I came across this New York Times piece today; the title ran
“Does Yoga Qualify as an Aerobic Workout?”
Hmmm. My initial reaction was frankly, why on earth would we want it to?
Why the need to 'power up' Yoga? To make it something other than what it is & has been for so long; to make it ‘multi-task’ & 'ramp it up’?
Are we that pushed for time? Are we that desperate to squeeze in MORE MORE MORE into just about everything we do?
Surf online while chatting on the phone while eating a bagel at breakfast? Well, if anyone’s tried that (yours truly, guilty as charged), then the peanut butter bagel ends up on your lap, messing up your clothes, the phone-call might as well not have happened for all the real attention you were paying & can we even remember 5 minutes later what we were (literally) mindlessly scrolling through on-screen? What a waste of time. What a waste of effort. And what a waste of peanut butter!
But to inject that over-busyness into our Yoga? To try & make it ‘do’ even more for us? Huh. That notion not only stumps me but it also greatly disheartens me.
So many people come to Yoga to let that kind of busyness & doing & rushing fall away. To be. To just be. To be present on their mat. To come home to their body. To meld their breath, their mind & their body into a flowing & peaceful feeling sense of unity.
Yes, there can be effort; yes there can be strength & flexibility-building; yes there can even be sweat. But all of that can arise due to a slow building-up, a mindful moving toward, a balanced & nourishing dynamism that is not at the expense of our heart-rate or our need for a healing quiet space.
I recently wrote about this; loving to move myself on foot or on my bike, I totally get & relish the benefits of aerobic fitness & exercise. But that is not what I seek when I unroll my mat; that is not my primary focus when I begin to bend, breathe & extend my limbs & body through time & space.
More & more, there is such an odd mentality being applied to Yoga in some quarters; whether it's the 'Cosmopolitan-isation' of Yoga; i.e.. skinny almost pre-pubescent young & typically white girls wearing very little & posing in mostly gymnastic-like asana (funny how you never see them on a beach in a bikini doing Savasana tagging that pose #so blessed eh?!). Or now, this 'Fast' Yoga malarkey. Or trying to pick Yoga apart, to analyse & dissect its components in order to 'nail' just the ‘best’ & most figure-enhancing physical aspects.
It's a bit like juicing your fruit & veg rather than eating the whole fruit slowly or cooking up a delightful vegetable tagine; you end up with a one-dimensional fast 'hit' & throw away so much of the good (the fibre, nutrients in the skin & peel, the satiety & more).
When we think about the physical part of Yoga, when we examine its origins & look to the leading traditional texts, this notion of aerobic ‘power’ Yoga becomes even more questionable; the asanas are there to guide us, in a moving meditation, towards the ultimate aim of taking a ‘steady, comfortable seat’ (what Patanjali referred to in the Yoga Sutras as "sthira sukham āsanaṁ"), i.e. to be able to sit comfortably, within tension or pain, & meditate for however long one so wish.
Yes, it is more than ok to ‘just’ do asana; many of us in fact think of Yoga just as the poses or our local class that we go to & if that’s where we are & where we stay, that is absolutely more than ok, it's great.
But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater; ‘even if’ Yoga is ‘just’ asana to us, let us retain & relish the sense of ease, relaxation & peace that can come from treating our bodies, hearts & minds kindly on our mats & leave the uber-ultimate ‘workout’ for the gym, the bike or the laced-up feet running round the roads. Let's think slow Yoga love & not fast...