It's said that everyone has a vice. The thing I wonder is: if the habit is socially acceptable then is it viewed as a vice? Take drinking, for instance. Does anyone raise an eyebrow when someone at the table downs a bottle of wine if everyone at the table is drinking? I can remember going to a celebratory end-of-training dinner with a bunch of fellow yoga practitioners and being the only one at the table who wasn't drinking alcohol (anyone who knows me knows that I rarely drink, as it's just not something that has ever really appealed to me). I got more than a few comments -- and when I say comments, I mean negative ones -- about the fact I wasn't drinking. Someone offered up the opinion that I didn't know how to have a good time because I wasn't drinking an alcoholic beverage. That wasn't the first time I've heard that sentiment expressed in reaction to my not drinking. One of the people who made a comment about my lack of imbibing celebratory spirits was clearly inebriated and had to be helped back to the training center.
It's interesting to me that it would seem that someone drinking to excess would be the one with the vice and the one who would receive comments from others rather than the one who didn't drink a drop and was in full control of her faculties. Yet, if everyone is doing it, then what's the big deal, right? It's now the one who's not doing what everyone else is who is the odd one. I suppose it makes it easier for one to justify his/her negative habits when the company kept is all doing the same thing. Suddenly the drinking problem is a just a few friends cutting loose after a long day. The drugs are just a way to deepen their spirituality.
Now what happens when the vice or the addiction is something that is perceived as something positive, such as yoga? When someone is pushing on the mat to the point of injury and/or practicing to the point of overkill, does everyone laud the person for dedication to the practice or express concern for being addicted to yoga? It may not be high school, yet it's easy to fall into the "But everyone is doing it" mentality.
The fact is, we can talk ourselves into and/or out of anything. I've heard people who've had issues with alcohol, porn, and workaholism shrug off the fact that their relationships, health, and well-being were suffering as a result of their habits, simply saying that it was no big deal, socially acceptable, the way of the world. It reminds me of a discussion about right and wrong actions during one of my yoga trainings. The question was posed: "How do you know if your action was the right one?" The answer was that you would only know after the action was done and you could see the results. If the results had a negative effect, then you would know that the action was wrong. Of course the question then becomes, what's considered negative results? If the woman who drinks a bottle of wine after dinner each night doing right action if she can get up in the morning and go to work as usual?
But let's get back to yoga. What happens when yoga becomes and addiction? This topic was beautifully explored in this recent blog post by Matthew Remski. The post tells the story of Diane Bruni, an Ashtanga Yoga teacher and studio owner, who had an intense yoga practice that resulted in serious injury. Her experience is a sobering one and one in which many can see themselves in to some degree or another. It can be easy to slip over the edge into addiction at worst and vice at the very least when everyone around you is either doing the same thing or praising you for your actions (actions perceived as right when, in reality, are wrong if we're defining wrong as a negative result). I urge you to watch the video at the end of the post, as it's quite eye-opening.
Striving, vice, addiction -- they are slippery slopes. Which side are you on? Are you hovering on the knife edge? Are you causing harm to yourself and/or others? Remember, even positive things -- like yoga, meditation, exercise, spiritual practice -- can be harmful if taken to the extreme.