Here’s a little secret: I read every single newsletter that lands in my inbox (all my inboxes, for my multiple email accounts). While I was scanning the March newsletter for BODHI, a yoga centre and corporate wellness program based here in Montreal, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the title of this blog had inspired a mini essay by director Bhaskar Goswami. We have some differing ideas about yoga, particularly 21st century manifestations of the practice (I’m also not interested in the “accurate labeling” of anything) – but I do think that Goswami zeroed in on the inherent paradox of the name of this blog.
He’s also missed the subtle irreverence and sense of fun that, I think, the “baby” lends to the blog. Nevertheless, Goswami’s rumination has inspired me to reflect on the meaning and intention of “it’s all yoga, baby.” There is indeed a story behind the name, and I will reveal it in the coming days. In the meantime, check out Goswami’s inspired piece.
Once, in a borderless place and an ageless time, a being sat in stillness for a mighty long time. Let’s call him a Brahman, or Abraham. It is understood, or at least imagined, that his mind became so still that he merged with the essence of it all. From this state of being, he uttered the immortal words, “It’s all yoga baby.“
Countless masters have since come and gone, verifying this experiment and then uttering this same sentiment in their own way: “It’s all yoga, baby.” “It’s all yoga, baby.” “It’s, all yoga baby.” “Es ist alles yoga, baby.“
Then, something strange happened relatively recently. Lay people, with the best of intentions, started to repeat these words without the experiential understanding. Perhaps this was initially intended as a tribute to their teacher. This morphed the intention behind this statement into an entirely tangential meaning. Suddenly, Dog Yoga, Aqua Yoga, Dance Yoga, Cardio Yoga, Bob Yoga, Sally Yoga, Hot Yoga, Egyptian Yoga, Christian Yoga, Traditional Yoga and hosts of other creative concoctions came into our vernacular.
Let us take a moment to reflect on the consequences of this. The word ‘yoga’ translates to ‘union.’ Ironically, the very fact that there is a qualifier to the word ‘yoga’ implicitly separates it from everything else that it is not. The ‘union with all’ meaning is left standing around looking bewildered. Under the banner of “It’s all yoga, baby!” yoga became a free-for-all word to mean whatever we want. Since yoga means ‘union,’ how could anything not be yoga?
Paradoxically, it ain’t all yoga, baby (or “es ist nicht, alle yoga baby“). That is to say, there is a prerequisite. Since the original “it’s all yoga, baby” insight came from a state of pure and alive stillness, this state of being is the necessary condition for the insight to have any experiential validity. The purpose of yoga practice therefore, has to be to create this state-change and facilitate this experiential understanding. Otherwise, it is stretching in a room (hot, or not). It ain’t yoga, baby.
This is not to condemn any practice. Every well-intentioned practice is worthy of respect. It is about the accurate labeling of yoga. Developing the ability to be absolutely still and present for a meaningful duration has profound personal and social implications. It requires a body that is not disturbed by aches and pains; and a mind that is not disturbed by turbulent thoughts and emotions. Calling any practice that is contrary or indifferent to creating this condition ‘yoga’ shortchanges the practitioner and as a consequence, is a disservice to humanity.
Now imagine that you are asking the question “Is it all yoga, baby?” with utmost sincerity. This is your practice. Every waking moment is an opportunity to investigate and observe this objectively. Everything is being observed from an inherent place of stillness, including sensations in the body and thoughts in the mind. If this is so, then wherever you are, whatever you do – it’s all yoga, baby.
Another example, imagine that you are firmly, unflinchingly and effortlessly rooted in the conviction that “It IS all yoga, baby.” I am naught, and yoga is all. Every waking hour, the ‘I’ disappears and only the ‘yoga’ remains. If the ‘I’ disappears, then there is nothing to get disturbed. You guessed it, experientially again – it’s all yoga, baby.
To put it simply: “Health is wealth. Peace of mind in happiness. Yoga shows the way.” – Swami Vishnudevananda
Namaste (the ‘it’s all yoga baby‘ in me, recognizes the ‘it’s all yoga baby‘ in you)