Contemporary Yoga and Our Disconnect from Impermanence

By Adrian Molina

In the modern, fast-paced world, yoga has become a popular practice for many seeking physical fitness, mental clarity, and stress relief. It’s an activity booked in our calendars at least three times a week, a must-do. However, as yoga has moved into the mainstream, it has often become more about achieving physical perfection or exhaustion, a fitness experience, or a trend—a cure-all band-aid for our isolation—rather than embracing its deeper teachings. This blog isn't about trying to convince everyone to practice yoga differently but reflects on what the mainstream yoga approach tells us about our relationship with the concept of impermanence. Most people practice to stay healthy and sane, potentially to avoid aging too fast, rather than making peace with the fact that we are all here for a blink of an eye. Each breath might be the last one, making each moment sacred. Many students and teachers are dedicated to the practice with this level of awareness, but some are not. This isn’t about pointing fingers, but rather reflecting on this idea. And yes, this is totally my opinion.

The Essence of Impermanence in Yoga

Impermanence means that everything in life is transient and subject to change. This concept encourages acceptance of the natural ebb and flow of life, reminding us to focus on the present moment and to let go of attachments to specific outcomes. Traditional yoga practices embrace this understanding, encouraging practitioners to cultivate awareness and resilience in the face of change. I've heard endless stories of students feeling frustrated as they age and struggle to keep up with an invigorating yoga style. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner who can no longer explore primary or secondary series. Someone in a wheelchair reminiscing about the days when their legs responded on command.

Mainstream Yoga: A Shift in Focus

Contemporary mainstream yoga has shifted its focus significantly:

  • Physical Perfection: There’s a modern obsession with achieving the "perfect" pose and showcasing physical aesthetics on social media and everywhere. This focus on external appearance can detract from the internal growth and self-awareness that yoga traditionally promotes. Postures are not an outcome, but a pathway.
  • Commercialization: Yoga has been commercialized, turning it into a product centered around physical appearance and performance rather than inner development. This shift has led to yoga being marketed as a quick fix for physical fitness and stress relief, often neglecting its deeper dimensions. Yet, for many of us, including myself, without this globalization, I wouldn't have had the chance to practice yoga for the first time in an old house in Miami in the early 2000s.
  • Instant Gratification: In today’s culture of instant gratification, there is a tendency to seek quick results and tangible outcomes. This contrasts with the slow, mindful journey that traditional yoga encourages, where the process and personal growth are more important than immediate achievements. For many, yoga is the quick fix at the end of a bad day, a difficult conversation. A reminder that you did “self-care” but is there any more to it?

The Disconnect from Impermanence

This shift in focus has led to a broader societal disconnect from the concept of impermanence:

  • Fear of Aging and Change: The pursuit of eternal youth and physical perfection in yoga mirrors our societal fear of aging and change. By emphasizing physical aesthetics, mainstream yoga often promotes an unrealistic standard that can cause anxiety and dissatisfaction. Fortunately, many schools and teachers are aware of this disconnect and are reclaiming the practice in a more forgiving manner, even if it’s stripped from its religious background. That’s another topic for another day. People practice for different reasons, but hopefully the main motivator is not fear of aging, sickness, or understanding that we are more than just a physical shape.
  • Attachment to Outcomes: The focus on mastering difficult poses can lead to attachment and frustration, contrary to the principle of embracing change. This attachment can prevent practitioners from fully experiencing the present moment and the transformative journey of yoga. There are more gems in failure than in the perfect posture. It’s not about postures, but about seeing the practice as a mirror of our inner realities and how we deal with them. The physicality is a way to enter that world, but you decide to what extent you stay there, and for how long, if not forever.
  • Missing the Journey: The emphasis on the end result can cause practitioners to miss the transformative journey and inner awareness that yoga offers. The true essence of yoga lies in the process, the mindful exploration, and the acceptance of each moment as it comes. For most, they get the lite version of this condensed into a 60-minute package. But hopefully, we can find a happy medium between the orthodox religious and philosophical approach and the way mainstream yoga has spread its roots. 

Nobody should be shamed for reacting to the practice in any way or not at all. But there is room for growth for all of us.

Embracing Impermanence in Yoga Practice

To reconnect with the concept of impermanence, we can:

  • Mindful Practice: Encourage a shift towards mindfulness and presence in yoga practice, even while being upside down, emphasizing the process over the outcome. By focusing on the present moment, we can cultivate a deeper awareness and appreciation of the transient nature of life.
  • Letting Go of Perfection: Learn to let go of the need for perfection and embrace the fluidity and imperfection inherent in life. Show up to class with messy hair and an imperfect yoga outfit. This involves accepting our bodies as they are and recognizing that true growth comes from within.
  • Inner Growth: Focus on the internal benefits of yoga—mental clarity, emotional balance, and personal growth—rather than external achievements. Let yoga not be a distraction from your daily problems, but actually a method of processing our experiences and making meaning. There are enough devices and people throughout our day who take our attention away; don’t let yoga do that to you. Give it a chance to help you have a more intimate connection with yourself.

I know we can embrace the transient nature of life and find deeper fulfillment in our practice. Yoga, at its core, is a journey of self-discovery and acceptance, teaching us to navigate the ever-changing landscape of life with grace and resilience. We can do that however we want. But if you know that it has that potential, why wouldn’t you give it a try? If you know that the way you practice solidifies societal expectations, wouldn’t you want to try something different?

What would it feel like to have a profound exploration of the self and the ever-changing nature of our existence and be okay with the fact that this precise moment is already gone?

Author

  • Adrian Molina

    Adrian Molina, a prominent figure in community organization and mental health advocacy, dedicates his life to fostering connections and effecting positive change, particularly among marginalized groups. With a background in social service, including work in homeless shelters and maximum security prisons, Adrian emphasizes the importance of mind-body practices in healthcare and law enforcement. As the founder of Warrior Flow, Adrian offers trauma-informed yoga education worldwide, targeting those in community outreach and the medical field. He's a passionate mental health advocate, volunteering with crisis hotlines, serving as an ambassador for NAMI, and training for various programs focused on suicide prevention and child abuse. Adrian is also working on a memoir exploring themes of mental health, resilience, and growth. Adrian's influence spans globally, inspiring hope and change in countless lives. Click link below to learn more about Adrian’s work.

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