In Defense of McYoga.

Via on May 14, 2010

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Are we just telling ourselves nice stories about yoga, or are we really “getting” the yoga?

In the society we live in, it might seem like there’s little reason to defend marketplace yoga.

Mainstream yoga seems just fine, actually. But many of us are concerned that the core values of the tradition are not getting communicated to yoga consumers—I mean, community.

It was the year 2000 and I was in Chicago’s upscale Gold Coast neighborhood, visiting an Ashtanga yoga studio (that has since closed): Priya Yoga, located above a pizza shop. While walking up the stairs to yoga, my nose was greeted with the smells of pizzas baking.

As I pushed my way up the stairs to Priya Yoga after work, a pungent voice of inner-judgment would often assault me: “Who the hell do you think you are, practicing this fancy, mainstream Gold Coast yoga?”

But somehow I made it up those stairs, again and again through the barrage of my own insulting, doubting thoughts.

It helped that the studio was warm and friendly, and it also helped me that the teachers and other people seemed to like my being there.

I loved being there. I loved the yoga. It became another home for me.

After one Friday-night Ashtanga yoga class at Priya, my life would be changed invisibly yet indelibly.

I was on the way out, after class, when I stopped to thank the yoga teacher. Incredibly, I was looking into the eyes of this instructor, when what appeared like golden rain began falling down, yet somewhat suspended, like glinty-gold bits in a snow-globe slowly and lightly falling down toward me and all around me—shining bits of light. I know, I know. But I had a sense that everything around me was permeated with love: my body, the teacher’s body, the air between us and all around me, the other people, the desk behind the teacher, the walls, the carpet, the ceiling, the next room, the door, the hallway and stairs, absolutely everything seemed to be permeated with this love as integrated into the fabric of all things and non-things. Yeah, I was high after that yoga session. Was this experience a figment of my body chemistry? Was it somehow a delusion caused by dehydration, exhaustion or toxicity?

What actually happened to me may be a less important than what spiritually happened to me. For the first time in my life I honestly felt that our our world might be basically good. In that moment, I felt a sense of safety and trust in the basic sanity of the world—I felt it in every hair follicle, every cell.

I think that our realizations in yoga are more about our dedication as individual practitioners than about the marketplace of yoga, but this economy does support the houses of yoga and teachers of yoga that create a situation where amazing and previously unimaginable things can happen for people.

I am grateful that I have been able to have this and many other beautiful, meaningful, and life-enhancing yoga experiences—that I don’t think are over by any means. But there was a money-based background that made it possible to experience the yoga that I have. So the marketplace is not separate from our yoga, it actually makes yoga more accessible than ever before because it is a part of our economy.

*…With thanks to one of elephant’s fave sites, Yogic Muse.

About Brooks Hall

Brooks Hall is a Yogic Muse from Chicago, Illinois. In this capacity she teaches Yoga, writes about Yoga, and generally enjoys it. You can find her at: brookshall.blogspot.com.

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22 Responses to “In Defense of McYoga.”

  1. Elize says:

    beautiful post, Brooks.

  2. [...] In Defense of Marketplace Yoga | elephant journal [...]

  3. Bre says:

    Brook, I totally dig an honor your experience but at the risk of your ego feeling a little crushed, I have to say that the Yoga World and its Marketplace has been completely transformed since the year 2000! Also, you were practicing Ashtanga Yoga which has done a pretty good job at sticking to its roots and is hardly "a money maker" yoga anymore. There has always been stigma around Gold Coast as a ritzy place to hang out but back then it was one of 3 ashtanga yoga studios in town and it had the top ashtanga teacher their. I believe your experience had everything to do with yoga and the transmitter and really says nothing about Marketplace.
    Yes, Yoga offers love but nowadays it is sending many messages that are by far more Rajasic than Sattwic.
    xo

  4. Andy says:

    Great post Brooks—–I think this topic gets overintillectualized in the snarky yoga blogosphere, this endless debate and critique of whether this or that yoga is "real" or not. The topic is boring now, and it does a disservice to the fact that each and every one of us always has the capability of owning our own practice. I practice at a nice yoga chain that has been the topic of derision here before—-a nice, modern, heated yoga class with modern ammenities and music playing, that is derived from Ashtanga Vinyasa flow, but incorporates bits and pieces identifiable from Bikram, Jivamukti, Iyengar and probably more I haven't realized yet. I absolutely love it, and it has brought yoga into the lives of so many people across the country.

    What is my point—-that yoga is what it is in this day and age. You think it was always going to exist in the US without linking arms wholeheartedly with capitalism? Of course not. Do sometimes certain things bother you about more commercialized yoga franchises? Fine, but ask yourself this? Are they really, actually depriving you of your capability of learning as much about yoga as you possibly can? In 99% of the cases the answer is no.

    Seems like I've seen the lineage of Pattabi Jois referred to as "real" yoga, as compared to some more glitzy modern yoga studios, but is it really that different or that much more pure? The way I understand it, Jois wasn't hammering home the other 7 limbs. He taught primarily asana…

    I guess what I'm saying is that anyone has the freedom to have samadhi-esque experiences at any yoga studio they attend, just like Brooks did above that pizza joint, and that yoga in america today is pretty A-OK in my book.

  5. [...] In Defense of Marketplace Yoga | elephant journal [...]

  6. Leanna Faggs says:

    Hey can I use some of the information from this blog if I provide a link back to your site?

