Thou Shalt Not

Thou Shalt Not

For a couple of days, I’ve been stewing over an article I didn’t even read. The title was enough: Can you drink alcohol and be a serious yogi?

When I mentioned it to Annalise, this was her reaction:

“Oh my. That really makes me sick. Going to yoga is one of the few options people have where they can possibly be spiritual, feel better about themselves, or at the very least let go of stress. The last thing anyone needs in that space is a preacher.”

Can I get an amen?

Let me be clear about what I mean when I speak about yoga. I am ordained as an interfaith minister and have a tenable grasp of the roots, trunk and branches of  historical yoga. But when I engage, think and yes, sell, yoga I am speaking about the modern Western context; what I think it’s mostly about is giving people tools to work with through life. Sure it’s good for flexibility, and it also reminds people not to bend too far. It promotes core strength, and it helps us to remember to breathe, as well. For most practitioners, it is a moment in time for us alone, and it can, occasionally, open up insights to the nature of our relationships.

Yoga can be practiced in a moment, or for hours. It can be done alone, or with an instructor. It can include meditation, breath work, kirtan (chanting), or not. But preaching? Not so much.

If an instructor tells a class to drink a lot of water, I’m down with that. There’s lots of benefit to drinking water, and how often do we hear of someone who has an issue of drinking too much water? Chakras and “energy” are fine as focal points, with clear language that guides people to explore within. But when someone says the magic words “should” or “should not” on areas outside of class, that is moving into inappropriate moral ground when the majority of participants are more worried about their spinal alignment and letting go of a hard day.

And this matters off the mat as well. If someone wants to be a “serious yogi,” whatever that means, why not start with the practice of letting go of judgment and the urge to criticize through the blogosphere? Perhaps you can start with the word serious. If someone tells you they are serious, give them the benefit of the doubt (unless they are somehow harming themselves or others). If you happen to be respected enough to have a question like this raised directly, why not respond with something like “You know, life is hard. There is no blanket answer that applies to everyone. But I’m happy to talk it out with you sometime.” Because maybe the people asking aren’t asking for a general rule. Probably they are wondering about their own life. Or a loved one. And how can we know about the lives of our friends, colleagues, students, customers, family, and others if we DON’T ASK?

And let’s let people live. Let them live and LEARN on their own terms. Sure we can guide, but we don’t have to effing point, ya feel? And if you also feel – and let’s be honest, it’s only a feeling – that something is incompatible with your own path, then by all means abstain. And guide through that. Show, don’t tell. Live, don’t preach.

And another thing, really, we should all stop using labels…oh, dammit.

– CT


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