Yoga: the ancient wisdom of Californians.

Via on Oct 6, 2011

The Future of Yoga…or Lack Thereof.

An Analogy.

“Food has changed more in the last 50 years than in the prior 10,000.” ~ Michael Pollan

Up until the 1940s or so, food was food—and had been food for, say, farrrrr longer than 5,000 years.

We cultivated varieties of apples, etc.—so that they’d be delicious and healthy and hardy (and, hearty). After Dubyadubya Two, however, chemical warfare companies needed to find a way to make money in peacetime…remarkably, companies (cough: Monsanto!) dedicated to killing and poison transitioned into fertilizer and, since, 2000 or so, genetically-modified foods.

Where only 50 years ago there were, say, 100 varieties of easily-accessible tomatoes at your friendly local market stand, now we have, say, just three in your average grocery store.

The Irish Potato Famine happened ’cause the crop was vulnerable, it all got killed all at once by one damn blight. We’re setting ourselves up for this again on an epic scale: this time, all food, everywhere, in its newly homogenized form, is vulnerable to virus or disease.

And food, of course, is the basis of all life, health, happiness, business, mortgages, jobs. You know: everything.

Getting to the point at hand.

I’m sharing that little concern because, in my view, Yoga is—right now—in an analogous situation.

We wouldn’t know it, however, not yet—we have amazing teachers like Richard Freeman, Tias Little, Georg Feuerstein who know their stuff—who know enough that, as Richard said last month—to know that they “don’t know that much, still” (he said this in a pranayama and lecture class I attended and dragged a colleague to, who would have much preferred a “real” yoga class—you know, physical—at the Yoga Journal Conference in Estes Park, Colorado).

And if Richard Freeman’s vast knowledge of yoga doesn’t, in his estimation, amount to “that much, still”…well, imagine the knowledge of our average-to-wonderful yoga teacher at your average-to-wonderful local yoga studio who graduated from your average-to-wonderful two-week yoga teacher training that accepts all applicants, provided they can cut a check.

Now, I’m not saying yoga teachers of my generation aren’t good people. Some of them are. Many are charming, charismatic, caring, sweet. But many don’t know or care much about alignment. Yoga, without alignment, is dangerous. Many play music in class, which is horrible/fine (depending on our pov). Many are ambassadors for lululemon, or other marketing-happy clothing companies that don’t bother to make eco or fair labor fashion but do bother to spend millions in R&D to make sure your tush looks fit. Many teachers have great twitter/facebook/blog and general new media/social media presence. Some have agents and iPhone apps and books.

All of that is good—we’re doing an incredible amount to get yoga out to the masses who might otherwise not give a care. The other day I went on a hike with a yoga teacher who, in college, was a bit lost in the world of partying and fancy jeans and shallow relationships (her words)…and for whom yoga (with music, I’m sure) was her one outlet, her one connection to the sweet Catholicism of her youth, her one connection in those crazy/hazy years to relaxation, to living more healthfully…and now she’s as happy and sweet and genuine a person as you’ve ever met. So the yoga celebs—Tara Stiles, Elena Browers, Sadie Nardinis, Baron Baptistes, Bikram Choudhurys, Kathryn Budigs, Seane Corns, John Friends…and random local yoga teachers of the world? I namaste and ommmmmmmmmm to you in gratitude. I mean it. No, seriously. I mean it: our speedy, materialistic, silly, wonderful society needs an hour or two of peace and breath a day or week, and yoga-for-the-masses provides that.

Yoga is tonic for the world’s ills.

But who among us is studying yoga in the depth that the last generation did? Not me. Who is stewarding the roots of yoga, which are about “stilling the waves of the mind,” as Patanjali puts it? Is meditation a part of your typical yoga class? No: but Thievery Corporation or Michael Franti or Govinda or Jack Johnson or Gotan Project is.

Sites like Yogaglo give me hope. If we can dig up and/or archive the teachings of Richard and Patricia Walden and Judith Hanson Lasater and Tim Miller and John Friend, let alone BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois and others…future generations will have a wealth of real, “live” teachings to learn from. I talked with Yogaglo at Yoga Journal conference—and asked if they’d begin offering more lectures and study sessions, not just asana classes.

Because yoga isn’t what we picture when we hear the word “yoga.” It’s not yoga pants. It’s not young models exercising with pastel backgrounds before they get back into their SUV and pop by Whole Foods to grab some quinoa for their 1.8 children.

What is yoga?

1. Yoga is a spiritual path. Yoga is about becoming a more fully present, genuine, compassionate person.

2. And, yoga is—for those who don’t want to become happy holy spiritual types—a physical exercise that will—as a pleasant side effect—open up your mind and heart so that you, yes you—are a better businessperson, saner lover, better parent, more focused athlete, relaxed child.

Both are yoga. But we must take care of the less marketable, less salable form of yoga…lest in ignoring the roots we lose the flower.

Richard and the last generation of yoga greats are still teaching, so this little question might not seem urgent.

But in just 10 years…who will present yoga in depth? And who will learn it? Not the legions of new yoga teachers that pass through the doors of Corepower and Yogaworks, each month (again, god bless ‘em—larger, more accessible studios are creating genuine, peaceful armies of good people in this crazy world).

So: will you or your favorite local yoga teacher accept this important challenge and responsibility—and study, practice and teach yoga’s roots?

About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | facebook.com/elephantjournal | twitter.com/elephantjournal | facebook.com/waylonhlewis | twitter.com/waylonlewis | Google+ For more: publisherelephantjournalcom

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78 Responses to “Yoga: the ancient wisdom of Californians.”

