Yoga–past, present, future

In continuation with my last post, I’d like to chit chat about a couple of articles I read recently on the Huff Post written by Ira Israel questioning: (1) The Future of Yoga in America, and (2)What is yoga?

The definition of yoga has, in the past few decades, been transformed from a spiritual practice to a physical exercise that can give you a toned, bendy body. As Israel stated, yoga asanas did not become popularized till the recent century, when Krishnamacharya compiled a sequence of asanas based on the Yoga Korunta, and his disciples–Sri K Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, Indra Devi, and Desikachar (Krishnamacharya’s son)–helped spread yoga to the west.

“What has yoga become under the highly-competitive American cultural paradigm known as ‘late capitalism?'” When yoga consisted of five naked men standing around a fire screaming primordial sounds in an effort to unite with the divine, women were not made to feel welcome. Now, 5,000 years later it is bendy, athletic women who are making the men feel unwelcome. Source

In “What is Yoga,” Israel told the story of the two college-aged men, who obviously were first-timers to yoga, that he had class with in a more advanced yoga class. A few minutes into class, the teacher was yelling at them for coming to a level 2/3 class as beginners.

Rest be assured that the two young men will never go to another yoga class.

Yoga has been glammed up. Many people, men and women alike, have often come up to me and asked if they can do yoga even if they’re inflexible. The society today sees yoga as an exercise for young, attractive women with superhuman flexibility. Just the other day, a random woman on the street came up to me and asked me where I got my adorable boots. She was very chatty, and she eventually got around to the question of what I do. When I told her I teach yoga, her first question was, “Can you put your leg behind your leg?”, and then secondly, “Is it true that yoga can help you lose weight?” I didn’t know what to say, and I can’t blame her for her ignorance because nowadays we see commercials or workout videos flashing the words “Blast fat with yoga!”, “Yoga to tone your problem areas“, or “Cardioblast yoga.”

I shudder.

Yoga is not about whether you can put your legs behind your head, or how much calories you can burn, it’s preparing your body for meditation. In other words, you are ridding your body of toxins and clearing up your energy channels to help you ease into the ultimate spiritual state with a clear mind and a pure heart.

As Krishnamacharya, considered the father of modern yoga, said: “If you can breathe, then you can do yoga.”

Yogas citta-vrtti nirodhah” (Yoga Sutras I.2) — Yoga is the channeling of the behavior of your mental frame. Yoga is about channeling and controlling the subtle energies within your body. And since breath is the primary association of the mind, the first step to controlling the mind can be accomplished by controlling your breath. Unfortunately, this definition has been buried beneath the more glamorous commercialization of yoga (hello, Lululemon!).

The future of yoga in America, actually in any part of the world that is involved in yoga, is pretty much heading down this road that Israel described.

…the problem is that high rents have caused yoga studios to pump out a plethora of under-experienced teachers. Many of these are the same teachers — who are all in competition for a limited number of jobs and students — are the ones “wrecking the bodies” of students — according to the New York Times — because they don’t understand that yoga is primarily a spiritual tool, not a physical exercise practice to make you look better. Unfortunately, aside from a little “spiritual stuff at the end,” those exercise regimes have nothing to do with yoga, uniting with the divine. Source

Unfortunately, the ancient science of yoga has become the victim of capitalism. The yoga “industry” is a big money maker, and when money is involved, the quality of the product matters less (think fast food chains).

To make his point, Israel ended with the big question: “At what point will yoga teachers organize and decide what is yoga and what is not, or will we just wait and let the government define it for us?

Hmm…food for thought?

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