Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
Live Be Yoga ambassadors Jeremy Falk and Aris Seaberg are on a road trip across the country to share real talk with master teachers, explore innovative classes, and so much more—all to illuminate what’s in store for the future of yoga.
“Yoga is not asana, and there is more to the Purna Yoga we practice here,” says Aadil Palkhivala. We joined Aadil and his wife Savitri, both celebrated yoga and meditation teachers, at their studio, Alive and Shine Center, in Bellevue, WA, for one of our most illuminating classes and discussions of the tour.
It was inspiring to witness two people’s love for the practice of yoga flow so naturally through through them. They truly walk the walk when it comes to living and being yoga. And they make a point of teaching it too. Why? Aadil didn’t mince words: “So people will wake up to realize the true power that lies in yoga.”
It isn’t a surprise that Western culture has an affinity toward superficial appearances. After all, you don’t have to look further than social media posts that glorify taut bodies in fancy poses to notice that we have molded yoga into a brand of fitness.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is a tendency to focus on the benefits of yoga according to science, which is in alignment with our intellectually and medically driven world.
Don’t get me wrong: More people than ever before are enjoying the physical benefits and healing aspects of the practice, and this is wonderful. But it’s easy for practitioners in the West to selectively use the aspects we more easily understand and are most comfortable with. By this point of the tour, Jeremy and I had been to over 30 studios across the U.S. and met so many heartfelt studio owners and yogis, but overall I would conclude this is still the theme. Most classes we’ve attended are very asana-based. As a result, it’s easier to skip over attributes of yoga that hold profound wisdom of which Aadil and Savitri speak.
“The foundation of yoga is humility,” Savitri said. “That is something that is missing in the West in yoga, and that is something that is very much part of the Indian culture.”
We discussed how yoga is taught in India and how there are steps to avoid issues and ensure yogis progress in the practice with reverence. (After all, Aadil studied with B.K.S. Iyengar when he was 7 years old.) There, yogis do not advance to asana, pranayama, meditation, and the higher “levels” of the practice until they have mastered the Yamas and Niyamas, ethical guidelines laid out by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.
Wisdom continued to pour from Savitri as she discussed the importance of a strong ethical foundation in yoga. “Humility starts to teach the mind and teach the body to surrender, to bow, and to have respect for the soul that has given life to the body,” she said. “Humility is the key and foundation of yoga. It must be beyond the mat and in everything you’re doing. It eventually opens the doorway to love and to respect.”
Wow. Just sit with that for a minute. What if this was the first thing you heard when you walked into a yoga class? When I step back and observe our culture, it seems that we’ve mastered fitness classes and diets; maybe ethics coaching would be more beneficial. As a country we face many social dilemmas, and the media are riddled with examples of egoism and disrespect, which of course, ripples across our culture.
“Respect is another aspect that is sorely missing in the yoga world today, because when you lack humility, you lack respect! Respect says, I honor you as the light within me,” she said. “Namaste is the gesture of respect. It is a holy, sacred, and humble action of respect for yourself, the creator, and of another person. And when you don’t live namaste and really feel the depth, you are not living yoga.”
“Humility is the key and foundation of yoga. It must be beyond the mat and in everything you’re doing. It eventually opens the doorway to love and to respect.”
Savitri said she believes the focus on the asana in popular culture—without any humility—is a big part of the problem. “The physical body is where the ego is created, so if you don’t teach physical humility, you’re never going to be able to reach your soul, you’re never going to be able to train your mind, and you’ll never evolve your physical form of all your attachments and karma.”
This resonated deeply with me. Across the yoga landscape there have been many yogis who have been hurt by the inflated egos of studio owners and yoga teachers. It’s not hard to imagine that when someone is feeding the ego, it can lead to bigger issues like disrespect and even abuse.
According to both Aadil and Savitri, when there is lack of respect, lack of the basic foundations of yoga, lack of integrity by truly living yoga, and lack of focus on anything but the physical, people are led by their minds and the energy in their pelvic regions, rather than led by the heart.
“You’re giving power to a broken mind and body that’s filled with ego, that believes in separateness, and that lives in disrespect—feeding the monster you cannot control. This can’t be yoga,” she said. “Again, it comes back to humility, as it is the key to being a loving person. When the mind is taught to humbly bow to the heart chakra and when the pelvis energy is humbly taught to aspire to the soul within, then it won’t disrespect anyone, because the soul is a beautiful blend of the masculine and feminine. So when you discover you are both, you cannot harm because you know when you hurt someone else you’re hurting yourself.”
In order to truly live and be a yogi, it seems we must do more than master our physical practices. As yoga teacher, I believe it is our duty is to serve our students and truly actualize our yoga, so the ripple effect of our lives are examples of different approaches to, well, all of life. Aadil and Savitri reminded me that it’s our it’s duty to share ALL of the limbs of yoga, so our students may have access to the tools to create balance and health in every aspect of their lives.
That’s why Savitri incorporates her Heartfull Meditation, a technique she enthusiastically created after healing herself, into her classes. The intention is to place the focus on the heart chakra, as she believes it is the key to complete mind, body, and spirit wellness. “Focusing on love and light heals the body because that is what we are made up of. I want students to aspire to more than sweating in a pose, to understand that they are more than the body. The body is just a vessel for the soul and wisdom to flow through,” she says. “This is what yoga is supposed to be, the total, perfect union of mind, body, and soul.”
For thousands of years, traditional practitioners of yoga have known that there is vast wisdom within the practice. It is exciting to see yoga being spread so widely across the world, and in particular the West. But now that our culture is familiar with yoga, it would serve us all to dig a bit deeper, to test our limits of comfort so we begin to tap into the true healing and connective powers of yoga that will, yes, continue to impact our bodies, but also our minds, our perspectives, our egos, and our hearts—and in turn influence our communities. When the foundation of our practice is humility and respect, it stops serving the ego and instead serves humanity.
“We hope that teachers and students alike will decide to take responsibility to study authentic traditions and only work with people who have worked on themselves,” Aadil said. “I also hope people will wake up to see that what has not worked before is unlikely to work now. The way yoga has been taught in the West especially has not served yoga, and I hope people will wake up to that and say let’s find real yoga again. Let’s bring the yoga back into yoga!”