  1. Very thoughtful piece. A wake up call to everyone who considers them self a yoga teacher. Thank you.

  2. Yael says:

    Very important questions. I appreciate that while you challenged and encouraged yoga students and teacher, you did this without judgment. Only observing the current scene and offering important reminders

  3. Nadine says:

    Ah, Om, Amen, as I exhale. Its what one yoga teacher friend of mine refers to as the sugar coating of yoga. For the very reasons you articulate here, I’m seriously re-visiting both my practice and my teaching. Recently I found myself in a bit of a lull for a variety of reasons and thought at that time, perhaps I ought to stop teaching for a while. However I have one student who actually is my greatest teacher here in remote Africa and it is because of him that I continue to teach [and learn]. For quite some time, I’ve had very serious reservations about what’s happening to yoga in the West; I call it the distortion or mis-interpretation of yoga. I see your posit here as one made from a place of deep reflection, concern and observation. Thank you!

    • Mai says:

      sorry Nadine, your description "remote Africa" surprised me….remote from where? and by Africa you mean a continent with over 52 countries (nation states) …

  4. Amanda says:

    I once had a teacher who told me the ancients used to practice yoga in privacy and if a student sought to learn Yoga it was an arduous journey that required absolute dedication, and this is the reason only one asana was taught yearly and had to be mastered before the next was given. Each Asana was earned, rather than offered as candy. An old myth of Patanjali once said that he taught behind a curtain and the students only received instruction, no visual… I think from many of these "myth's", i have come to feel that real teaching comes in a synchronistic fashion to a person's place and journey. When one has found their inner Guru, they will see the Guru in everyone they encounter. LIfe is the ultimate Guru. And teaching coming in the forms of many. The divine being found in the waves of energy exchange… Awareness guiding you to the teachers you are meant to encounter… The magic of the journey… And the magic of the search…. Ahhhhh thank you for raising the questions and writing the article. Namaste!

  5. Katherine says:

    Many thanks for this much needed article. Yes, I will join you. I would like to add that Kripalu center in Mass teaches deeply into the roots of Yoga ~ every true Kripalu style class includes meditation, reflection, incorporates Yamas and Niyamas, witness consciousness …. Jai Bhagwan

  6. "Lest in ignoring the roots we lose the flower." Beautiful. This really gives me pause to reconsider the music I sometimes use in my home practice. I use it to pace myself, sometimes choose things that are atypical for yoga practice, and maybe I should consider letting my breath be my pace for awhile instead. I know that wasn't the entire point, but an important take away for me. I would never think of putting music on while I meditate, it might deepen my yoga practice if I skip it there too.

    • elephantjournal says:

      Yah, I think music works…if the point is to feel good, get into the flow, be inspired. But if the point of yoga is to still the waves of the mind, as in meditation…well would we play music while meditating? We could, but it might be a bit of a distraction. Depends on the meditation practice, I guess. In any case, as Trungpa Rinpoche used to say, if we can't do nothing we can't do anything. We can give up entertaining ourselves and just be present and listen to the sound of our breath and…relax.

  7. Suzette says:

    I hope a lot of those teachers take note and take heart and hopefully they will be able to guide their students on this Royal Road/Path. Keep reminding them Waylon!

  8. Great article, Waylon, except I solved this problem quite decisively after similar, and very heated, discussions almost two years ago in my very first post for Elephant Journal.

    I not only completely solved the terminology problem, I invented a whole new genre of Yoga to preserve the REAL Yoga, in which everything after the Yoga Sutra is an unnecessary modern innovation.

    First It Was Yobo, Now There is Ratra (Radical Traditional) Yoga

    Now it's just a matter of waiting for someone to implement my elegant solution.

    Bob W. Editor
    Facebook Twitter
    StumbleUpon

  9. [...] I read something here on elephant journal recently that made me reconsider this eclectic, irreverent soundtrack [...]

  10. Silvia says:

    "Unreal" yoga at a gym is what got me started on the path. I now know the difference because of my wonderful teacher who taught at Kripula. Yet I am just as greatful for that gym yoga teacher for without her I would have never begun this wonderful path.

  11. Lianne says:

    I enjoyed reading this article but I have some questions. I’m an Aussie yoga teacher that is comstantly learning, I have to as I’m only human. My first question is with alignment – physical or physchological? I have heard and been in classes with heavy cruel emphasis on physical alignment. If we are really talking yoga I think we should consider compassionate states that also work with psychological alignment. I believe we need to recognize that precise physical alignment can just cause ridgity. And maybe we need to question teachers like Patabi Jois, and Iyengar – could their heavy handed physical practices like music be a distraction? I have seen people addicted to these practices. I believe we need the courage to ask these questions even about the great teachers because one thing we have in common is our humaness. Life, yoga will continually evolve, and hopfully without sounding hippie dippy that we touch our genuine heart of compassion, and that we can be touched by the perfection of non perfection, and just like who we are. Then we may not need to be ambassadors :)

    • yelbazoe@gmail.com says:

      Hi Lianne,

      I really like your response. I think as long as we are all thinking, discussing, sharing, and honoring knowledge in all its forms, the future of yoga is secure. I see the fad of yoga as an opportunity for the life-long yogis to share it with others, who (may not otherwise be open to it). Let's strike while the kettle is hot — get as many people turned onto yoga as we can. Imagine a world where everyone takes time to meditate, care for their body, mind and spirit?

