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To Om or Not to Om


I barely remember anything from the political science class that all the undergrads in my college were required to take. If you asked me to explain the electoral college, I’d return to you the same expression that the Miss U.S.A.s give when asked who the Vice President is. But I’ll always remember one thing that my wise professor said:

“Language codifies our perception.”

As the whole John Friend/Anusara scandal is reaching the point of no one gives a shit, I can’t help but pay closer attention to the words that are used in the yoga classes I attend.

Since most classes commence with a chant, let’s start there. Over the last couple of months, I’ve noticed that my Anusara instructor has slowly weaned away from the Anusara invocation which I’ve chanted a countless number of times over the past four years:

Om namah shivaya gurave
Satchidananda murtaye
Nishprapanchaya Shantaya
Niralambaya tejase 

When I first started Anusara, I loved chanting the invocation. I thought it unified all the yogis in the room with all the other yogis in the world chanting the exact same invocation. But then I started thinking how exclusionary it must feel for new students who just happened to drop in to class. And eventually I started saying the invocation with as much passion as a kid forced to pledge allegiance to the flag before recess. So, I can’t say I’ve lost any sleep over not saying the chant before class. Last night, however, one my teachers handed the students and me a new – and complicated – invocation. Every time an instructor hands out a new invocation or does a call-and-repeat, I feel like a waiter being forced to recite the specials of the night with complicated ingredients.

But that’s enough waxing nostalgic. Let’s get to the freakin asana already.

It’s only natural that a lot of Anusara teachers who’ve performed an official or mental jump-ship from John Friend are doing things that don’t tie them into the Anusara brand. It’s been a blue moon since I’ve heard an instructor mention the 5 Universal Principles of Alignment. They are instructing the same alignment and cues, but the words are different conscientiously. It’s simple branding. Right after the John Friend scandal, Manduka was lightning-quick to stop production on the mats they developed with Friend himself. If you look at many teacher bios these days, you’ll notice that the overlapping theme is that no one is tying themselves with a particular style. The overlapping philosophy is that they take what they’ve learned from certain styles and apply it to their own perspective of yoga.

When I started taking classes from my current favorite teacher, I couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t start his classes with Om. I thought it weird and sacrilegious. Instead, we just sit in silent mediation for a couple of minutes. I prefer to start my practices this way now. Instead of chanting Om or some invocation that has some ascribed meaning of intrinsic goodness, I simply let myself be quiet and feel whatever it is I’m feeling in that moment.  If you asked a bunch of yoga teachers what the literal definition of “Om” or “Namaste” is, I guarantee that you will get a different definition every single time. Sometimes silence is the most advanced component of a practice because it provides us space to codify our own perception.

And that’s how it should be… or more accurately I’ve found out that’s how my practice should be. Some people love things like chanting and Kirtan. My philosophy: chanting is silver, but silence is golden. What’s yours?

-The Humble Warrior

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