The Asheville Yoga Center Blog

Get Happy in just 3 short steps! And other empty promises of pop-culture yoga.

This article has been a long time coming. I’ve been grappling with my distaste for yoga and spirituality magazines for some time. Being a bit of a glass house and not wanting to throw stones, I’ve kept quiet. But you know that I could only stay quiet for so long. You’ve been expecting this and have probably buried a bus in your backyard to hide in at the moment of my venomous blast – but I’m going to surprise you.

This superficial pop culture of yoga is good for one thing -   it can (if you’re willing to do the work) lead you away from itself and toward a space that is big enough to hold all of your suffering and your happiness.

It is sooooooo easy to find fodder for this topic, it’s almost unfair. I just open my mailbox and find shiny, happy, expensively-clothed and impossibly twisted ladies on the cover of yoga magazines, proudly displaying their “advanced” yoga postures for all to admire.  I can go down the street and spend $80 on a pair of too-cool yoga pants and then douse my thirst with designer water from my trendy stainless steel bottle with an OM on it.  I can turn on any cable channel and I will find commercials on how to “zen-out my makeup counter” with this new Ronco product (just $15.99 plus s/h allow 4-6 weeks for the delivery of your vehicle to happiness). I can go to many yoga studios and gyms in the country and pay a few dollars to experience hot, sweaty, aggressive posturing – all packaged up as the path toward a perfect body and the perfect life. I can also hit the internet and find a bob-zillion products and books, promising brief, easy to follow instructions on how to get happy fast and stay there.

I’d like to rail against all of it and expose it for the lie that it is, but the fact is, none of the above is really as poisonous as I’d like to make it out to be. I admit that I am turning into somewhat of a crotchety idealist these days as I struggle at the roots of my life’s major questions: Who am I, Why am I here, What will fill the emptiness when all the old shit doesn’t work anymore? But I am just like the majority of western yoginis in the west – middle aged white women. We have the time and the resources to spend on ourselves, and we find, in spite of what we feel we should be, that we’re strangely not really that satisfied with our lives. So why not pop-culture yoga? What if that Ronco product did bring happiness, however temporary? And if that works for you (as it did me) to get you closer to asking the real questions of your life then I support you. At this point in my life, however, I’m interested in more. I want something more: and it is not to be found in easily marketed promises.

THERE IS SO MUCH MORE PROFOUND and VERY REAL SUFFERING IN THIS WORLD. Read the papers. Take a drive into the inner city. Visit a nursing home. Talk to a survivor of abuse. Will those new yoga pants stand up to that suffering? Will your perfectly flat abdominals and size 1 ass benefit the children orphaned by the earthquake in Chile? Will your ass even make YOU happy for very long? What happens when you loose it due to pregnancy, injury, age or tragedy? And who gives a flip about my big ass, or yours, or how many chaturangas you can do when children are being perverted for profit. No. I’m not interested in that yoga anymore.

I want to go deeper. I want to plunge my hand deep into my own chest and dig past my suffering and also past my happiness to that same deep timeless, unchanging wellspring that the great Gurus drank from. This timeless place is big enough to wrap it’s wings around all the suffering and it begins with finding the witness consciousness.

Finding it is a little like archeology. We have to fearlessly dig out all the dirt of our lives that’s packed in around it and bring it to the surface. But we can’t just go in with our shovels and our whips and force it out. The process is really an act of surrender to the circumstances of life. Here’s how it goes: Learn to sit with yourself and your world quietly just as you are. Don’t try to fix anything or do anything. Just observe. Allow the crap from your life to bubble up and surface. Experience it and watch it pass. And find a qualified meditation guru who will not color your inner experience, but will give you a tool to guide you deeper within: a mantra. Then just keep sitting at the same time every day twice per day. Recite your mantra and allow it to be your transportation toward that deep, timeless wellspring. When you are ready, take your centered, purposeful self into a nursing home, into the inner cities, into your children’s schools, and friends lives and make a difference.

I do see my own hypocrisy in this last paragraph. I’ve offered what appears to be a few short steps toward the solution for your unhappiness. Well, these may be steps, but they are not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Sitting with the self in meditation is the most challenging posture in yoga, contrary to what you see on the cover of magazines. All other asanas were created to open the body and calm the mind for sitting. It is work at first, and the results can be common or rare, pleasant, mystical, painful or just boring. No matter what the results, welcome each and every moment as your teacher. See for yourself what happens next. Have faith that the wellspring is there.

Yoga is not exercise. It doesn’t automatically make you a better person, more desirable, intelligent, beautiful or worthy of love.

It’s not a road map to happiness and it is surprisingly not even “union” – at least not at first. It is at it’s very roots a process of separating seeker from sought, the seer from the seen, the permanent from the impermanent. We can use all that commercial crap above as trial-and-error: we can try them all until we realize that having more (food, friends, lovers, fans, money) or less (ass, stress, suffering) does not feed our god-hole.

Meditation can become your open door to a new yoga and (I’m trying very hard here to sound like a magazine cover) a new you!

Samantha L. Noto, RYT understands yoga to be a science of  physical, emotional and energetic transformation.  It began with her earliest experiences on the mat, feeling for the first time that she fully occupied her own body and the world around her. She has studied Subtle Yoga, Para Yoga, Vini Yoga, Vinyasa and Anusara.   She is currently working toward her 500 hour certification in Subtle Yoga with an emphasis on the therapeutic application of yogic science to deal with many physical and emotional human conditions safely, and effectively. Her classes are laced with physiological facts, archetypal imagery and cosmic/geological data, in the hope that students will leave with a more intimate knowledge of how they feel, a deeper understanding of why yoga works on their bodies and an inkling of how vast this universe is in comparison to what we all deem to be our very important problems. Visit Samatha elsewhere on the web at www.samanthanoto.com and www.communityoga.com.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Credit for the clever cover art to Yogadawg: http://www.yogadawg.com/yoga%20magazines.htm



Discussion

  1. Tammie  May 25, 2010

    Sam,
    Thank you!!!!! I personally started going, so connect to others and thought though althetic I am so not, cool people are apart of yoga, it will be easy to meet others. Since finding yoga again in my late 40′s, I have found more of a place of coming home.
    Thanks Sam, for allowing me to see behind my filters to potenial of something more. Thank you!!!!!

    Tamm

  2. John  May 25, 2010

    Funny and insightful satire–bravo! Especially like the point that yoga is a practice of realizing the dualism of seer/seen, unchanging/changing. Voga/YJ–haha

  3. genia  May 26, 2010

    i really like this article! it was precisely b/c of the issues this author mentions-suffering in the world- that lead me to be a practitioner and teacher of a mind body practice. i tried everything else, i have a degree in social work and pastoral ministry. i tried volunteering, working with different populations….but all felt hopeless unless people changed their inner spirit. i know its hard to say without sounding cliche, and yoga and mind body practices won’t make miracles, but i do find continual hope it my profession. best of luck!

  4. admin  June 5, 2010

    thanks! Great blog. I usually groan when I see the latest Yoga Journal cover. In the end though I don’t care what gets people into yoga class. I know if they stick with it long enough they get to the deeper level of what yoga is really about. That is one of my biggest joys, seeing that evolution of practice and transformation in people. It helps me know what I am doing matters. Cheers, Sunny

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