  12. Locayoga says:

    As a "gym" yoga instructor who plays Thievery Corp. during class while sporting my Hard Tail uniform; can you enlighten me on what you mean by "alignment"? My Power/Flow yoga is very physical because of my background; 15 years ago I received a fitness certification through UCSB, a two year training program that focused in on anatomy, physiology, and teaching aerobics to college kids. I evolved to yoga, trained for another 2 years in Santa Barbara, then eventually moved to LA and taught at many of the Sports Clubs there. I did not travel to India. I do not have a guru but have worked for so called "yogi masters", two who have been nailed with sexual harassment suits.

    In the Elephant Yoga community I would like to know what exactly you all would like out of a 90 minute class. What exactly do you want to hear, want to do? "Be still, be here now, be you, breathe" are phrases that I have heard a million times and it's not touching my heart anymore. Appropriate yoga practice is so nebulous today, and as a teacher I must admit that I am getting a bit lost on how to guide my next class; I've been on a hiatus for over a year because I need to sit back and figure out what we need to put out there as teachers. "Yoga is spiritual" is not a good enough answer, can you elaborate?

    • Jenny Finkel says:

      I appreciate your comments. As teachers, we are our own tiny businesses earning our own tiny livelihoods, and we have to balance the wants of our students/studios/employers with the expectations of our greater yoga community. It's hard to figure it all out. We have to make some concessions.

      When I teach, it is my priority to create a safe, responsible, fun practice for my students, to watch their bodies, and connect with them in some way. I hope to sneak a little philosophy in there, but if that has to happen while Fleet Foxes in crooning in the background, so be it.

      • onesadhaka says:

        You only need to make concessions if you are trying to sell yoga to people. If you are trying to truly teach it, then I suggest concessions are exactly what we (or the students) don't need. There's enough people watering down the wisdom of the sages. Which of these modern yoga merchants has added anything to the already existing wisdom and practice? Freeman? Baptiste? All good stuff, yet all regurgitated and repackaged for sales, for merchants to sell to consumers. We have all we need to know right now…and had it before any of those super stars came on the scene. They have added nothing new…just money to their coffers…in my non-famous place-trained understanding of the moment….

  13. [...] of continuity or lineage so that quality teachings will be passed down generation upon generation. I wrote about that concern recently. John [...]

  14. Sandy Gross says:

    Rodney Yee said it in a recent interview, "The student needs to demand more". I took that to mean MY students (I teach yoga, 12 years now) and myself, I am a student of yoga, too. I have been and continue to be that student and demand more. Not all students make this a life pursuit, as I have, and I know that. It really is mostly positive as Waylon explains above. My path may be of interest to you, here's my evolution as a student and that of a young vinyasa teacher. (12 years, 20 years, when will I be "not young" anymore?! I love that growing old with yoga is a cool thing;) ha

    I own a studio and have hosted many of the teachers named in this article, and I have learned much from them. My yoga path, however, kept returning to the OM yoga tradition created by Cyndi Lee in part because of it's emphasis on alignment, vinyasa & meditation namely it's roots in the Tibetan Buddhist traditions/teachings of mindfulness & compassion. Cyndi's teaching is Gelek Rimpoche of Jewel Heart http://www.jewelheart.org. (I got my 200 hour via OM yoga in 2004, and went back again and completed OM yoga's 500 hour in 2011) I felt and still do feel like it is a more evolved form of vinyasa yoga with it's expanded view of what we can offer students during a physical, sweaty vinyasa practice.

    Guess what, we are not the most popular yoga center in town;) "It's too slow", has been a comparison to the power yoga classes all around us, and I get that, I love a faster flow at times. I also have experienced a down shifting in my personal speed at life, which has no doubt made me a better mother and wife and everything. My kids go away to college within the next 8 years, I'm 46, mid life, I want to learn to slow down and to see everything along the way.

    I love being a part of a lineage that is rooted back to the days of the Yoga Sutras as well as Buddha's teachings. Cyndi not only teaches yoga & meditation, but she teaches the student to expect more by asking questions of them, and not spoon feeding them the answers. Frustrating at first, but that is the yoga & Buddhist way, go out and live the questions then the answers become your dharma, your truth. Then you teach authentically. OM yoga is not a "style" of yoga, but a method of how to teach. Each class is a conversation with your students. Teaching yoga, then, becomes a form of practice (as is being a wife, a mother, a consumer.). I love knowing I am teaching my students how to become better students, that everything is a form of practice, that being a student is a form of practice, of living the questions.

    Locayoga, check out Cyndi's writings and books and workshops. Her husband and well known dharma teacher David Nichtern, has also contributed greatly to the OM yoga path with his dharma teachings alongside Cyndi's teachings in their Yoga Body Buddha Mind workshops, book & DVD. David also now teaches 3 levels of meditation teacher trainings for teachers, which I think is a great addition to any vinyasa teacher's toolbox of offerings to his/her students.
    http://www.omyoga.com Check out the page that links to Cyndi's many articles online and search Elephant, too, as Cyndi is a contributor here at times. http://www.davidnichtern.com

    Thanks, Waylon, for asking the questions, too:)

    • Carol Horton says:

      I think that the teachers who are melding yoga with contemporary Buddhism and psychology are doing really important new work – in addition to Cyndi Lee (who I don't know as well), I would really urge those looking for a deeper take on yoga to check out Sarah Powers and Michael Stone.

      • onesadhaka says:

        There's a really groovy yogi who deserves props and shameless promotion as well…Patanjali. Don't forget Krishnamacharya, either. All these other famous yoga teachers are mostly parroting and repackaging what they already said. Do we need more teachers…or more real sadhaka (aspirants)?

  15. Andy says:

    I agree 1000% with your article Waylon, and ponder the questions you raise as well.

  16. [...] you have a spiritual practice? Photo gratefully borrowed from lululemon [...]

