Taking yoga from enlightenment to just health

A few days ago, I suggested one very good reason not to do Ashtanga: It will mess with your insides. (The “insides” you can’t really find unless you use your imagination or expand your consciousness.)

'The Beauty of Enlightenment,' via ExoticIndia.com

That, of course, is the point to yoga, if you boil it down to its overly nitty-gritty.

But we all also know that a lot of the yoga classes and yoga teachers in America aren’t focused much, if at all, on the subtle body. It’s all asana, all the time. (Yes, as Tim Miller might say, that gives us plenty of times to make asanas of ourselves.) It’s about sculpted abs, a taunt butt and lean muscles.

In other words, in America yoga pretty much equals asana (stretches, poses, maybe some movement). How else would you explain what “paddleboard yoga” or “anti-gravity yoga” are? Any chance those get toward Dhyana? (Don’t believe they exist? Internet search, my friend.)

The question this focus poses is: Is yoga in America, in the West, losing part of its core?

That’s the subject of yet another Huffington Post piece (I promise we aren’t going to link to HuffPo every day, and the last one was for a good cause!), this one by Philip Goldberg, author of “America Veda.” In it, he writes:

That yoga might become permanently identified with asana alone troubles many practitioners and teachers. It concerns me too, but I think it is unlikely to happen. For one thing, yoga’s deeper, more profound purpose is so compelling, so enticing, so embedded in the core of our being, that a large percentage of practitioners find their way to it, regardless of their initial motivation. For another, leaders in the yoga community are taking steps to ensure that the full array of yogic teachings remains in the forefront, even while accommodating the immediate needs and desires of beginning students.

He goes on to suggest that some people (i.e. Yoga Alliance) are considering a two-step sort of accreditation (let’s save the argument about that subject for another day): one is for people specializing in the physical side of yoga and another for those who have a mastery of all eight limbs of yoga.

He actually writes “those with a firm grasp of all eight limbs of classical yoga.” So, quick digression. I know the intent of this. But, then I think: Wait, who is going to judge that? What’s the test for having a “firm grasp” of Samadhi, let alone Dhyana? Would some of the celebrity yogis get this, shall we say, “higher” level of accreditation? What if Seane Corn gets it, but Shiva Rea doesn’t?

And: Who judges?

OK, I know that’s not the real intent; we are talking practicality here, we’re talking capitalism. If you’ve studied Patanjali and are able to discuss the Vedas and maybe the symbolic meaning of the Ramayana, you’ll probably be eligible for the “eight-limb OK.”

My point is: Would that really address the issue? Who would the audience be for this accreditation? And would it really define “true yoga” for “asana yoga”?

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

One thought on “Taking yoga from enlightenment to just health”

  1. I never took a class from Pattabi, but were his classes alone anything other than Asana, Ujay and bandhas? I’ve seen lots of vids and that’s what it seems like to me. Yes yoga contains 8 limbs, but in a typical Ashtanga Yoga class, even from the master himself – did he really touch upon more than the physical? If It seems like the rest of the non-asana yoga is found outside of “class,” no matter how “pure” the tradition or teacher. If I’m wrong let me know.

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