Overcoming Destination Addiction Guideline #3: Check out a Cultural Center
Yoga is an ancient Hindu spiritual practice that incorporates breath control, meditation and challenging body postures to improve physical, mental and spiritual strength. Even though this tradition dates as far back as fifth century India, it didn’t become popular in the west until the 1980’s. Actually, saying it became “popular” doesn’t do it justice. Yoga became a social phenomenon as Americans couldn’t seem to get enough of this low impact workout. However, unlike most exercise trends that lose steam after a few months (remember Tybo), yoga is one that is here to stay. This is evident in the fact that yoga studios have essentially become the exercise equivalent to Starbucks, there’s one on every corner.
And while it’s great that our overweight and stressed out western society has taken a liking to this healthy practice, as yoga is said to have endless health benefits, physical exercise is just one small facet of this ancient practice which is actually a lot more spiritual and meditative at its core. In fact, the traditional purpose of yoga is said “to bring about a profound transformation in the person through the transcendence of the ego.” But somewhere between designer yoga attire and the bragging rights from mastering difficult poses, this true essence of yoga has been lost.
To make matters worse, our modern society not only disregards the spiritual components of the practice, it also developed another component that was never intended; yoga as a status symbol. For the older generation, yoga has become “trendy”, a standard that one must abide to in order to keep up with the Joneses. Yoga is right up there with pilates and the gluten free diet. We no longer have ladies who lunch, we have ladies who yoga. And these ladies color coordinate their yoga mats to their over-priced Lululemon yoga pants.
For the younger generation, yoga has become a strive for social expression as it plays an integral part in the half-ass attempt to revitalize the hippie movement of the 1960’s (the first movement to popularize Eastern philosophy in the West). And while Generation Y has mastered yoga poses, established a renewed love for music festivals and brought back bohemian fashion trends, this notion of the millennial hippie is a façade. Nothing more than an outward appearance. An image they would like their followers on social media to buy into. After all, I can’t imagine a true flower child paying extra for ripped jeans or spending hundreds of dollars to camp in the desert at Burning Man. While the true hippies gave us Woodstock, protested wars, demanded social revolution and took the deeply spiritual practices of the East to heart, millennials have sadly settled for posting the occasional “progressive” article on Facebook, slapping an “I heart yoga” bumper sticker onto their gas guzzling cars and saturating their Instagrams with not-so-sober pictures from music festivals and redundant hashtags #namaste, #onelove. And more times than not, our twenty-something year old yoga instructors fall into this category. And while I’m sure these girls can deliver an awesome sweat and stretch sesh, not really who I want to turn to for guidance on my spiritual path. For that I want someone older. Someone wiser. Someone Indian.
In order to attain the true essence of yoga and utilize the practice as a gateway into the rich and highly spiritual culture of India, you have to go to the source. This is exactly why last week I paid a visit to the Hindu Society of Northeast Florida to attend a yoga class and lecture given by world renowned yogi, Swami Mukundananda.
Swami Mukundananda is a Hindu teacher of spirituality, yoga and meditation who presents the ancient Vedic wisdom within a scientific and modern context. He travels the world assisting others in finding their spiritual paths through free holistic yoga and meditation classes as well as spiritual retreats. His accomplishments are as lengthy as they are impressive including lectures at Fortune 500 Companies and prestigious universities such as Yale, Princeton and Duke. He is adored by thousands. And the very reason why his message is able to resonate with so many people is because it brings yoga back to its spiritual roots. The way Hinduism intended.
Swami’s teachings are based on the Pattanjali Yoga sutras, the guidebook to classical yoga that was written over 3,000 years ago. These sutras consist of 195 words of wisdom that when put into practice, help achieve the true purpose of yoga; being able to control one’s mind. And out of all 195 words, it is the first word, atha (pronounced ah-tah) meaning now, that is probably the most significant to those of us struggling with destination addiction. For if we can learn to apply this concept of truly being present in the now, then our anxieties about not being somewhere else will start to dissipate. In addition to this concept of now, Swami also preaches about the two types of happiness that are prevalent in ancient Hindu teachings, a pleasure-based happiness and a joy-based happiness. Pleasure based happiness is one that seeks instant gratification and is often seen from a short-term perspective. An example of this would be drinking. In the short term the beer is pleasurable, but in the long term your liver and beer gut would disagree. Whereas joy based happiness is one that does not come easily, it develops over time and may only be seen from the long term perspective. An example of this type of happiness would be attaining enlightenment, the spiritual journey to get there may be long and tedious but once it is achieved, you are left with an eternal feeling of joy. Swami emphasizes that joy-based happiness is the only one we should ever bother seeking as this delay in reward is what strengthens us and builds character. So in the context of destination addiction, the fact that we are not content with our current location could be a blessing in disguise, an opportunity for growth. In other words, we should use our stationary time to work on ourselves and learn to appreciate the now so when the time comes to travel again, we have an improved version of ourselves to share with the world.
If you happened to miss Swami’s lecture, don’t fret. The Hindu Society of Northeast Florida offers weekly yoga classes that are free and open to the public. Believe me, it’s worth the visit. Nothing will satisfy cultural craving like striking the cobra pose while the mesmerizing sounds of mantras being chanted and the subtle hints of incense burning exude from the neighboring room, where a Hindu ceremony is taking place.
And although visiting any type of cultural center would serve as a great tool for overcoming destination addiction , it is the Hindu Society of Northeast Florida that uniquely allows you to find your inner cultural center through yoga.