  17. Dearbhla says:

    Waylon,
    I really like this article and I agree with your view and share your concern. And, at the risk of seeming confrontative, want to point out that EJ posts a lot of articles that are really shallow, e.g, 10 tips to dating a yogini, really? Come on…you could set the bar much higher for what's published on the site, much more in alignment with what you talk about.

    Great article…thanks a lot.
    Dearbhla

    • Hi, Dearbhla.

      You know I love your writing.

      But I also love a lot of the articles you probably consider shallow, too.

      For one thing, objectively speaking, one person's shallow can be another person's deep. One person's deep can be another's pedantic and boring. I've actually come to trust our audience–our entire audience. And a diverse audience enjoys diverse things.

      More importantly, there are many other values we hold dear at elephant other than deep and meaningful, like fun, hilarious, entertaining, provocative, intriguing, inspiring, quirky, sardonic, surprising, sexy, etc. and we don't see any particular reason why all these other values, along with deep, too, shouldn't all be intertwined with spirituality and yoga.

      So, I don't think we're very concerned about an article that's "shallow", as long as it strongly exhibits at least one of the other traits above.

      But if someone ever thinks we're boring, then I'd be concerned.

      Thanks for writing.

      Bob

      Bob W. Associate Publisher & Head Coach
      elephant journal
      facebook, twitter, linkedIn
      Yoga Demystified, Gita in a Nutshell

      • NamasteIsTheWay says:

        I think it's gotten better in recent time however, yes, we need the fun and some shallow things are simple good fun however EJ has also had a habit of posting articles with racy images, the racier the better and some blatantly exploitive. But clicks lead to business survival so there it is …the paradox and as all things we learn and grow and evolve and hopefully EJ will find it's way beyond the easy click phase it seems to be leaving….namaste.

      • onesadhaka says:

        I must admit, the vapid articles also serve a purpose beyond entertaining and informing. They give us a lens through which aspirants share their vision of yoga. Trite or self-centered or not, off the point or on it, they allow us to witness the effect yoga has on us, and to share our slowly-uncovered wisdom. In our Merikan ignorance and materialism, we reflect the unfolding of ourselves that yoga brings. That means we go through stages of ignorance before we come to enlightenment or understanding. Love them all, especially the ones that piss me off (why do they do that?) or make me scratch my head in…wonder…disgust…awe.

  18. [...] yet to become a powerful, multimillion dollar worldwide enterprise. It was a kinder, simpler time. The kombucha-sipping, Manduka-mat-toting, cellphone shouting power yogi elbowing people out of the way on the way to the studio had yet to emerge as a cultural [...]

  19. JennM says:

    Yoga is a holistic activity – it is about mind, body and spirit, while western exercise develops only the physique. That is what I love about it. I find that yoga takes on the shape of the culture that practices it. For example, in India where it originated, it retains its spiritual roots and thus has positively permeated many spheres of activity and has influenced the moral framework of society. It teaches, discipline, respect, reverence, compassion and provides perception an enlightenment to those who seriously dedicate themselves to its practice. When I was practicing more regularly, I used to compare teaching approaches in places I visited. In a club in downtown Washington DC I found the teaching emphasis on fast-paced with gruelling asanas with no space for the mind and spirit, urbanized Singapore was similar too. SF was a bit more cerebral and low key, and atune to the mind element. To me, BKS Iyengar and Krishnamacharya (The Heart of Yoga) are the best articulators of what yoga is. Just take Iyengar's classic book on Breathing – read the chapter on how to breathe which outlines in clear detail how to take a simple breath in about 27 steps. What insight and depth. Amazing and enlightening. Sadly, many people who practice yoga in the West are not aware of the major point of what yoga is all about. Practiced correctly, it helps us be more aware, compassionate, content – heatlth and fitness are linked but are only a small part.

  20. Sarah says:

    Please! If yoga is a "flower"… it is a very hardy, nutritious, and prolific one. The seeds of yoga have fallen on fertile ground in the U.S. (I'll speak to what I know here) , and is now beginning to come into full bloom. The tone of this article makes it seem like interest in yoga is just a passing, vapid fad, instead of a cultural revolution.

    Save your cynicism for something else like the future of battery farmed poultry or something. My generation and my kid's is charged with pulling humanity back from the brink and we are using yoga in all it's forms to help us do it.

    Don't question the validity or the quality of yoga- as though you ridicule the "posers". That pastel colored yoga room is hosting a quiet movement of self honoring, and it is in no danger of extinction.

    • elephantjournal says:

      You seem to think we're insulting yoga. Rather, we're seeking to protect and nurture the heart as well as the flower of yoga.

      See the prior comment… "Sadly, many people who practice yoga in the West are not aware of the major point of what yoga is all about. Practiced correctly, it helps us be more aware, compassionate, content – heatlth and fitness are linked but are only a small part."

      • jane dicola says:

        I believe Sarah's point is simply this: Meet Yourself Where You Are is honorable, as is Come As You Are. These are from the rich Tibetan lineage, as you know – but when translated into Western culture and language, these statements are CLASSIC Calling Cards to Yoga, interpreted as welcoming, unintimidating, compassionate. They allow for "models against pastel sets in Lululemon gear" to come on in and find a space.
        Yesterday, I invited some fairly new students (six months) to share "why you choose yoga." Mostly, it's for a stretching (for a few, strengthening) Asana practice, some deep relaxation & a short meditation. And one said, moving to the rhythm of breath and music :))
        I acknowledge where they are and their needs. As their teacher, I know it is my responsibility to try to give them the experience they desire (I am serving them after all) as I sneak in tiny fragments of the teachings that I feel responsible & called to present. There will ALWAYS be souls who just want to be welcomed into a compassionate space with a mat; and invited to experience yoga as they wish, as they need. This is YOGA.

