly enter in dialogue with me regarding the truth of yoga. To help me in my understanding, I composed 25 poems, three of which can be read for free on my website Please leave a comment if you’ve had a discussion about the truth of yoga. Namaste.