Yoga teachers and scholars from Georg Feurstein to Max Strom have called the increased participation and interest in yoga a "revolution." Do you think this is true? Can yoga be used as a vehicle to create change in the United States and the world? What have we lost and gained as we integrate yoga into our modern life and culture?
Yoga is centered around the principle of enlightenment. Is one of the principles of enlightenment elitism? Why do people worry about yoga being commercialized? Why do people cherish a belief that only purists are good and any dilution of that purism is bad?
If one person can be touched during savasana, and brought to tears, as I was the first time--albeit in a health club--while looking for a fitness fix, and yes, in my "goal oriented" phase, with my designer mat, how is that bad? I have since embraced a more soul centered practice, both in private and with outstanding teachers, but would I have found what yoga was really about without all the Western influence? Probably not. So how is that bad? I've heard preachers say "the best place for sinners is church", my spin is, "the best place for everyone is yoga", no matter how they get there. Eventually some will find the true meaning, and that is a good thing.
Maile K. H.
Regarding the article "Out of India:" the author's general attitude reminded me of how I felt upon learning that Madonna and Roseanne were studying Kaballah. In a word: weird. In another word: conflicted. As a Jew (who
has studied Kaballah a bit) I felt that superficial delvings into the area were an insult both to the participants and to the subject itself. I felt
that a background in "normative" Jewish practice was essential for a proper understanding of esoterica. On the other hand, why deny anyone access to anything? Why not open the door to all possible amalgams of wisdom? Who
are we to think we know the only way to do anything?
Perhaps this is the key to accepting the "Americanization" of yoga: not to expect an absolute recreation of a spiritual place that really can only be reached through years of absorbing one's indigenous culture, but as a new
and different thing entirely. Not better and not worse, just itself. And after all, isn't the mind-set of non-judgement one of the goals of yoga practice?
No way! Yuppie yoga, maybe! Yoga=The union of the body with the mind, the goal being spiritual awakening. The gym I attend is not after spiritual anything with the possible exception of a spiritual golf swing. My teachers are excellent and put out maximum effort to aquaint their students with the calming benefits of asana during which time the "atheletes", squirming in their spandex, lose their place mid-breath anticipating competition. Its my opinion that Yoga should hold fast to its truth in origin and purpose, east and west. Diversifying asana to gain popularity for the curious conpetitors is a no win and must indeed be a frustration for not only the qualified, dedicated instructors but also those like me who really do seek and expect some day to find. Yes, I really do want world peace, but at what cost? Designer prana?
This discussion of whether or not yoga is changed for the "better" by exposure to western culture immediately reminded me of the debate many religions have when new members begin to reform the old laws of any ancient practice. (The fundamentalists vs. the reformers.)I personally feel that other people have the right to develop a practice that works for them in whatever form it takes as long as it does no harm to others. Those of us who know what works for us can continue to practice as we like. It has been my experience that over time my practice has evolved and continues to change with the changes in my life. I am thankful for the freedom to allow these changes to develop. Thank you for the opportunity to express these views.
I love yoga! But I am concerned that it is becoming popular, faddish, and trendy for the wrong reasons. Yoga is more than aspiring to the body beautiful, it goes much deeper than that. I dislike the use of yoga in advertising, it is making yoga a commodity, almost trivialising what yoga is about. I have seen ads using yoga for mobile phones and yogurt to name two off the top of my head. If there is too much advertising using yoga to sell products, people will be turned off.
On the positive side however, I am confident that once the marketers have got off the band wagon, we will have a lot more people aware of yoga and that can only be good for everyone. After all yoga has been around for a long long time, much longer than the latest flavour of yogurt or the latest video mobile phone!
Is yoga a revolution? Maybe. I don't think we should be thinking of yoga as a vehicle to create change. Let it happen organically. Give people the opportunity to experience yoga and change will happen without interference from anyone. As any yogi will tell you--change comes from within.
A devoted yoga student
It does not matter who is doing yoga and why. People get what they need and move along, at their own speed and interest. The positive side of yoga's popularity is that the publicity makes yogis the money that they could not previously, the negative side is that it is slightly demeaning. The overall feeling to me is that it is always a personal journey, regardless of the setting in which it is being practiced.
Yoga as basis for a cultural revolution?
