Why Yoga is Dope
by Mia Velez
The growing popularity of Yoga is a testament to its effectiveness in generating a sense of well-being. A multitude of scientific research shows yoga can alleviate symptoms for a wide range of illnesses such as addiction, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, chronic pain, trauma, etc. There are many uses for yoga, but it does have a particular purpose: to control the modifications of the mind to realize the unity of all. When you touch the essence of Yoga, it brings a deep sense of peace and happiness that comes from within. Moving through life this way, the light of Yoga radiates into your relationship with the world. It is true that many of us come out of a yoga practice feeling good, but why does it not translate to the rest of our lives? And with 300 million practitioners, why is our world in such turmoil? With adaptations that include the prefix goat, sup, beer & wine, tantrum, or hoop, it appears that Yoga has been rebranded from a spiritual practice into a feel-good activity. The pleasure we feel from yoga is nothing more than a chemical release of pleasure hormones such as dopamine to reward and encourage a particular behavior. When applied for its usefulness and not for its purpose, we lose the benevolent intention of Yoga.
“Endorphins and dopamine…reinforce behaviors into habits but it does not liberate us from repressive social standards.”
A vigorous asana (physical postures) practice stimulates the release of hormones to counter the challenges of the postures. Towing the line of discomfort, what is often called “the edge,” activates the pain-killing and pleasurable effects of endorphins. Paired with the rewarding and also pleasurable effects of dopamine, we come away from a yoga practice feeling good. Endorphins and dopamine flooding our system is an encouraging side effect of the practice. These “pleasure” hormones reinforce behaviors into habits but it does not liberate us from repressive social standards. Chasing the feeling of positivity, we bypass the challenges that lead to growth and instead perpetuate the personal distortion of reality. This distortion is apparent in the billion dollar industry of yoga merchandise that advertises glossy, trim and beautiful bodies contorted into impressive poses. Yoga is so much more than that, but to get to the core of its teachings can be a difficult and sometimes painful journey. When difficulties arise in life, it is easy to employ yoga techniques to activate the feel good hormones and avoid the problem. It is often suggested to go deeper into the subtle practice with meditation. However, this also does not guarantee a better world.
“Traditionally, the purpose of asanas is to prepare the body to sit and meditate for long periods of time.”
Traditionally, the purpose of asanas is to prepare the body to sit and meditate for long periods of time. There are many meditation techniques which are the culmination of full concentration and the absence of time. The utmost purpose is to awaken to the reality of existence and experience its interconnectedness, otherwise known as enlightenment. However, this is a lofty and seemingly impossible goal. Additionally, the word “enlightenment” itself often creates an aversion to the western audience. Still, meditation is another component of Yoga that is growing in popularity for its many uses. Research shows that meditation has a biochemical impact on the mind and body by producing hormones such as serotonin, and dopamine, and reduces the production of cortisol. It builds focus, controls impulses, increases imagination and creativity, and reduces stress, but it does not guarantee ethical behavior.
A google search on “billionaires who meditate” shows a vast list of CEOs who attribute their success to a regular meditation practice. How can one be a true meditator and horde the Earth’s resources knowing there are so many others who are in debilitating poverty? Meditation applied for its use brings productivity, innovation, and capital gains to a business setting. One such billionaire is Monsanto’s ex-CEO, Bob Shapiro, who claims to meditate regularly since his college years. The Monsanto corporation is responsible for decimating the lives of farmers, producing chemicals that harm the environment causing a huge imbalance in the world’s ecosystem, and fought to patent seeds by pushing legislation to consider seeds as widgets not life-forms (Vanity Fair 2008). How could someone who truly practices meditation sign off on these decisions? It seems the appropriation of Yoga has done more harm than good for our world.
As a teacher, I often question, do I enable and perpetuate the problems of our world by sharing Yoga techniques without its complete context?
Today, more yoga and meditation teachers are entering corporate and business settings to offset the workers’ stress and ultimately boost the company’s market shares. What began in hermitages, monasteries or in small private groups some 3000 years ago may have lost its true purpose as it entered modernity. No longer rooted to its purpose, we take it apart and use it in place of our antidepressants. Each method within Yoga can be appropriated to achieve personal goals without the burden of Yoga’s spiritual context of peace and unity. As a teacher, I often question, do I enable and perpetuate the problems of our world by sharing Yoga techniques without its complete context? Yoga is more than feeling good, the path of Yoga unravels oppressive social conditioning, liberates us from attached identities and releases us from selfish ambition. Ultimately, Yoga brings a sense of peace and balance into our personal experience which then ignites our inner longing to build meaningful and compassionate actions into our community and the world. Teaching the spiritual principles of Yoga may mean losing a few students who come to class for a dopamine fix but, it is a must if the aim is to preserve the true essence of Yoga.
Simo Mia Velez is a disciple of Sifu Moy Bah Hugh in the Moy Yat Ving Tsun Kung Fu lineage. She has co-founded the International Ving Tsun Sisterhood, a grassroots organization to empower women in the Ving Tsun system, and she began teaching as a Simo in 2018. Mia earned her first 200 hour Yoga teaching certification in 2008 and again in 2018. She now staffs the Hatha Yoga Basic Teacher Training at Integral Yoga Institute in San Francisco. She has taught Kung fu or Yoga at various settings: community centers, yoga studios, weekend camps and retreats, schools, support groups and in jails. A working mother running her own preschool called OM School and an advocate/organizer for Parent Voices, a California based organization that fights for equity in early childhood education, Mia believes that her path as a teacher is to serve others and create a pocket of Peace. She currently lives in San Francisco with her husband and two children.