Over the last 50 years yoga has found fertile ground in the USA. The rapid growth of yoga throughout the U.S. is an amazing sociological phenomena, however, buried within its success, are big problems that individuals, yoga teachers and yoga communities across the land face. Yoga and Seattle are both on the hot seat. Let us take a look at how this is so.
As yoga has become a successful commercialized venture industry in America, what has happened to the message of yoga itself – has it been compromised and changed? This will be the first focus of the article. The second focus will be upon how yoga communities across the land have fared in this rapid growth, and, in particular, how Seattle’s yoga community has fared. This will lead to an exploration of the times we are living in and what a model yoga community might look like in these times.
Suppose a questionnaire was given to yoga teachers around the country, asking, “What is yoga?” The best average answer might be “Yoga is the mindful practice of certain postures (asanas) that can have tremendous health benefits, and also includes breathing practices and concentration exercises to calm the mind.” In defining yoga as being a mindful exercise program that reduces stress, the teachings of this powerful system have been trivialized and made small. Yoga came to the USA under the unwritten condition that it was, for sure, going to be redefined to physical terms, as this was the only way it was ever going to spread to the masses of the people here. Yoga did not come into America on its terms but on America’s business terms, and in its redefinition the most essential message of yoga has been lost. The yoga industry has gone on to become big business, without a care for what it has done to yoga.
Yoga has its roots in the Vedic tradition of India, where for thousands of years it has been cultivated and adapted to fit the ever changing needs of its practitioners. Something that was so carefully and thoughtfully developed in India over a long span of time has suddenly (in a mere 50 year time period) been transported to America. From my perspective it is only the tail end of yoga that is presently coming through the American yoga scene; meanwhile, the head, heart and the soul of yoga have been cut out and disassociated from. The rishis and sages of India have told us all along that asana practice is just a tiny little offshoot of yoga, and yet this one little tip of the whole is the part that Americans seem to think is the whole.
In an attempt to understand yoga let us explore the term, dharma, as herein lies the universal law, of which yoga is its working component. The dharmic traditions are, for the most part, meditation based traditions that aim at a direct experience of truth and reality. The goal of these traditions is that through knowledge, yoga and meditation a liberated state of awareness can be reached. The dharmic traditions are not religions, but are ways of living in which life, the universe, psychology, meditation, philosophy, art, music, dance, food, medicine and every possible aspect of life are explored. Yoga is the conscious exploration of all these aspects of life.
What about communities? What does yoga have to say about the yoga of community development? In specific regard to historical yoga communities, there are countless numbers of yoga communities in India’s past, as yoga communities have existed in India for 10,000 years, or more. It would seem that wisdom could be drawn from the successes and failures of India’s past and present attempts, however, it appears that American people are not looking to the spirituality of India or the yoga communities of India to guide the American yoga communities. The Western trained mind seems to look at the practices of the dharmic traditions of India as having been useful only for India, but not so useful as a model for how yoga groups and yoga communities might grow and work together in America.
Sri Aurobindo (1872 – 1950) has made the statement that India is the one designated country of the world meant to hold and incubate the spiritual force of planet earth during the present 24,000 year cycle, of which we are somewhere in the middle. He further states that it will be a revitalization and reawakening of the soul of India (the spiritual force of India) that will bring forward the supramental consciousness to lead humankind into the next golden age, the likes of which humankind has yet to experience. In the township of Auroville, located in southern India, there already does exist a model yoga community. Founded in 1968 by The Mother (1878 – 1973), followers of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother have made Auroville into a thriving 3,000 member strong community that is leading the world in many ways.
Seattle Yoga Community on the Hot Seat
The greater Seattle area yoga community is on the hot seat as a result of the explosive and widely exposed incident at the 2018 Northwest Yoga Conference. Of the many issues the conference brought up, I am focusing on the following: Is there cohesive leadership to the yoga community of the greater Seattle area at this very moment, or is it merely a bunch of individual yoga teachers who are mostly in competition with each other in an open marketplace, without much leadership at all? To frame the question differently: Is there a common goal that the greater Seattle area yoga community is working toward? As a yoga instructor who has been teaching for 43 years in the city of Seattle, I do not know of any such efforts that have come my way. It seems ripe for this to happen.
Out of the turmoil of the recent Northwest Yoga Conference an immense healing of the greater Seattle area yoga community needs to occur. This healing will take place when the hearts and minds truly open up to the Sanatana Dharma. We need to enact a present application of the ancient tradition of living in harmony with a conscious universe.
Our Sadhna (spiritual practice) must be aimed at reconciling the “irreconciliables” of life through the process of an integral yoga that grows the community, and the individuals within the community. We can only grow strong from the inside out.
The main issues that the greater Seattle yoga community is facing are the very same issues that other yoga communities throughout the world must face. A much more evolved, self aware community can emerge. Shedding light on these issues, leadership must come forward to develop and mature these communities. Education and compassion must form the head and heart of a new integral yoga that is brought forward, and bridges could be built between communities. Stay tuned for this development.
A community model to follow
Next is presented the Auroville Township Charter. Within this charter lies their foundational statement that can apply to any possible spiritual community.
The Auroville Charter:
- Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But, to live in Auroville, one must be a willing servitor of the divine consciousness.
- Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.
- Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realisations.
- Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual research for a living embodiment of an actual human unity.
These charter ideals are not simply dreams, as there is 50 years of historical evidence to prove they are possible. The language and essential concepts of the Auroville charter could apply to any group effort, anywhere on the planet. Auroville is creating a community effort for the whole world to behold and follow. At this moment in time and space, truly we have an opportunity to change into better versions of ourselves, and change our communities into something greater than they have been.
May the community breakdown and separative actions that occurred at the 2018 Northwest Yoga Conference be the very crisis that allows for a breakthough of group consciousness and a positive change for the community. Let’s get Seattle off the hot seat as the place where yoga misunderstandings occur and onto the platform of bringing an integral yoga forward that becomes a model for all. May our yoga community find a way to heal and unite under the mutual cause of bringing forward the light of yoga. Let us face the shadow and the darkness of ignorance and let us move forward into the light of consciousness and understanding.
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti, Om
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- Bob Smith’s Perspective on the 2018 Northwest Yoga Conference Incident - Mar 18, 2018