What do drinking beer, playing golf, and yoga have in common? They are all activities that we engage in in order to cope with our lives. When we are feeling tired or stressed, we turn to ways to regain our composure, to let off some steam. And while each of the above can help us do just that, each functions in a different way.
When dealing with the trials and tribulations of our day-to-day existence, we have a choice: We can endeavor to deal with the source of our pain, or temporarily escape it. We can face the problem, or we can mask the symptom. While from an objective perspective, it makes more sense to root out the problem, the world these days seems to be focused primarily on symptom fixing. Just turn on the television and you’ll be inundated with ads for pills to ease your joint pain, lower your cholesterol, and even coat your stomach so you can eat food that’s not good for you.
This trend has us rarely choosing to face problems head on, rather we work to mask the symptoms so we feel better—a beautiful vacation in Fiji to counter the stressed-out frenzy of our lives; a few pills a day to keep our blood pressure in check. If we feel better, we must be better, right? Not necessarily.
So then what’s the allure of masking symptoms over addressing the source of our anxiety or pain? Pure and simple, it’s easier. Taking a pill for high blood pressure is much easier than creating a balanced life; and for some people, having someone poke holes in their body and vacuum fat out of their thighs is preferable to exercising and eating right.
Now I’m not suggesting that Fiji vacations, blood pressure medicine, or liposuction is bad. In fact, they can all be marvelous and appropriate responses when used in conjunction with taking care of ourselves as we should (many people’s blood pressure simply cannot be controlled without medication, for example). Where we do run into problems however, is when we use these kinds of things as crutches, to prop up our imbalanced and frenetic lives. When we opt for the ease of masking the symptom, instead of dealing with the underlying cause we cease making any real progress.
So where does this leave us regarding drinking beer, playing golf, and yoga? In light of the above, we gain a perspective regarding what is a fix, and what is a temporary escape. The first two are clearly ways to escape from, not solve, our problems, but what about yoga? Is yoga an escape from our lives, or a practice that helps us transcend suffering? The short answer is both, but as we all know, I’m not particularly prone to short answers, so here we go.
Here at Yoga Pura, we spend a lot of time talking about yoga as a path to liberation, a science that leads us to transcend the anxieties and stresses of everyday life. It’s a way to live artfully, we say, a path to freedom. As such, yoga is most certainly a method to transcend what ails us, not temporarily escape from it. It’s a cure, not a palliative. But can it also simply serve as an escape rather than a cure? This very question was posed by one of our regular yoginis in a recent class. And it’s a darned good one (thanks A!).
The answer is an unfortunate yes. Yoga can indeed serve as a temporary escape. Even more unfortunately, as yoga is being dumbed down in studios and gyms across the country, it is probably being used purely as an escape in more cases than not.
Let me clarify: yoga is the practice of integration leading to the stillness of mind leading to Self-realization—transcendent bliss (sounds good, doesn’t it?). The word yoga means union, and not only of body, mind, and spirit, but the union between your life in the studio and your life outside the studio. So if we find ourselves getting stressed out, tired, and anxious in our everyday lives, then come to yoga in order to relax, then get up go back to our lives with the same unconscious patterns that keep us stressed out, tired, and anxious, we are undoubtedly using the practice as an escape—a temporary salve on our wounded lives.
This is not what real yoga is about. Yoga is a means to transcend the problems at the source of our suffering—pull them out by their roots—so we can be free forevermore of the pernicious symptoms. But two things are required for us to be able to effectively use our yoga practice for this kind of liberation: we must understand and embrace the techniques through regular practice and we must tenaciously apply them in our daily lives, not just in the studio.
For this, the studio is our training ground. You might think of the yoga studio is the safe and shallow swimming pool in which we learn to swim. Just like we don’t try to learn to swim in the ocean with its waves, sharks, and undertows, we don’t try to learn to practice yoga in the emotionally-charged environment of our everyday lives. The studio provides a controlled environment in which we gain mastery over the techniques that will set us free when applied in the rest of our lives.
With all that said, there is nothing wrong with using yoga as an escape (after all, a nice hour and a half of yoga is going to do way more for you than a couple of beers at Applebee’s). So if this is where you find yourself, please by all means continue. My main point is this: by practicing yoga for 90 minutes, three times a week, without the intention to carry the practice over into the rest of our lives, we are missing the greatest gifts that yoga has to offer us. It’s like using a 747 to drive to the Circle K, it works, it’s comfortable, but we could be getting so much more out of it by using in the way it was intended.
Blessing to all,
About the Author
Eric Walrabenstein is a nationally-recognized speaker, teacher, and author and is one of the most sought-after authorities on the application of yogic technology for self healing and empowerment in the nation. As the founder of one of Arizona’s largest yoga centers, Eric has long been dedicated to making ancient wisdom and techniques practical and relevant for people from all walks of life.
In addition to his work in his wellness center in Phoenix, Arizona, he is the creator of BOOTSTRAP, a yoga-based program to help troops and veterans heal from post traumatic stress as well as BetterBox, a subscription box revolutionizing the self-improvement industry. An ordained Yogacharya (preceptor of yoga), Eric is currently finishing a book on the Science of Happiness.