  21. Andy says:

    If you want the yoga that is mentioned in Patanjali or Bhagavad Gita check our organizations like Art of Living Foundation or others with a Guru(teacher) who is constantly giving knowledge/teachings that speak to the essence of yoga.

  22. Thank you Waylon,
    Thank you for genuine concern.
    Challenge accepted.
    Yoga in the West is like a Pyramid.
    We will always need genuine and committed practitioners to push the tip of the
    Pyramid Skyward.
    As long as this upward evolution is happening with a few
    Disciiplined Souls, the Path will continue to be lit.
    Water will find its own level as maturing Souls
    Find their place in the yoga world and make their Offering.
    My teacher said “it will take 100 years before the essence of Yoga
    Will be firmly rooted in the West. Don’t worry, just do your practice.”
    Namaste

  23. eithne kelly says:

    I hear to mention of the great masters of Yoga, Swami Sivananda.
    When I was 17yrs old, I purchased The Sivananda Companion to Yoga.
    I thought myself the basic session to begin with.
    I think The Sun Salutation series of excerises is fantastic.
    It prepares one for the asanas.
    Its wonderful.
    Anybody can do yoga.
    All you need is a little time, a calm space and a mat if you wish.
    I am now looking at reaping the rewards of meditation, an aspect of yoga I did not try.
    If we all took some time to meditate, our world would be so calm and beautiful.
    Namsste

  24. DaveTelf says:

    Like Eithne above, I too am a practitioner in the Sivananda lineage. My training at Sivananda ashrams (established by Swami Vishnu-Devananda) have drawn me deep into a classical yoga practice, centered around meditation, bhakti and karma yoga. I know the type of yoga described and essentially belittled here exists, but that does not typically interfere with my personal practice.

    When Swami Vishnu first came to the west, he hooked people with the tagline "Yoga for Health." Now isn't that stealthy? Some serious skillful means in action, if y'ask me. It's the "just the tip" routine except with the highest most noble intentions for the lucky gullible people who thought they were just going to get some exercise. In our era where flow charts are less and less pyramidal and more horizontal, it only seems appropriate to lower the barriers to entry, to spread the seeds far and wide and see what takes root, allowing people to self-identify as they know best.

    Silvia's comment above is an excellent example of why gym-class yoga is not to be poo-pooed. You never know when/where the light goes on.

    It's a great article Waylon. Provocative but well-measured. As has been mentioned above, you've offered an excellent reminder, but I cringed when I saw "Yoga is X and Y." Yoga is. And any attempt to define or confine it further is ultimately ill-fated.

    As always, thanks for the conversation.

  25. I also practice and teach yoga in the Sivananda lineage. True yoga is alive and well in this teaching and the less classical forms of yoga also open the door to deeper study. Yes, there's a lot of commercial yoga out there, but many are finding their way to a deeper practice … including and beyond mere asanas. All is well. All things are moving toward absolute good. Blessings.

  26. With all of the yoga lectures and Workshops being given today in California, I don't understand why the author claims that we are not studying yoga in the same depth as the generation before us. I've had some great experiences within the last few years studying yoga. Every yoga class I have taken has emphasized alignment with great depth.

    Everyone in my yoga teacher's training class had to write essays on the Bhagvad Gita, The Sutras, Meditation, The Chakras and several anatomical groups of the body and we are just your run of the mill local yoga teachers teaching this generation. I also know that many of my local yoga teachers have read, The Heart of Yoga and other very important books by some of the great yoga gurus of the past generation. We recommend these books to each other and encourage others to read it.

    I, myself have studied western mind/body practices such as Alexander Technique and the Linklater vocal technique to deepen my pranayama practice and I teach it to others. I also study chi kung and have a background in tai chi and kung fu. I also study Buddhism and have read the Toa Te ching many times. I also teach workshops on breathing, chakra opening, and stress release. The Linkedin yoga group I am a part of constantly discusses yoga philosophy and everyone there will even quote scriptures of ancient vedic texts, including the Bhgvad Gita and The yoga Sutras. I also teach at a gym.

    My purpose is not to brag but to answer the author's question: But in just 10 years…who will present yoga in depth? Of course, we will. Maybe some will teach and learn more than others but you have to give us a chance to do it with an open heart rather than judgement. Every generation thinks that they are better than the one that is behind them, but that is merely the viewpoint of the ego at play.

  27. osudrania says:

    Ignoring the roots, you lose the fruits also is a good addage.

  28. sonyata says:

    I am an instructor, constantly study, and continually search for a better yoga practice. I attend a lot of classes too, and learn from other instructors. Frankly, I find the thing I desire most during asana practice is silence. I get tired of listening to an instructor go on and on about alignment – roll your inner thigh out, move your right hip forward, your left hip back, etc. It goes on and on and on. In a seventy five minute class they talk for seventy minutes. 90% of what they say is extraneous filler.

    I think asana is supposed to be moving meditation, and I can't stand having to listen to all this mumbo jumbo because if I tune it out I may miss the next pose. PLEASE – Give me the breath, the name of the pose, and one adjustment. And then let me breath and meditate for five or seven breaths until we move to the next pose. And please, keep the sequences somewhat logical. I am tired of yoga classes that are like playing a game of twister.

    Good topic, and interesting question. YES – yoga for the masses. We will keep digging deeper and deeper, but like it or not, yoga is evolving in the West.

    • amy says:

      I hope you don't injure yourself practicing complex poses without more than 1 cue! at least you know those teachers know what they're talking about- teachers who teach little to no alignment are allowing students to perpetuate bad habits.

