When I think of yoga imagery, minimalism the last thing that comes to mind. The Hindu aesthetic is quite clearly maximalist, full of colour, symbolism and detail. This spills over into Western yoga. Yoga leggings, to choose an obvious example, are often brightly coloured and patterned. Many yogis adorn their studio spaces with multi-hued batiks. This is super good, a few years ago I would have done the same. I really like colour. But, there has been an evolution in my consciousness and my yoga teaching and practice. I call it Y O G A | M I N I M A L I S M.
Am I minimalist in my home life?
Yes and no. It has been the work of my lifetime to overcome my hoarding habit. Not only am I born in the Year of the Rat (Rats are considered to be innate hoarders), but both my parents had a marked tendency to save everything for a rainy day. Add to this an exaggerated sense of responsibility for The World (I thought that if I *didn’t* recycle or dispose of ethically I would doom us all!) and some pretty tight years, economically, and you get a person who holds onto to stuff. A big part of my personal (r)evolution was learning to part with things – EVEN if I like them, EVEN if they’re useful.
It was hard at first, but I got the hang of it and now I can confidently say that my possessions do not overwhelm me and are manageable and useful. I had to do the same thing with my yoga. Beginning in 1999, I have practiced yogâsana, and was lucky to find Viniyoga in 2007. Since then, I have worked on focus and exclusivity, and it has brought such an enormous sense of peace and joy – as well as more minimalism. I just do this one thing – Viniyoga and mantra. (My thesis for my first YTT was on mantra and it is core element of my practice). Even so, I do always try to deepen certain poses (the progressive development over time is called “Vinyasa Krama”), and there are still moves that I would love to master. But, that is only desire and I can choose to act on it, or not. For now, I choose to gentle and calm postures, no straining, lots of rest. It works for me and I think that it can work for most practitioners with more than a decades’ practice on their mats.
Y O G A | C O N F U S I O N
Yoga is a bit of a hoarder. It has a lot of facets. You start with postures and suddenly find pranayama. You start with mantra and suddenly find yantra and suddenly you think “I am going to print some t-shirts”. Modern yoga is definitely NOT minimalist. Yoga is full to bursting with ideas, scriptures, imagery, history and options to personalise your practice. It is far too easy to be drawn into ever wider and more disperse circles of yoga.
For example, you begin by studying a 200-hr Sivananda YTT, and after a few months’ teaching, you understand that you need more depth. So you go on a 500-hr Yoga Therapy YTT. This helps, but by going to a different lineage, you find that the same posture is known by different names, depending on whom you study with. You start to investigate and find out that Kundalini yoga doesn’t even use Sanskrit, it uses Gurmukhi. You listen to the Kundalini bhajans and discover that you like chanting. Suddenly you have a white turban and a spiritual name. You get into White Tantra but find the scene a bit way-out. You pull away and suddenly you’re doing Beer Yoga…
Sounds funny, right? But it is not that far-fetched. It is modern yoga and it can pull you in all directions, if you’re not careful. Being pulled in all directions is the OPPOSITE of yoga, which, of course, means “to unite”. Yoga is about becoming united in body and mind, united in your path and your purpose and united in your heart and spirit.
Y O G A | M I N I M A L I S M
Minimalism, as applied to yoga, means sticking to one path, and using fewer and fewer props and postures. Yoga, union, is, after all, found in meditation. Meditation does not use anything at all. I have said many a time that meditation is profoundly counter-cultural as the one who meditates consumes nothing at all, hardly even air.
The more I practice and teach, the less I do. And I mean that in the gross, outerworld way. Of course, I try to stay “in yoga” all the time, even when I am out dancing or whatever. But I don’t feel the need to make challenging yoga shapes, post every day to Instagram whilst wearing cool yoga gear or even convince people of the many incredible benefits of yoga. In fact, I have become very minimalist in my approach to yoga.
- If someone hears the call to do yoga, they will. If not, don’t try to convince them.
- If a practice accelerates the breath, it may be good and fun, but it goes against yoga. They say you’re born with a certain number of breaths and using them up faster shortens your life. Move and breathe S L O W L Y.
- If you can stop, do. If you can just sit and breathe, do it.
- Focus on the exhale, not the inhale.
- Remember the Yamas ahimsa and santosha. Ahimsa is “no harming”. Don’t hurt yourself. Santosha is “enjoyment”. Make your practice fun and enjoyable.
- Gratitude. What a gift is it to practice yoga, to live in a time and a place in which yoga has travelled across the globe and embraced us all. Thank you, Purusha.
To close and honour the ending principle
Hindu philosophy, as applied to yoga, identifies Lord Shiva as the closer of things, the one who lets things end. As I finish this post, I offer my words to this principle. Ending, emptiness, the void – these are all quite frightening to the Western Mind. We see endings as finite, but if you see Life itself as a continuum, as energy gathering, unfolding and dispersing, then endings aren’t so scary. Minimalism in yoga is allowing your âsana practice to draw inwards, to become tighter and smaller and, well, more minimal. Don’t be afraid of letting a sweaty or active practice fade as you age. It may be just what you need. After all, if we don’t open space for the new, how can anything new enter our life?