"In some places, participants think nothing about answering cell phones in the middle of postures, or taking a short break to chat with a friend."


A recent post on the India Ink blog of the New York Times juxtaposes Indian yoga, the way yoga is viewed by Indian teachers and practitioners in India, and Western yoga, the “multi-billion dollar industry.”

Even in the serious KPAYI shala in Mysore, there was an “Indian” Mysore Ashtanga class. Instead of beginning practice at 4:30 am, alongside dozens of the most serious and dedicated Ashtangis in the world, it started some vague time in the afternoon. Saraswati could often be seen chatting and joking with her Indian students, many of whom seemed to spend as much time sitting in a relaxed slouch, propped by their arms (and not in lotus position) as they did doing actual postures.

The Western yogis haunting Mysore were lean, even gaunt, seekers on a path towards… something.

Shaila, the Indian auntie who invited visiting yoga students into her home for lunch and cooking classes, was also a longtime yogi — maybe one of the “casual students” that the NY Times references. She was stout, round, and embraced the practicality of everyday life.

From the Times’ blog post:

“Yoga is not just about asanas, it is a union of the body, mind and soul,” Delhi yoga teacher Nivedita Joshi told Times Crest, a Times of India publication, in an article also refuting the idea yoga can be dangerous. “It’s not an exercise, it’s a way of life,” she said.

In Sanskrit*, “Yoga” literally does mean “way,” “path,” “union” — a method, I’d assumed, towards some kind of enlightenment that I did not yet know.

But now, after traveling the path for awhile, I think maybe it’s more of a treadmill than a glorious Saturday hike in the hills leading to a vista.

Some Western yogis in Mysore, goofing off.You’re not walking to reach a destination, because there isn’t one (remember, there’s only one outcome to all of this); you’re traveling as a practice. An activity that’s ultimately pointless, on a results-based evaluation.

Will it make you fit? Maybe. Will it give you an opportunity to show off your body in form-fitting clothing for a few hours a day? That’s up to you.

However, today’s yoga practice is just one of many. Each moment of beauty, or humiliation, is just one dot on a long arc angling its way towards ultimate decay.

So I tell myself, Hold on tight while you let go.

*I am not a Sanskrit scholar, I just play one on this blog.