Before I describe my personal understanding about this book, I would like to tell a short story about my personal introduction with yoga. Seven years ago, when I’ve still become a news reporter, I’ve been assigned to write about yoga. At the time, yoga suddenly became more ‘popular’ exercise because Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI) ever declared that yoga is haram. Remain that most of Indonesian are Muslim, the declaration was reaping a lot of questions at the time, though actually, MUI issued three decisions (fatwa):
- Yoga in which contain pure spiritual rituals of other religions, is haram.
- Yoga in which contain spiritual meditation and mantras or rituals of other religions is haram, as a preventive measure (sadd al-dzari’ah).
- Yoga and breathing exercises are purely for the sake of health is mubah (allowed)
I guessed, maybe because Ashtanga was a popular yoga style at the time. With it’s powerful chanting, it’s sweaty movement flow and it’s ‘magical’ pose. At the time, inversion and arm balance pose was not as popular as nowadays when yoga poses is become instagram-able. It was like magic, and mystical when yogini can lift their body just with their hand, or standing on their head. It’s unusual yet amazing when they could mastering their body so easily. But again, reaping some question and assumption, remain that Indonesia also have a lot of mystical culture.
Some other yoga style that also popular at the time is Hatha. Similar with Ashtanga, some Hatha teachers usually start the practice by meditation and also vocalized chanting. Mostly, they pronounce chanting or mantra with Sanskrit language and sounds like Indian-Hindu holy pray. For me as a Muslim, I admit I feel a little bit annoyed. So every time I attend yoga class, and my teacher start to vocalize mantra, I just listen instead of following them sounding the mantra. My reason is simple; I don’t know the meaning behind every word. I’m afraid if the words may contain a certain religious holy mantra. But I still do the meditation. Because, it helps me connecting my breath, mind and body as well, before practicing some asanas.
Nowadays, after I read The Heart of Yoga by T.K.V. Desikachar that published on 1995 I highlight some things. One of them is “just because yoga originated in India does not mean that we must become a Hindu in order to practice it. Yoga does not require a particular belief system and if we already have one, it is not challenged by yoga.”
Desikachar also mention that mantra is not a Hindu symbol but rather most more universal. It is something that can bring a person’s mind to a higher plane. We can always work within an individual’s tradition, language, sentences or whatever that increase our energy after vocalize it.
After understanding about the knowledge, I feel more confident of practicing and learning more about yoga. Because I’m sure that yoga is universal. It is not contrary to my belief as Muslim. Even, yoga itself has a classic definition; yoga is to be one with the divine. It doesn’t matter what name we use for the divine – Allah, God, Isvara or whatever. Anything that brings us closer to understanding that there is a poser higher and greater than ourselves is yoga. When we feel in harmony with that higher power, that too is yoga. And I experience that feeling. When I do yoga, I feel like a small piece of universe. When I do the meditation, I also feel the universe’s immortality movement. Makes me feel the greatness of The Creator.
On yoga, we can begin our practice by whatever starts line. October 2014, my yoga journey began (again) by practicing asana on regular yoga class. At the time, I didn’t expect anything on my yoga practice. I just treat yoga as other usual exercise I’ve ever done before, like run, zumba or belly dance. But in fact, I felt different. I feel more connected with my body.
I found out now that it is because yoga is much a practice involving breath as it is involving the body. The breath is the link between the inner and outer body. Yoga combined the breath and movement into unison that makes my whole body and mind to become a single unit practicing and experiencing the quality of asana at present time.
I also highlight about developing personal practice. I have a habit on taking pictures of asana that I already master and share it on my social media. I loved when people get amazed on my picture. I loved when people start to ask how I could do that pose. I love to get that kind of attention. At the time, my yoga journey has a kind of misleading. My goal on doing yoga was shifted from fit to fame.
I started to learn how to get into certain pose, and then taking pictures of it until I got one perfect look. If it needs to take a hundred shot, I would do it. I neglected about preparation asanas. I even neglected about the counter pose as well after I got the picture I want.
As I told before, some asanas looks unusual compare with our daily activities. Inversion poses for example. Though the inversion gives some benefits (like reversing the blood flow and letting the gravity provide the brain with oxygen and blood) it still needs some preparation to get into the pose. And after we succeed with the pose, we still need to do some counter asanas to neutralize our body into its normal condition.
Sometimes, I skip those preparation and counter poses. Because my ‘yoga’ is not for me. It was like a model walking on catwalk. I was smiling and posing for other’s eyes. If people get bored with what I’ve done, or my picture doesn’t get lot of attention, I got upset. And that’s not yoga. There’s nothing wrong about taking picture of our yoga poses. But it starts getting wrong if our goal is not about getting respect from ourselves.
Yoga is personal. Yoga is getting to know and respect our overall body, inside out. Yoga is about ourselves. It’s about finding steadiness and comfortable posture and position on our practice by our own version.
And become a yoga teacher is not about showing what we can do in front of our student. But bring them to know further about their own body.