for The Huffington Post on April 15, 2010
Yoga is more than postures.
Worldwide, billions of people covet the industrial world's wealth and are replicating its system of modern consumerism as rapidly as possible. But what they are ignoring, perhaps perilously so, is the fact that as materially well off as the industrial world is, too many of us are also chronically living what Henry David Thoreau coined "a life of quiet desperation."
According to John M. Grohol, Psy.D. in the PsychCentral News, in America alone, over 10 percent of the population, (over 30 million people), rich by the rest of the world's standards, exist on antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. And the ever-growing use of sleep-aid drugs has increased to over 56 million people, according to Denise Gellene with the Los Angeles Times.
So, if the emerging nations obtain the wealth and technology they desire, it is likely they will discover the same shocking revelation that Americans have discovered: They are still not happy. Americans are depressed and stressed out. What can be deduced from this is that our careers, cars, smart phones, and even our flat-screen TVs will not ultimately make us happy, healthy, or feel that we live a meaning life.
One of the great hopes in all this is that in the past decade there has been a huge upsurge in people embarking on self-examination. People are again asking the big question, "What is this life about?" And no matter how hard we may try to deny it, the answer we are left facing is a spiritual one.
Because of this reawakening, yoga is sweeping across the globe at a dazzling speed, as millions are turning to yoga not only to exercise, but also as an alternative to the experience of a spiritual gathering they cannot find in a church, synagogue, mosque or Web site. Perhaps the reason for this lies in the chief difference between religion and Western-style yoga, and that is that Yoga is usually offered in a nondogmatic format, which makes it inclusive to many more people. Because of its message of healing, unity and a simpler life, yoga may be one of the great rays of hope for our future. Why? Because worldwide, yoga is being embraced primarily by college-educated, upper-middle-class thinkers and businesspeople in positions of power--the very strata of society that has the power to make the changes this world so desperately needs.
In my own experience as a teacher of yoga and personal transformation, I witness many white-collar businesspeople park their $85,000 cars, turn off their cell phones, and walk into yoga rooms in a courageous attempt to transform their bodies and emotional states without the use of pharmaceuticals. The transformation is powerful to observe. Through the practice of special breathing techniques, meditation, and a sequence of postures, one day they experience a sense of calm beingness that they have not felt in years or even decades. This wondrous heart-opening consciousness triggers the profound realization that a 90 minute, $20 yoga class fulfills many of their essential needs, more than any of their other possessions they have worked like dogs to obtain. This life-changing insight compels them to reassess the value of their priorities and their very purpose in life: Who am I? Why am I? Where am I going?
The world at large could reap untold benefits as the core of the world's white-collar workforce becomes more concerned with opening their hearts than filling their wallets. I believe that most yoga teachers can attest that yoga is visibly de-stressing and healing countless people each day. This new wave of peace and tolerance can be felt rising, and not just in America; the wave has now stretched across the seas to Europe, the Far East, and even the Middle East. International power-cities like Hong Kong, Tokyo, Beijing, Singapore, Berlin, London, Istanbul, and Tel Aviv all offer yoga classes in impressive yoga centers. Lives are being changed and are souls re-inspired to reach beyond themselves and into the possibility of a greater world through peace, health, nondogmatic spirituality, and a conscious life.
Because of the enormous influence of yoga teachers, I believe that what we teachers need to do next is to focus on ethical renewal, teaching by example first and also by planting seeds in our yoga classes. Ethics must become a focalized component as it is one of the missing links in modern society, as made clearly evident in the collapse of the banking system. In this world, it is not enough to be smart and well educated, we must begin to see our fellow man and woman to be as important as our own families. The Yoga Community, and particularly its yoga teachers have a meaningful influence over the white-collar strata of society, including those in pinnacle power positions. So, it is our responsibility to inspire our students to set an example to infuse their highest ideals into their work and workplace, always looking for win-win events and holding firm that the end never justifies the means. Perhaps the impact of yoga on the world will ultimately be in opening people's minds and hearts and helping to guide our actions on an exemplary course through history.