  7. Yogini5 says:

    Just know this: I really do not care what the practice is anymore. If a studio is community-minded and not just in it for the buck, I will feel it in my bones. Eventually, I will gravitate to that studio. Chances are very good, the yoga is less "workout-y". I have a home practice and I have been given grief by the power yoga and vinyasa yoga studios that would like me in their studio every day, even though I do not have the time and money to do so, and do have a strong home practice.

    Ashtanga is an everyday (in the studio) endeavor. You can't compare.

    But a commercial studio would try everything, up to and including dangerous adjustments, to try to get me to change my mind. They force and injure their regulars, and despite my protests and my forewarnings, they treat me the same way. I had been curious about adjustments. I am not now, despite having started in a gym with non-adjusty YogaFit. I like the philosophy and care to learn it on my own terms, also.

  8. Jen says:

    That sounds like a beautiful experience! Please honor it. Experiences like that are due to our own state of mind/practice/receptivity in the moment, and its dangerous when people give away their power by implying that they can only have a sacred experience if they happen to be hanging with the “right” teacher teaching something the “right” way. (which some comments seem to imply) I would go so far as to say if one happens to be following a school/practice/teacher who is making claims to be selling the “one true” whatever, one should run as fast as they can in the opposite direction. Experience speaking here. I for one am happy that yoga is evolving to meet the needs of the culture its unfolding in; what’s good for one is not always going to be good for another. If someone dips their toe in the shallow end of the pool, if they wade long enough they will realize there is a deep end. If there were only a deep end to jump into, then many people wouldn’t try at all.

  9. Carrie says:

    I believe the yoga practice is what each one of us wants and there is no wrong way

  10. Bre says:

    I am not implying that there is one true way. I – in a poorly worded way- was trying to figure out why Brook didn't think she belonged in this Gold Coast studio in the first place? Back in 2000…. in Chicago, there was nothing swanky about yoga in the year 2000… so what was making her feel so out of place? Brook, this is a great topic and one I think should continue to be discussed. We are the forebearers of Yoga in the Marketplace and I think it is our duty to keep figuring out how we can transmit these great teachings with less and less delusions around it (for example, another writer explains her experience of studios wanting their teachers to give adjustments even if they are dangerous when given by the self-absorbed teacher).
    I am not questioning one's desire to seek out Self-Realization and I do believe their are Yoga instructors who are teaching and have yet to really transmit their own personal experience. They are regurgitating teachings they have heard but have not assimilated personally…. but I digress, we are not talking about teachers or students for that matter. We are discussing Yoga and the market.

    • Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

      Bre: The answer to what you were wondering might be complicated… But, there was a part of me that didn’t think I was worthy of that experience. As if I shouldn’t feel as good and alive as yoga made me feel. The fact that the studio was in the Gold Coast, and THE PLACE to practice Ashtanga Yoga, not to mention the famous rock and movie stars that would practice there sometimes, and the beautiful yoga teachers made it an awesome experience–unlike anything I had known previously. But really, for me, somehow, even standing straight, courageous and tall was not okay for my inner fear and negativity. But I continually walked from the inner battleground to the blissground of yoga with a lot of help and encouragement from the kind and helpful teachers at Priya Yoga. And I continue the journey… Also Priya was a wonderful place to start to step into my dreams, and to accept my potential.

  11. Great experience and great writing, Brooks. I can see you already have a big following here on Elephant. We're lucky to have you here. Thanks for your comments on "Gita Talk", too.

    Bob Weisenberg

  12. Can't say I've ever had any problem with the "Americanization" of yoga, or even the "commercialization" of it. Probably because I don't see the religious trappings it's come out of it as anything to be idealized. Ultimately, things exist within their contexts, for good and for bad. Thus, yoga in modern America exists in a materialistic and body-obsessed culture in which everything gets commodified, while yoga in India has existed within a patriarchal caste-based system which would have excluded a large majority of contemporary yogis (in other words, if you're a woman and you want "real yoga," defined in a strict, traditional sense, you can't have it; it's just for men). Ultimately, I think it's best to try to walk a path, in yoga and otherwise, between the Western xenophobia that degrades other cultures, and the romanticism–also, ironically, very very Western–which idealizes them.

  13. Linda-Sama says:

    "yoga in India has existed within a patriarchal caste-based system which would have excluded a large majority of contemporary yogis (in other words, if you're a woman and you want "real yoga," defined in a strict, traditional sense, you can't have it; it's just for men). "

    uh, no.

    Krishnamacharya taught Indra Devi, and he was a strict Brahmin. He believed that it was the women who would carry on the vedic chant tradition, more so than men. He taught vedic chanting to women when no one — or few — would.

    and going back even further, the book, Yogayajnavalkya Samhita: The Yoga Treatise of Yajnavalkya

    it is one of the oldest texts on Yoga and it is a dialogue between the sage Yajnavalkya and his wife Gargi, who was considered one of the most learned women of all times. The book is dedicated to "all great women."

  14. Hmmmm…wonder what happened to the lengthy well-thought-out comment I left here yesterday…

    • Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

      YogaforCynics: I don’t know that answer, but I always like hearing what you have to say…

      • Thanks, Brooks, I always like hearing what you have to say, too. Apparently, I may have been a victim to the work they were doing on the site yesterday. Maybe I'll try to reproduce the comment later…or come up with a better one….

  15. Linda-Sama says:

    my response to YogaforCynics was also deleted

  16. Love your story! Great way to end a day of grueling, negative news. Cheers!

  17. [...] body”—with a laugh, like maybe I meant it but not totally seriously… And the classes at Priya Yoga kicked my ass! (Which was just what I needed after a few years of post-college office jobs.) My [...]

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