  29. kzelmoon says:

    Also TriYoga is a complete practice and a "living" yoga coming through Kali Ray… from the website "In the tradition of ancient yoga, the origin and continuing development of TriYoga is guided by kriyavati siddhi as expressed through Kaliji. With this inspiration, she has fully systematized hatha yoga asana, pranayama, and dharana, from Basics to Level 7, establishing the comprehensive TriYoga method."
    And regarding music… Kaliji is of the Jayalakshmi Datta Avadhoota lineage, initiated by His Holiness Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Swamiji. Swamiji is a nada yogi, a musician and composer who performs concerts for healing and meditation, and his music is played in TriYoga classes for the same purpose. Jai Guru Devi.

  30. Willis says:

    It is true that yogaworks etc churn out generic yoga superfilous yoga for the general public. It is also true that many of the "authentic" systems you refer to churn out a generic derivative of Indian yoga deemed "authentic" by relation to some lineage from a far away culture that would in reality have nothing to do with them. I have met people with meditation, pranayama, scriptural studies/practices etc, who are not even remotely well adjusted individuals, even though they wear the robes, count the beads, and all the other curry people confuse with the actual substance.

  31. If we are talking about authentic yoga should we not talk about what yoga is it is to the Indian yogis? The people you mention as great yoga teachers are proponents of wester yoga, and that has not much to do with its indian counterpart. If we look at what yoga is in indian spirituality we find something that is very different from asana and body alignment.

  32. Marta BERRY says:

    I think Yoga corporations should go off the train . Really if you are a yoga teacher you should never allow any of your students be out of alignement . there is a big difference between being a Asana Instructor demostration or a Yoga Teacher. A real Yoga teacher should never demostrate ( or very little ) Standing positions . When you practice yoga , you should not talk. so how can you pretend do everything, practice , guide classes , observe students , correct students ,and on top play loud music and do not get injured , It is impossible . Marta Berry

  33. Marta BERRY says:

    You just have to be careful which teacher you pick up …

  34. amy says:

    My prediction is that in 10 years, young yoga teachers with dedication to their paths will study yoga in enough depth to uphold its integrity as a practice. I understand the concern about the legions of new teachers certified monthly with no prerequisites for training- it's not a traditional or safe amount of mastery in my opinion either. I believe the standards for the title 'yoga teacher' should be far more strictly outlined and monitored. However, there are other young teachers who have taken yoga seriously enough to research valuable, alignment-based, accountable teacher trainings and spend their money wisely regarding the investment in education. I'm very young and I believe wholeheartedly in this practice and it's ability to bring people into experiences of embodied, authentic human experience. I've completed several teacher training programs, filled journals with reactions and interpretations of classical yoga texts, created yoga groups in my community, and taught in a thoughtful, aware and dedicated manner. I spend sleepless nights thinking about yoga and it's powerful potential for expansion, joy and inspiration. I practice alone often, I meditate, and I don't give a rat's ass if yoga makes my butt look better in some ridiculous overpriced pants. I'm in this for the potential in every human being I meet and for the potential in myself. When you say the word "Namaste," you essentially bow to the potential in the human beings around you: the potential for teachings, light, contribution. Just because I was born 10 years after another teacher doesn't mean I've somehow failed to be a practitioner and teacher of yoga or a vessel of potential; it doesn't mean that I can't take this practice seriously and share it with caution, humility and gratitude. Perhaps my teaching relates in particular to a generation whose parents went through similar experiences of divorce, whose immersion in media, technology and advertising is so invasive that most of us don't know how impacted we are, who have experienced depression and mental disorder at a higher rate and younger age than previous generations; perhaps I have some perspective than an older teacher does not. I just want to think about all this from a yogic perspective- don't you think transience is inevitable, and although yoga continues to shift there is hope for new teachers who rise above the sea of bullshit and uphold the sacred practice? I have unwavering hope and faith that there are small numbers of folks who will carry on the integrity of yoga. I hope too that all these people who say the last generation of great yoga instructors is now can consider the possibility that that's a narrow view assuming we know the majority of the universe and yoga's mystery (we don't, we can't.) I hope that we can move beyond date of birth as a particularly remarkable characteristic about a person. I hope that if you shared this sacred practice next to me and said "Namaste," you would take me as seriously as the 50-year old on my other side. We're both on the mat, we're both seekers of truth and yoga! Again, I get the concern about the masses of pseudo-qualified teachers around the country right now- I've seen dangerous classes taught and observed some eerily alignment-light teacher trainings. I'm just sayin: we blossoming yoga experts are out there, seeking ways to uphold yoga's light in the future.

  35. Jack says:

    Wow, This guy got it all backwards himself, lol. He seems to be calling for a return to the pre 21st century Western understanding, which itself was already corrupted.

    He says,

    "What is yoga? 1. Yoga is a spiritual path. Yoga is about becoming a more fully present, genuine, compassionate person."

    Yoga has nothing to do with that. This attitude of compassion and goodness, and "presentness" is a desired side effect of being a Yogi, to be sure, but not at all what yoga is about or is, and striving for those things can itself prevent progress. If he would read Patanjali in an unadulterated form, free from commentaries and Western influences, he, and anybody else, would "get" what Yoga is. The Sutras, along with The Gita, are the two great "Books of Yoga". He barely mentions them.

    In the rest of the article he goes on to list the potentates of Yoga, but does not list a single one that most of the Yogis in India would cite, instead listing the "businessman" Indian yogis such as Joise and Iyengar, as well as the popular Westerners who helped get Yoga off down a wayward path in the first place.