I certainly think so. When people discover a new way of understanding
themselves (their bodies, minds, emotions and spirit), understanding
others, and glimpsing an understanding of "that which is greater than
themselves", then they experience a "personal revolution" that changes
Such personal revolutionary experiences may foster passion, evangelism,
and even zealousness about yoga. Under the guidance of skilled, honest,
and spiritually-guided leaders, such energies can be harnessed and
channeled to achieve greater things ... like revolutionizing a
But even without a leader, a few people "singing a new song in harmony"
within a culture (i.e. kindred yogi's on the path) will be noted by
others, who will start to chime in. Over time, the new song pervades.
While it is always upsetting and disconcerting to see yoga or other spiritual
disciplines tainted or used for self promotion, most of yoga in the West may
have some benefit in opening up a pathway for those who would not have any
other exposure to it.
Having said that I do think however that it is right at all times to speak
out when distortion or sacrilege is at issue.
We have definitely gained so much with this "revolution" of new yogis. As
the population ages and wish to stay active-the next progression has been (and
rightly so) yoga practice. There is so much to choose from...Slow Flow...Hot
House...Athletic...Spirit Yoga...the lists and variations on the names is as
great as the people who now seek the practice.
I've been teaching Yoga for about two years now and although I am far from
the traditional "yoga guru" I have a great follow of people who simply "get
it" and are enjoying this format incredibly. Yoga is definitely here to stay.
I have been practicing yoga and meditation for eighteen years,
since age 18. When I experience a yoga class in which there
is no orientation to 'real yoga' I think it will not survive, because
its soul is left behind. I wish that yoga teachers were somehow
required to impart 'the heart of yoga', not just one dimension.
My teacher Richard Miller says that yoga calls us, no coincidences there. Then, of course, what do we do with our knowledge and experience? As I become more and more aware and loving through my yoga practice, I can spread this to others in my surroundings. We yogis and yoginis, each of us, have power (even if we only do seemingly small things) to effect change in our country and in the world.
It is not insignificant that the Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Council for Culture have mistakenly aligned Yoga with New Age practices. It is an attempt to suppress a rival meditation practice that has captured the interest of the next generation. The spiritual practices of Yoga have been embraced by the seekers of truth for ages! It is refreshing and so wholesome that Yoga is becoming the drug of choice for the Y generation!
I have practiced yoga off and on since high school (in the early 60's.) Over the years, I've been lucky to find wonderful teachers who helped me learn that there is more to yoga than twisting and posing. I agree wholeheartedly that as yoga becomes more popular, it does become a fad. I've been to classes that were called yoga and found myself doing some strange things that were totally against principles taught by my real yoga teachers-things that could injure someone who wasn't ready for them. Our culture seems to change and water down anything that becomes extremely popular.
Everything has to be "Americanized."
I believe that Yoga is personal practice and experience.
Whether Yoga in the West will be used for advertisement or used in ways that
may be causing knots in people's stomach, the bigger picture that we should
try to see is that it shouldn't matter how it's being used.
People sometimes use a chair to get some height in order to reach a plate in
a cupboard, but the chair is used to sit on, not stand on. So, in life
practices and things are used for various needs-
The more I see people practice for fitness, or for flexibility or for the
mere use of sticking stickers on cars, the more I realize that it is
fulfilling someone's needs and in the end it shouldn't change anything for
our own personal practice. If we succeed in preventing its affect on us,
then we have reached a positive outlook and a level of acceptance. These
different ways of using Yoga in our lives is unstoppable. It's not in our
control- People will do as they please with Yoga, the ineffable art. So the
best attitude in my opinion is to try to be positive and accepting of these
I had to respond to the question of whether yoga can be used as a vehicle to create change in the United States and in the world, because it is what I sincerely hope for.
I have returned to yoga after a 25-year lapse, but my return began with the soul searching we all (hopefully) encounter at midlife. I first began, unconsciously, to dismiss the light reading which had always occupied any extra time, and search for books on "self improvement." One book led to another, and then to better nutrition through organic products and awareness of my precious physical form and then to yoga - full circle. I know that the majority of Americans who practice yoga will only do so for the body. But some will go further and embrace the mindfulness of yoga and this is what will fuel the peace revolution. I don't, however, see it happening in my lifetime. My child's perhaps? What a joyous thought.
