I looked around the yoga room and saw heroes. Heroes were bent and folded into all shapes and sizes and represented all nations. Each of them took on a unique shape just as yoga does in its expressions around the world. And while yoga has been around for a long time, it’s still new to many.
Both the formation of heroes and answers to questions about yoga are in the early stages, and this ongoing face-lift is confusing to many. The bookstore I visit, with approximately 50-thousand books, demonstrated this by recently moving their yoga collection. Yoga books had been shelved in the section on metaphysics and spirituality; now they lean against books about anatomy, exercise, and weightlifting.
For everyone – even librarians – it’s convenient to have a system of categorization. Librarians excel at categorizing, but I think yoga’s place on the shelves might be unclear to them. I have a vision of librarians questioning where to put the yoga books. I imagine them debating its classification: is yoga an esoteric and aesthetic spiritual discipline, an exercise science, a blended religion, or something else?
And even though yoga comes out of a culture steeped in Hinduism, modern practice does not require the study of sacred knowledge or doctrine. It was Patanjali, 1100 years ago in the Yoga Sutras, that systematized yoga as a form of meditation, practical asana, and spirituality.
Patanjali’s definitive thread (sutra) moved yoga from the realm of secret knowledge to spiritual philosophy. Patanjali’s gift to us is a yoga philosophy built on spirituality and connection rather than knowledge. Still, it’s necessary for yogis to develop their own philosophies as they seek yoga’s meaning for their lives. The hero is better equipped when a strong and nimble mind creates clear thoughts and is linked to physical training.
That’s why developing our own philosophy of yoga through the discipline of mind is a part of heroes work. A yogi in hero pose (virasana) sits back on their knees facing forward. It’s a posture of truly facing-up. It prepares the yogi to look at whatever blocks their path.
Virasana improves flexibility in ankles, knees, and thighs and with sustained practice teaches calm focus and mental concentration. Virasana is not physically strenuous in short bursts, but for anyone over 18, resting in hero pose quickly becomes uncomfortable as blood flow to the lower extremities is constricted. Combine this with the added tasks meditation, stillness, and sustained breathing and it’s easy to see how virasana is heroes’ work.
A hero is accurately described with noun and verb, for the hero is a person, but a hero is also known by what they do on the way to their destiny. The yogi channeling hero is actively working even if they look to be kneeling in stillness.
A hero is not afraid of challenges they face because they carry strength, courage and a calm focus into the future. They learn that it’s an active step to hero their families, their friends, and the people they love. And when coming into awareness of our brief time on this planet, is it really worthwhile to be anything less than a hero to the people most important to us?
It’s easy to know what you might be as a hero. Simply ask yourself who you admire, what you admire about them, and what you would have to do to be like them? This doesn’t mean our heroic lives must be marked by fame, fortune or superpowers like flying or mind-reading. Heroic work may be offering praise and admiration to others. A hero is not stingy; they’re generous with their gifts, especially praise and admiration. They see their role of encouragement as part of their heroic work.
I recall a professor of mine once telling a class of future counselors how counseling work is heroes’ work. He said, “If you as an older person are not admiring someone younger than yourself, by withholding your admiration, you are actively hurting them.” He also said, “And if a younger person is not admiring someone older than themselves, they are hurting them.”
A good counselor, just like a good teacher, knows that good counsel does not just offer praise and encouragement; part of their job is to appropriately challenge, which also causes others to grow. But they are not afraid of offering encouragement and praise.
Yoga is changing and it’s confusing to many. In the recently published study, “Yoga in America,” conducted every 4-years by the Yoga Alliance, results state that of the 37-million Americans practicing yoga today, only 7% (excluding teachers) have been doing so for more than 10-years. Many teachers are also neophytes, only 38% have been teaching for more than 5-years. There’s a lot of space for heroes in the yoga room.
To activate the inner hero, the yogi verbalizes their encouragement by admiring and praising others, they face their challenges with calm and focus, and they grow their philosophy and come to terms with change. And every time they kneel on the mat, the yogi becomes the hero they admire, and they share what they’ve learned steadily making yogis into heroes.
To read the full article please download our Asana Journal App or purchase Issue 161 May 2016.