    Exception: To his great credit he lists George Feuerstein as a reliable source. I fully agree. George's book "Encyclopedia of Yoga" nails it in every way, and should be on every Yoga teachers reading list.

    My criticism has nothing to do with the efficacy of what Westerners are doing, neither is it a commentary on how healthy or good the Western practices are. I very much do think the Western system of stretching exercises, new age philosophy, and breathing techniques, which they love to call "Yoga", is in fact beneficial.

  36. TamaraLee says:

    Good article. I understand there is a lot of concern regarding 'real' yoga. I definitely respect the ancient ways/teachings and think it's important for us to know where this wonderful practice we call yoga came from. On the other hand that's not for everyone. As a young 21st century teacher I just have to say 'real' yoga comes from the heart. Not from thousand year old books. If your doing something you love and hold close to your heart there's really nothing superficial about that. So the next time anyone feels like passing judgement on who is or isn't a 'real' yoga teacher – you're the ones misunderstanding yoga.

  37. Nikita says:

    I agree that in 10 years the focus of yoga will have changed and morphed away from its roots even further. I am an East Indian female, born in the United States. I have perspective on what I consider the "Indian" version of yoga and the "American" version. I agree that yoga has been commodified, fadd-ified, especially being here in Los Angeles. I do think however, that change is necessary and inevitable. Every system that we have, whether in science, art, philosophy, movement, etc. develops variations that are in better collaboration with the current social, economical, cultural times. While I'm not touting myself or style, I value the perspective that I bring when I teach yoga. My style is all about breathing, slow movements, deep deep flexibility and strength building, presence, healing, affirmation through the vehicle of the body system…. I don't speak the Sanskrit names of poses, I speak in a language that reaches all identities of people. This is what's valuable to me, and therefore to the students that are attracted to my style. In the same way, other teachers can and will emerge, perhaps speaking a slightly different language than the original Greats, but with value and appropriateness. I guess what I'm saying is that there is yoga fads and teacher mills, AND there are great teachers. Great teachers don't all look alike, and just because a teacher doesn't stick to the original language of yoga, it doesn't mean that integrity and compassion and all of the principles essential to yoga are not present. Thank you and namaste. http://www.nikitagupta.com

  38. Janet Dodd says:

    I love it all….everything about yoga. And I agree with what you say. But maybe more than either of these, I wonder how we can get beyond the tendency to hang-out or set up camp, in any arena along the way on the spiritual path?

    I have hung out in the meditation arena, then the do-nothing spiritual arena, then the power of very physical asana, then the cleansing practices….sometimes even managing to do several at once. Also have hung out in awe of how great it all is, then forms of despair because I may still find myself sick or unwell. I think we can hang out in fields of a type of intellectual sarcasm and place our identity there. But I think we have been reminded by the deepest teachings that we get to keep going on beyond whatever stage (good or bad or neutral) that we seem to find ourselves in. Guess i mean the Prajnaparamita Sutra…of going on beyond, always going on beyond, always becoming Buddha….always being honest with our own training and intent.

    And I think your article calls to us to continue to question whether we are becoming popular and skinny as yoga teachers, or whether we maybe have a few students who are seriously embarking on a path alongside us. So thanks.

  39. Lisa Quish says:

    Just to confirm that yoga is alive and kicking with all of its eight limbs here in Dublin Ireland. I have and continue to be taught by a number of wonderful teachers here; Dave Curtis of Vinyasa Flow Yoga, Lisa Petterson, Ciara Cronin of The Yoga Room where I am currently on the 500hr programme ( first one in Ireland).

    In defense of yoga from California people like Shiva Rea who spins fire in a gold bikini and McYogi who raps about the Hindu Gods have popularised yoga by making it contemporary and fun then they cleverly with their knowledge and wisdom lull us back to Patanjali and the Vedic texts. Lulu lemon and music in class are not all bad once the substance and ethics are there too and popular yoga has its way of bringing us back to centre once the teacher is on a personal journey to reach anandamaya then we can feel in safe hands. It is up to students to be discerning and read up about their teacher before they attend class and hand their money, mind and body over.

    Thank you for invoking so much discussion and for giving us this great journal which kicks with all eight limbs too. Om shanti or as McYogi would say….,.’give love, give your love away’

  40. NIcole says:

    I never usually post on articles but reading this entry and all the comments have got me thinking. I agree with a lot of what the article states….but something about it just rubs me the wrong way. You see, I am a teacher, too. I have studied with some phenomenal teachers and continue to do so. I am constantly trying to widen the scope of my experience and knowledge. It is my true passion. I teach with alignment and care….and my classes aren't the fullest, but I am okay with that b/c I know my students are safe, building strength, developing stretch and stamina for their bodies, not mine! But, some of the things I have learned along the way of teaching is that we are not Indians, but we are westerners who live in a culture or society that is vastly different than yogis of the east. Some people are visual learners, some are tactical and some are auditory, and it doesn't make me less of a teacher when I teach someone who is a visual learner by demonstration first. I have learned it is not my job to tell someone how they should feel physically, emotionally let alone spiritually during a practice. I can share my experience on and off the mat, and that is the truth. I can show someone the door, but ultimately he or she has to walk through it and take some personal responsibility in his or her own journey. And lastly, people find their own way on their own journey whether they like classes with music, only want to get some flexibility or take classes at a gym or shala. Yoga is a SCIENCE not a religion or doctrine….Pantajali offered the many suggestions in the sutras about how to find yoga in one's life but in the end stated if none of these suggestions work for you, find something that does (Sutra 1:39). I love teaching and hope to continue!

