A couple of years ago I was charged with the task of minding my friend’s Avril Lavigne fan blog while she was on vacation. It was a paying gig for both of us, not a product of our passions. We were hired to track then current news and gossip. So, for a few weeks I knew a lot about Avril Lavigne.
Please forgive me. I needed to pay the rent.
Does it go without saying that I have never been a fan? Her pink-pop-punk gives me cavities. But I always want to be a fair writer, so I did a lot of research about her. Frankly, I wanted to find something about her that redeemed her in my eyes. Instead I found a (not very flattering) interview in which she was asked to name a song by the Sex Pistols and couldn’t, but then claimed to be “Sid Vicious for a new generation.”
Later she would respond to criticisms about her lack of knowledge about punk history by saying:
I feel like I don’t actually need to draw out the nuances of why it’s not okay to proclaim yourself a member of (sub)cultures that you don’t actually know anything about. Right? You don’t get to be the next Sid Vicious if you don’t know who the first one was.
This is Sid Vicious. He couldn’t actually play any instruments and he couldn’t actually sing and he is arguably the most famous punk icon. Why? Because he got on stage and made a band and played the shows and didn’t give a fuck about what he was supposed to be or do. Am I saying this DIY attitude is what Avril Lavigne is expressing when she says she doesn’t need to know about punk (even know she is one)?
Sid Vicious was probably a dick, but he wasn’t a shiny pink product. He wasn’t trying to sell punk. One of the dominant ideas behind punk is that you can’t buy it and you can’t sell it. You have to embody it.
So, there’s a couple of ideas I want to tease out about this. The first one is that, as a yoga culture, a lot of the time we act like a big crowd of Avril Lavignes. We call ourselves yogis, but we don’t know where the tradition came from. We say namaste, but we don’t really know what it means. And sometimes we get scared to ask questions because it seems like everyone else already knows.
They don’t. They’re just singing along, too. We all know the words.
I get it.
It’s hard to have a job and go to yoga and then what, you gotta go home and read a book about it?
Yeah, maybe so.
Because, in reality, the practice isn’t even about finding a teacher who can show you the way, it’s about finding the way for yourself. Or, as some people put it, it’s about finding the teacher inside yourself.
But you don’t get to know that unless you do a little work. Have conversations with your yoga teacher/s. They’re probably desperate for someone to be interested in thinking about yoga beyond the mat. If they aren’t interested in talking to you, find new teachers.
So, am I saying that if you don’t know all the yoga sutras backwards and forwards, you can’t be a yogi?
Nope. You must be new here. I would never say that.
See, there’s also that issue of embodiment. If you take the time to know a little and really engage with it, you’ll probably be doing just fine. One of my yoga philosophy teachers said that for a person ripe for enlightment, hearing the first of the yoga sutras would be enough to allow them to cross that threshold. So, in case you’re that person, here it is, per Patanjali:
- atha = now
- yoga = union, to yoke
- anu = within, or following tradition
- shasanam = instruction, discipline, exposition
You can find about a zillion interpretations of this sutra, and a zillion translations to boot. My quick and dirty explanation of this sutra is that it means that yoga starts now. Right now. Yoga is this present moment. If you can experience connection, union, yoga in this moment, in this now, then that’s it. You don’t need to do anything else except keep coming back to the now.
Did anyone get instantly enlightened? Raise your hand. Don’t be shy.
If you didn’t, then you have two options. You could stop taking my word for it and get out there and do some research on your own. Or, you could just start embodying this now-ness right now and see how that works for you.
It’s fine to be a pose-er in asana class. We all are. But if this is a practice that you actually find meaningful, then get out there and find out what it means.