It is my deepest wish that the modern popularity of yoga will eventually manifest an enlightened revolution in America. However, I doubt it. After eight years of practice from the east to the west, it's been my experience that most people are attracted to yoga for the most superficial reasons. Rather than a moral practice, yoga is valued for its physical benefits alone, and rarely venture into the deeper philosophical meanings. This leads them into the hybrid forms of yoga that are easier to practice without the burden of meaning. I once had a yoga instructor lead a class through an athletic performance visualization while we were in savasana, reassuring the class that she wouldn't do anything "spooky." What a shame. It is the unity of yoga, the connection it gives the practitioner to the world (in other words, its "spooky"-ness), that would bring about revolutionary change.
Bobbie Jo A.
I feel that yoga can make difference in the U.S. and the world. I spent two years in Thailand and was exposed to their culture and religion, but did not experience to much yoga. In the U.S.there is an atmosphere for getting in touch with the divine. But as with all religions there comes capitalism someone always using or mocking one's religious belief to make money. You find that in all religions there are those who are sincere and those who are like wolves waiting to attack the true followers of yoga.
The proliferation of health club-based yoga classes and studios is, I fear, a fad. The goal of these classes seems to be to cram as many asanas into an hour as possible, with no personalized instruction. No effort is made to explore the meaning of the asanas or to work on breathing, etc. Balancing poses are whipped through with no time for grounding and centering first, props are discouraged as if they are crutches for weaklings. I recently overheard a yoga instructor telling someone that she had only "been doing yoga for less than a year, because she wanted to teach more than just aerobics."
I think that what passes for yoga in the US is really just a variation of gymnastics, which is fine if you recognize it for that. If it gets people up and moving and exercising, that's great, but it isn't yoga!
As a majority, I think not. But there will be a significant amount of
people who have truly captured the spirit of yoga, and incorporate
the full practice, not just the actions, of yoga into their lives.
I don't think that yoga being "commercialized" is a bad thing. People
equate it with peace of mind and self-satisfaction. It taps into the
true spirit of the feeling people relate with yoga, but as a marketing
"con" it is unharmonious. Jazz probably won't ever leave, neither do I
feel yoga will ever be extinct.
I have been doing yoga for seven years now and have seen yoga 'Americanized'
through the years. When the yoga fad started, I was quite annoyed that it
was being commercialized as with so many other imports feeling that the
essence was being watered down. But after many years of practicing and
seeing the benefit of yoga in my body, mood and attitude, my feeling towards
the 'Americanization' of yoga has changed. One of America's greatest
attribute is its innovative spirit and that is what keeps our country young,
spirited and challenging. If an essence of the vast discipline of yoga is
integrated into someone's life, that's wonderful. My attitude is I continue
to practice hatha yoga 5 days a week and try to watch the offsprings of the
rich yoga discipline with a fascinating, unjudging eye.
As is wont in USA to paint everything with the brush of money, yoga too is
commodified and sold. I agree it would be too altruistic not to
get something back after teaching somebody, but that is precisely how it
was meant to be--that is, to be taught out of one's volition, without taking
anything in return.
In South India, after learning classical music/dance from our Gurus, some
of us give some percentage of the money that we earn to the Guru,who in turn
gives some part of it to his Guru. By this way,the gurus are paid obeisance
and they in turn bless us to carry the art further. I suppose this should be
practised in Yoga too,especially in the west.
I believe that growing number of people are waking up to repeated messages on life-styles, corruption, pollution, greed in business life, etc.
Yoga is but one form of discipline that requires nothing more than patience! Teaching patience, I believe, is responsibility of the teacher. If students continue to return to classes then one of the things a teacher is delivering is patience. Yes fantastic postures and colourful advertising is our way in the West. We are still attached to appearances. That apart, if teachers continue to attend to individual needs and continue to encourage gentle extension in to postures, I think yoga will stay as a main form of regular discipline.
Personally, I think that those who enter the yoga path never leave it... If it is true that Yoga in the West is a relatively young phenomenon, it is also true that it shows a quest for a deeper spiritual exchange across cultures. If we, Western peoples, are so willing to embrace Yoga, maybe we are expressing the need for a softer, less competitive approach to life. Some of us will keep it at a more superficial level, probably intrigued only by its physical aspects; others will go all the way and find the answers they are looking for in its philosophical teachings - either ways, Yoga message is one of love and acceptance of our limits as human beings. Something we had almost forgotten, carried away with ego drives of power and control over ourselves and others. This, I feel, is the ultimate benefit of the healthiest "epidemic" ever experienced in the West. And from this point of view, yoga is already the vehicle of an unstoppable change.