  41. I believe there will always be Yogis and Yoginis who will teach and search for the roots. For all others its still great to have Yoga as a way to exercise a healthy body and mind. If they don't ask for the means behind yoga, they still do benefit a lot more than from other physical exercises.

  42. wildjoie says:

    heard [on NPR radio] today: lululemon's stock went down two and a quarter percent due to the ending of production of their "see-thru" yoga pants. i kid you not. [i did not know they made see-thru pants, let alone for yoga, no less.]

    part of the problem, said it all, in a sign spotted at the REI one day. it read simply: "yoga accessories".

    i also did not realize that freedom, required accessories.

  43. A.L. says:

    I guess everything, even Elephant Journal posts should be taken in moderation …

    Whilst I hear you, and believe you, and have gone out of my way to find those teachers who are still on the spiritual path themselves just guiding me and not dictating to me, my personal journey would never have begun had it not been for the big corporations.

    As an ex-pat from the UK moving to Boulder, CO, I was instantly terrified of the 'crazy hippy cult' that seemed to have seeped into every aspect of life there. Why were these damn Americans so bloody weird in their tie-dye trousers and dreads?! I was also, for the record, overweight, over-stressed and exhausted. At 27 I felt like my body was giving out on me and I didn't know which way to turn. Had it not been for the accessibility of CorePower Yoga I would never have found my passion, my joy, my health and the fullness that life has to offer.

    During my first class I was introduced to a teacher who talked in simple English, watched my alignments, and simple told me to be okay with where I was physically. After several weeks I followed my friend to more "traditional" studios and I found that, knowing the asana postures, having opened my body up physically and just generally feeling better about myself, I was open to the deeper aspects of the practice. I didn't scoff when we spent 30 minutes breathing and just being, instead I relished the opportunity for something new – and why? Because I was no longer insecure, terrified, overweight and over-stressed.

    CorePower opened up a world of opportunity for me. One which has brought me to my mat on a regular basis, to 2 separate 200-hr TT courses with them (yes I am myself now a dreaded CPY teacher), and to a whole new world of spiritual learning, development and most of all patience and gratitude.

    Your article talks about 2 very separate complaints – firstly, that alignment is not covered in a lot of the studios popping up around the US. I would agree, although you barely touch on this subject, and interestingly the larger corporations (probably because of the high insurance policies they have to undertake) spend a long time working just on that. If anything they keep their students physically safe. And secondly, you talk about the number of teachers who go no further than their asana practice. Again, I agree, but please don't tar us all with the same brush and please remember that sometimes that's all people need – just an opening and an opportunity.

    I personally have fallen in love with the continuing education and learning that yoga brings – both in different disciplines of the asana practices and in different aspects of the lifestyle. Every question I have seems to be answered with 5 new questions and every day I learn from my own teachers as much as my students. I also like to bring in a more spiritual side to yoga into my classes (even within the CPY universe), however, I do so in very plain simple English that I hope will be accessible to the throngs of people that find their way to their mat because of the latest Groupon. The truth is, not everyone enjoys my class, some people wish I would just teach the postures and let them listen to the funky music I have selected for the hour (and I admit, I have some rocking play lists), however, on a not too infrequent basis I will have a student approach me after class and talk to me about yoga. Something was triggered in them the way it was in me – people who would never find themselves in a kundalini class or deep meditation, people who only came to our studio because it is mirrored and lively and hot and because they saw the latest hot Hollywood start Tweet about it. Something shifted and they want more.

    This is why I will always love CPY and the other large studios as much as I love my solo meditations and my small, run-down studio where the teacher has been practicing for years. Every day I am given the opportunity to help a packed room full of hot sweaty bodies detox, and unwind, and work out, every day every one of these bodies leaves feeling better, smiling more, calmer (they may put it down to the fun work out they just had – I put it down to the deep twists rinsing out their egos and the deep heart openers letting them feel again … but then I'm one of those weird hippies now and proud). And every day I have the opportunity to touch someone's heart, to heal an old wound, to bring a little light into someone's life that may just, if I'm lucky and they're lucky, put them on the never ending path of joy, love and light that I found.

  44. Jclive says:

    Good article. Waylon must not have children or at least when he wrote his piece. Yoga pants, whole foods, quinoa, 1.8 children, SUV= insulting. Wha the hell is wrong with wearing yoga pants in whole foods and trying to keep yourself healthy especially if you have a family. We are the householders, the audience for yoga journal, the presence in the yoga studios, the ones who seek inner peace and refuge from everyday chores, responsibilities, bringing our children up to be good human beings. We are westerners that seek out spaces to find pause and compassionate in our own minds so that our families could have a chance to be more loving, connected and functional. There is a bitterness expressed against the hurried middle class mum who is trying to do the right thing by stretching her mind, opening her body and feeling sensation for 2 hrs a week. Give it a chance and please won't you stop judging the scene. It can feel like the hot white single girls and tattooed guys in class have much different expectations for practice. Roots of yoga must be studied because you have the time and space to do so. Real world, hello?! – those who have very little time but the huge yearning to share their practice by teaching are doing the very best they can to be in service of others. If they don't know the sutras, the exact Sanskrit, pure alignment, one must trust that the teachers are doing their best and are on the path to healing. Take the whole image of moms doing yoga and their SUVs and dump it because it is your thought projection, your trigger. I have to say this because this type of thinking is detrimental to the yogic environment. And yeah, because I am a mom. Let me know what your thoughts are once you spit out a kid or three – yoga is a saving grace a refuge, not an empty vapid excercise. Thanks.

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  46. Sri Satchmo says:

    Agreed. I am on board! I have for some years dedicated myself to do just that: preservation of the teachings.
    You said it best: "…lest in ignoring the roots we lose the flower."

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