Yoga’s changing. And that’s a good thing

At the heart of my posts about dog yoga and yoga with (and for) horses is a serious issue: What’s becoming of yoga in the West?

It’s not a new question, obviously. And each time another million people are “counted” as being among those who are doing yoga, the question rises again.

I hope, and expect, that the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence’s teachers will address Ashtanga’s particular struggle with this issue, especially in regards to how the practice evolves (or doesn’t) now that Guruji has passed. The loss of the sole “authority” figure is, really, only a part of the larger question of how Ashtanga will shape and be shaped by its spreading throughout the world.

It’s an interesting question, although also one that easily could be ignored — for now. I believe there will be some ramifications on everyone’s practice, eventually, but I can see how a person doing First, Second or even Third series could continue on his or her merry way and not let it be a worry.

The same is probably true of the broader question as it relates to yoga. But Forbes has a piece online from last month’s “Being Yoga” conference that tackles this question and gives some of yoga’s big names a chance to say their piece.

It’s here.

Among the yogis and yoginis includes are Seane Corn and Rodney Yee; they are set somewhat in counterpoint to each other.

Here’s Corn:

“Sometimes,” she says, “the spiritual message is diluted, but this can draw people to the practice in the first place. It’s offered in churches and synagogues and schools. That’s incredible.” In other words, the dilution of its spirituality may be its hook. Once they’re in, says Corn, people then begin to see what the practice is all about, and can move around within it. “People come to yoga for one reason and realize that they’re there for another reason. They begin asking very big questions of themselves.  What is truth, love, god?” Anything to lessen the initial hump of resistance is probably a good thing.

And Yee:

While he acknowledges that the natural evolution of yoga adds to its vitality, he says in most ways we’re getting a little too far away from its core. He reminds us that yogis were asking the hard-hitting questions 2,000 years ago, ruminating on the meaning of life, one’s personal purpose, what it even means to be human. While in many ways yoga does “surf the wave” of how these questions apply in the modern day, he is concerned for the overall thinning of the philosophy. He says that he and his wife and fellow teacher Colleen Saidman are routinely amazed at the fact that “people are continually trading the more valuable things for the more superficial things. That’s astonishing. Why are we trading most valuable aspects of ourselves for most transient, which keep us constantly craving?” Distilling it even further, Yee sums it up well: “It’s great to get a nice yoga butt, but peace and stability in one’s personal life are important too.”

I have to admit, I always get nervous when people throw the “1,000s of years” descriptor onto yoga. The yogis Yee refers to weren’t doing the types of asanas with which yoga is now mostly identified. And the influence of many cultures and many people are in even the oldest Hindu texts. (Check “The Hindus” book for a really deep dive into this, if you want.) That isn’t meant to minimize their value, just to act as a reminder that nothing is simple and there are no straight, direct lines between our down dogs and age-old tapaysa.

I also wonder just how “sacred” a lot of the people who disparage “yoga” (as opposed to Yoga) would find it if they recognized how many of its roots are closer to 150 than 5,000 years old.

That said, I am not discounting yoga’s value or equating it with Spin classes or climbing a Stairmaster. It obviously is something more — and, I’d argue, it’s even more than the neatly wrapped package of a “5,000-year-old system” makes it appear. It’s both old and new, contemporary and ancient. And it’s evolving, which I think is its greatest strength and truest value.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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