I feel that most manifestations of "Yoga" in the West are far from the tool for transformation as yoga served historically. Many people that I talk to say that it keeps them fit and feeling good, and that is wonderful, but should this new fitness technique really be called yoga? It seems far from the meaning of the word itself (Union/To Yoke with God, the Universe). I still have hope that some will investigate further into what yoga has been and can be in their lives, and in this sense serve as a gateway to a transformational form of spirituality. Perhaps one day when I tell people that I practice Yoga I will find a more informed response than the typical "Oh, I like to stretch, I should do more of that." Somehow with the increased commercialization of yoga I don't see this day coming anytime soon.
I do believe Yoga is here to stay and offers an opportunity for positive change in the world. The expression: "Think globally, act locally" comes to mind as Yoga tends to empower the individual physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally - truly on all levels.
Here in lies the rub; for Yoga to make that kind of a difference in one's life, then both the student and teacher must respect the essence of the practice. And that essence is only begun to be understood by studying the teachings, the philosophy of Yoga through the Sutras, Bhagavad Ghita, etc.
I have come to know that Yoga means "Union with God" and the Yogash Chitta Vritti Nirodhah or that Yoga is the cessation of fluctuations of the mind. So I know, too, that Yoga is more than just the physical asana practice and that is just a tool to achieve a higher end.
But the problem here, as I see it is: how many students/practitioners of yoga today are being exposed to the philosophy of Yoga and the Hindi principles at large? Take the principles of Ahimsa, for example. Do students know about these principles and reflect on how non-violence translates to everyday practice in our lives...how it relates to our treatment of other people, animals and all beings for that matter?
I am fortunate to take classes at Jivamukti which include elements from all eight limbs as described in Patanjali's Sutras... There classes offer insights into breathing techniques, meditation, monthly focus topics, etc. How can one expect to find that in a class taught at Crunch or a studio that has the student in down dog within the first 10 seconds of class and the sound of Om but a distant thought?
I am amazed that movies like "The Guru" and "Bend it like Beckham" offer a glimpse into a culture that we borrow from are widely popular today. And so I believe that while there is this "popularity" Yoga will spread far and wide. But without the understandings of the practice, I believe that sooner or later the "in crowd" will move on to the next "trend wave"... and perhaps Yoga will have lost it's chance for wide acceptance and, more importantly, change.
I do believe that your publication is a step in the right direction, exposing the student to these other elements. Perhaps there should be a standard class format which at least acknowledges the various elements or at least more discussion about what "doing Yoga" (I'm being facetious - of course it's practicing Yoga) truly means. I'd best leave that to the Gurus among us. Hopefully they are offering their practices to that end.
I think yoga is not only a fitness thing but more of a
start of one's spiritual journey. So it is not going
to die down and be discarded as other fitness regimes.
Also since yoga brings with it the joy and happiness,
which is more than required for current stressful
lives, we lead.
I think yoga will stay here forever. Yoga has got a
boost from Westerners who are more methodical in their
approach and disciplined.
I'm afraid many of my students experience yoga as a way to exercise that could be replaced with the next fad. Of course, there are the few students who really start to get it and will continue to expand their learning and searching within it's parameters. I teach many seniors and I feel that it's fine for them to find whatever they need in my class. Whether it's stretching, companionship, serenity or true yoga spirit it's helping them in a real way with their lives and that is meaningful. So, I don't feel this is a revolution. It never will be a revolution. There are only a limited number of people at any time in history who really comprehend and devote themselves to something with as much depth as yoga.
I seem to remember that in one of the polls carried out by your magazine, spirituality did not figure particularly high amongst peoples' reasons for doing yoga.
It seems to me that only through introspection and self realisation can change occur. Doing the best Sirsasana in the world isn't going to change social behaviour or make sovereign states less greedy or self protective.
Perhaps too, the idea that yoga can be "used" is inappropriate. Individuals come to the realisation for themselves that they have a spiritual need. For some the fulfilment of that need may be through practicing yoga and studying the Vedas; for others it may be by becoming a devout Catholic or Muslim. There are a hundred ways, it just takes realization.
However, the mere fact that yoga is more accessible and acceptable than 20 or 30 years ago when I started, may make it a starting point on a spiritual journey for some who thought they were just going to do a bit of stretching!