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Yoga, or Something Like It

Yoga hybrids such as Aqua Yoga and Disco Yoga have sprung up across the country. YJ editor Nora Isaacs heads to the epicenter of yoga experimentation, Manhattan, to see what is gained—and what is lost—as a result of yoga's diversification.

By Nora Isaacs

Preserving Yoga's Soul
"Until you experience what a teacher is doing, I think it's unfair to throw everything that's not part of the pure stream into the incinerator," Shiva Rea says. "It's a natural process for a tradition to become authentic with the culture that it's integrating with." To be sure, some yoga hybrids occupy an important place in our cultural landscape: They incorporate a sense of play, crack the door open for a more serious practice, and give wonderful physical benefits. But others reinforce the conditioning we would do better to transcend, lack adequately trained instructors, or are really aerobic classes with good PR.

In the end, the intention a teacher brings to his or her class is what allows the essence of yoga to shine through—or not. AquaYoga seems perfectly valid because it solves a real problem: how to make yoga accessible for students with physical limitations. In its clear aim of serving a legitimate need, it shows that the diversification of yoga can create the opportunity to make yoga truly accessible, not only for fit students who want to vary their gym workout and don't want "the spiritual stuff" but also for older students, students with disabilities, and children with learning disorders.

As is typical in a capitalist society, we are confronted with a choice—in this case, how we perceive and define our practice. But faced with this ever-growing array of forms, how do we choose? In my six years of practice, I've learned that recognizing classes that are right for me stems from how I feel—the space created in my body and mind, the free flow of prana, my breath moving my body rather than the other way around. Hybrids (and, these days, some asana classes) that don't connect with yoga philosophy in any way don't add enduring value to my practice, nor do they allow for the potential of that spacious feeling that brings me to my mat each day. "A tendency to focus on other things during practice can inhibit the ability to experience the deeper goal, the essence of what yoga can be, which is a beautiful and powerful way to remove the conditioning in the mind," says Swami Ramananda. Yoga is inherently designed to open the door to our inner Self and leave behind our stubborn conditioning, ambition and judgment, self-consciousness and constriction. If a hybrid can lead me there, sign me up.

Nora Isaacs is YJ's managing editor.

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