Q: Yoga has seen a tremendous resurgence in the past decade. Having permeated cultural familiarity, it appears as though, this time, yoga is here to stay. Very briefly: what is yoga?
Donna Farhi: In its broadest sense Yoga is a return to wholeness. There is an uncompromising belief in yoga philosophy that wholeness is our implicit birthright. But most of us forget our wholeness, or in yogic terms we forget our true nature, and we live in a kind of illusion that we are alone. We suffer from a kind of spiritual amnesia that makes us feel separate from our authentic selves, separate from others, separate from nature. Even as we are taking a breath in, literally taking the world into us, we still think we are the masters of our own separate universe. Yoga is any practice that restores this original wholeness and sense of connection with the world.
The wonderful thing about Yoga as a life practice is that one can choose practices that suit ones constitution, age, and time of life. So for one person, meditating restores her sense of wholeness, for another it may involve rigorous physical postures, and for others a commitment to service to the community. Regardless of the practice, the ultimate purpose of yoga is to break out of this amnesia and to live every day with a full awareness, appreciation, and humility, that are part of a much bigger picture. Yoga says that when we live with that awareness we are living in freedom.
Q: Many preconceptions result from others attempting to define or classify yoga as a religion, science, or new age meditative practice. What are your thoughts on this?
Donna Farhi: First, there's nothing new age or new about yoga. It's a tradition literally thousands of years old, which is to our advantage because it means that the basic precepts of the whole practice have been tested over time and proven sound. Yoga is really more clearly defined as a technology for bringing about an experience of stillness and equanimity. And while it's not a religion, the practice of the central precepts of yoga inevitably draws people to the direct experience of those truths on which religion rests. So you can be a Christian who practices yoga, or a Hindu or Buddhist or Catholic that practices yoga, because the underlying precepts are the same. What's different is that yoga doesn't claim to be the only or best set of beliefs, which is so often the cause of disharmony and violence and bloodshed between different religions. Yoga says that no matter who you are, your essence and heart are the same as those of everyone else in the world.
The basic premises of yoga were set down thousands of years ago by people called Seers, meaning that their lens of perception was so unadulterated, so pure, that they could observe the very workings of Nature. Religion asks us to believe. Yoga doesn't ask us to believe anything until we've proven it's true for us. Yoga says, "Hhere are some observations gleaned over time through the minds and hearts of clear seeing people about how to live a life of freedom. Check them out for yourself and find through your own direct experience the truth about yourself."
Q: Why do you feel yoga is becoming more popular now?
Donna Farhi: I think that yoga is becoming popular in America, in particular, because Americans are experiencing a crisis of meaning in their lives. And this crisis of meaning exists on all levels - for instance in the work place with people who don't find their work satisfying or meaningful in any way. Most of the physical fitness regimens that have dominated American life since the turn of the century have been fundamentally mechanical; they treat the body as some kind of object to be manipulated. If you look at the advertising around fitness these days, the body is referred to in much the same way as a car or a machine. I think Americans are now looking for activities that could be better described as life practices, which enable us to be not only healthy and fit physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. The primary goal of most life practices is to burn calories, but to foster a deep sense of well being on all levels of our lives. And because they are so much about skill building and refinement, they are immensely challenging and interesting and you can do them for a lifetime without ever getting bored. It's like the difference between someone who makes the commitment to learn to dance versus taking an aerobics class. One cultivates meaning that is larger than itself.