Thank you to Allison H., teacher training graduate of the Dr. Bali Method, for contributing this piece.
There are over 30 million people practicing yoga today in the United States alone and the participation rate is increasing by 20% each year. Everywhere you turn, there are yoga studios, clothing lines, accessories, new yoga trends, something for everyone. Another study estimates Americans spend over $27 billion a year on yoga classes and products, including equipment, clothing, vacations and media (DVDs, videos, books and magazines). What could explain this explosion of popularity for such a simple, ancient practice?
Perhaps the initial draw for Western practitioners, are the obvious physical benefits, but yoga is unique in that it also offers something much deeper; the promise of serenity, peace and connection amidst the noise and haste of our busy North American lives. Today North Americans work more, earn less, are more stressed, and have the lowest life expectancy rate among 17 peer countries around the world (Canada placed 6th).
Is the exponential increase of people practicing yoga today an indication that there is a greater consciousness at work that is drawing people towards yoga and a deeper spiritual practice? Our gravitation to yoga may be an indication that, as a society, our values are changing. The North American system that has been built on consumption and striving for success, which has sustained us for over a century, is perhaps nearing its climax and people are now longing for a deeper sense of connection and greater understanding of our true nature.
It is clear that our system is out of balance. The narrative of our culture is one that has deluded us into thinking that we are what we own, that our value is measured by our success, that we are powerless and that our inner and outer resources are finite. John Steinbeck once said “This monster of a land, this mightiest of nations, this spawn of the future, turns out to be the macrocosm of microcosm me“. We are the co-creators of the world. If we live in constant inner-turmoil, existential fear and feelings that we are never good enough, then the world that what create can only be a reflection of this.
No doubt that it is a world operating from this limited and fearful field of perception that has fueled the years of conflict and wars between the US and the Middle East (with military spending at 682 billion in 2013 alone; over a trillion dollars spent on the “War on Drugs” since 1971; the alarming increase in the rates of Depression and stress-related illness and disability (1 in 10 Americans report being Depressed and the World Health Organization reports Depression as “among the leading causes of disability worldwide”); the devastating gap among the rich and poor nations; the magnitude of the global warming crisis; the destruction of the rain forests; the extinction of wildlife; and the list goes on and on.
It is no wonder that faced with these seemingly insurmountable problems in the world, that people feel overwhelmed, depressed, and hopeless. As fearful a place the world may be from the perceiver, even greater is the fear for many to turn the lens inward, face ourselves, and address the root of the problem. We are all responsible for the reality that is around us. It begins with each person individually. As we change our inner world and realize that we are part of a greater consciousness, wherein we are all connected, so too, do we change the landscape of our outer world. Once this change of perception happens, ones actions are directed by a magnanimous and infinite source that is not limited by what is perceived through the senses and the rational mind. When we experience the true depths of reality, the source of creation, we shift our perception and experience the world as abundant, benevolent, loving and infinite.
Exploring our inner world can be a scary endeavour, especially when everything around you since you were a young child has told you that you are not good enough. Why would anyone want to look inward, at the risk of discovering that the beliefs that they’ve been internalizing their whole lives are true? But as Jesus prophesied, the cost of not facing ourselves is becoming too great. For the first time in history we are facing the possibility of our extinction at our own hands and we need tools to help guide us towards healing ourselves and, consequently, the world around us.
Yoga is a tool that can be used to give the practitioner the courage to look inward and change consciousness. Instead of seeking out ways to assuage anxiety through external means, Yoga invites the practitioner to look inward for comfort and soothing. It does so gently through a slight change in perception. It is said that “Energy flows where attention goes” and this is experienced in Yoga.
The cost of not facing ourselves is becoming too great. For the first time in history we are facing the possibility of our extinction at our own hands and we need tools to help guide us towards healing ourselves and, consequently, the world around us. Yoga is a practical, holistic method for achieving peace. This peace happens spontaneously as the individual dedicates themselves to the physical, mental and spiritual practice that yoga offers. These experiences are subjective and can only be derived by those who commit to the practice.
The benefits of yoga manifest on many levels. Initially, the practitioner experiences a renewed connection with their bodies. This connection brings with it the perception of the complexity and incredible symbiosis that takes place within the body in every waking moment. Appreciation of the miracle of life and the wisdom of nature, as manifested through our bodies, brings with it a sense of connection to all of life. As one’s connection to their body strengthens, so does the understanding and experience of connection with the whole of creation. A new relationship develops with all things, as one comes to an appreciation of how intertwined we all are. Through Yoga, we begin to observe how our thoughts manifest the world around us. We come to understand that taking responsibility for ourselves, on all levels, is the most loving thing that we can do to heal ourselves and heal the world.
Yoga is a wise and patient teacher. It shows us, on an experiential level, that in order to change the world around us, it has to begin with each individual. Taking this first step, is all that is needed. As a civilization, we’ve used our rational minds to evolve into the chaos that we see all around us today. Yoga offers us a path of “involution”, where we can go back into the source, manifesting a world that is guided by wisdom, love and magnanimity. Yoga gives us permission to detach from all the draws on our attention from the outside world and invites us back in to where our attention belongs, in silent connection with the source. From this place, we are offered a second chance for a lasting change of global consciousness and hope for the future.