Midwest Yoga is an acknowledgment. Yoga, as a spiritual practice, cannot be branded. It’s a spiritual system that’s universal in its goals and philosophies, much like the search for truth and happiness. “Yoga” certainly has its roots in the East, but the process of stilling the busy mind is something folks all over the world value as an approach to peace and joy.
When I began practicing yoga, I enjoyed the strong infusion of the East. Incense, sparkly statues, chanting music and Sanskrit names made the practice feel exotic and magical. Yoga gear with mandalas and buddhas started to fill my dresser drawers. It was fun.
When I finally had an opportunity to go to the Kumbha Mela, a big spiritual festival in India with my family, I was as excited to practice yoga in India as I was to share the adventure of traveling there with my young girls. I envisioned us walking around the festival in beautiful saris, immersing ourselves in the whole experience.
India did not disappoint. The adventure was real. And, the large group I was with did shop with the vendors for saris, shoes, and statues of gods and goddesses. But the more the Americans around me morphed into the whole Eastern experience, I felt less connected. My fellow travelers were lovely people, but I would get confused when some introduced themselves by “spiritual” (Sanskrit) names I couldn’t remember. We discussed complicated meditation techniques, and were given personal mantras. Essential oils were passed around, and the medicinal aspects of Indian herbs were discussed. It was every bit the exploration I expected. But my reaction was unexpected.
I began to miss simple, American things like coffee, blue jeans, and cowboy boots. I know that nobody ever suggested that yoga required all the Eastern strappings, but suddenly it seemed to me that they were actually getting in the way for me. Complicated mantras, spiritual names and Hindu statues seemed to be a distraction from the real purpose of the practice: to quiet the mind, identify less with our own unique ego, and more with that spirit that connects us to the rest of our world.
If we are really all alike at our core, then the clothing, music, language are all irrelevant. Core yoga principles are universal; they are not that unique. The basic teachings are harmonious with all spiritual practices.
I went home disappointed. I was told that India would change me. I didn’t feel changed. Instead, I felt I was more firmly gripping onto who I had been for years.
I kept teaching, but over time, my class changed. I still begin my classes with a smattering of philosophy, but the sources are more widespread and current. Making a connection between the teachings of Brene Brown or Mark Nepo and the Yoga Sutras is as easy as pie. I rarely play “yoga” music in class, but a little classic rock or current stuff might find its way in, if the lyrics send the right message. I like to present ideas that are practical and verifiable. Sure, writing in a “gratitude journal” every day is a really sweet thought…but why really are we doing this? Because it helps actually change the way our brain works, shifting our thoughts in a tangible way? Well, then, sign me up!
Over time, studying the stories of Hindu gods seemed less important to me than a quiet walk in the woods or studying a starry sky on a clear night. My spiritual teachers no longer wear white tunics or lululemon. They wear halters and lead ropes, or jeans and gym shoes. I became less interested in the holistic benefits of herbs grown halfway around the globe, and more interested in living in harmony with my own ecosystem.
India is beautiful. The people are lovely, and the way they organized the universal spiritual concepts into a package called “Yoga” is their gift to the world. I enjoy learning from their generous efforts. I’m grateful to reference this special practice and its roots in my own life and teachings. And I’m happy to remember my own roots when I practice as well. That straight-shooting, direct, inclusive, simple midwest approach to this practice is what I am about.