I had a conversation recently with my husband about the hundreds of yoga styles now available in the U.S. and we shared a laugh about the ridiculous gimmicks that have been invented. As a culture, we love to be entertained, whether through reality TV, sporting events, or musical performances. Now, through [fill in the blank] Yoga for the low low price of $9.99, we can all get our fun fix without really having to do an asana practice that requires physical work and mental discipline. And you’ll also receive an extra set of Ginsu knives with that.
Hammock Yoga? What the heck is that? Aqua Yoga? When did that become a legitimate asana practice? AcroYoga? Is that yoga for those interested in working for Cirque du Solei? We love to be entertained and we love to take things to the limit — it is in our western nature. We are a society that loves to look beautiful in a physical posture — whether made-up or extreme — so we can prove to our peers, Facebook friends, and the world how cool we are, as well as show others that we can do something they can’t. One-upmanship is the name of the game. Got game?
Everything has yoga attached to it now: Yawning Yoga, Weight Loss Yoga, Fashion Yoga, Heart Yoga, you name it! Attach yoga to it and – guaranteed — it will sell for a while, even if it contains very little substance. We have bastardized the traditions that are legitimate and have fallen slave to the charms of Madison Avenue, Hollywood and the yoga magazine media to tell us what yoga should look like in a $300 yoga outfit.
So, who cares, right? If people choose to pursue [fill in the blank] Yoga, how does that affect me personally? If I practice a discipline that has a real lineage, what does it matter what others believe is real yoga? At least they’re moving their bodies, right?
Wrong. Here’s why.
1. People Can, Do & Will Get Hurt
Remember the recent story in the New York Times, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body?” Despite the outrage and commentary that piece brought from members of the yoga community, as well as the facts about yoga the author missed, there is a message worth hearing — you can get hurt in yoga if you are not careful. Just like any other form of physical exercise, if done incorrectly, yoga can injure you.
However, chances of injury are much higher with [fill in the blank] Yoga. When you have yoga trends that are being taught by their inventors, the risk of physical harm is significantly higher. Asana practices that are based in real lineage have been researched and tested by practitioners for hundreds of thousands of years. They have anatomical, physiological and kinesthetic foundations that have proven to generate a myriad of benefits in a safe way. Of course, there is still a risk of injury in traditional disciplines. However, with proper instruction by master teachers possessing the correct knowledge, expertise, background, and training, the chances of injury are much smaller. [fill in the blank] Yoga trends are exactly that — trends with no foundational basis for practice. Rather, they are a mish-mash of the asana kitchen sink thrown together to create something catchy and marketable.
2. The Ego Drives the Practice
Yoga teachers and students, alike, are usually on the precipice of ego-driven behavior. Before you say, “I don’t have an ego,” or “I check my ego at the door,” think about the concept of ego as explained in yogic philosophy and in modern science. Simply, the ego is defined in most dictionaries as “the “I” or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought.” In a nutshell, it is our self-esteem and self-identity; how we see ourselves in the world in comparison to someone or something else.
Our culture is set up to serve the ego. It’s a pretty simple formula: When something feeds our ego we are happy; when it does not, we are sad, angry, or frustrated. The irony is that with yoga, we are seeking to remove the ego as the center of self-identity and to move to a center of service with and for others. In the modern yoga culture, however, it appears that very few practitioners and instructors have actually learned that concept. We say we do. We nod our heads and say we understand. Then we get right back on the mat to do that killer “advanced yoga posture” for everyone to see and praise. Essentially we have learned nothing.
[Fill in the blank] Yoga reinforces bad habits and ego-driven behavior because it is about being trendy, not about finding the truth within the discipline of the practice. By inventing new styles of yoga, we satisfy our inner struggle about self-identity and show the world what we can do with our bodies, but have done nothing to actually engage sound yogic principles as described in the foundational texts.
3. The Field Becomes Compromised
We have a lack of professionalism in the yoga field as it is. Thousands of “recognized” styles of yoga that have been approved as certifying schools (most of to which I would not send my cat) are handing out 200-500 hour certificates and qualifying people with a serious lack of real training. In addition, many people are teaching asana without having gone through any certifying program at all — good, bad or mediocre — which is even scarier. These so-called yoga instructors and lifestyle yogis do a disservice to the field in general. When you add on top of it [fill in the blank] Yoga styles, the field takes an even further downward spiral. It becomes a free-for-all with no boundaries, no professional rigor, and no quality. The biggest disservice is to new practitioners – they have no idea what to expect, what questions to ask, or experience for comparison. They trust what is being thrown at them and then find themselves in a place on inadequacy or worse, in the orthopedic surgeon’s office.
4. Yoga Becomes a Commodity, Rather Than a Lifestyle
Like most things in western society, yoga has become a sellable commodity. This has some benefits – marketing serves to get the word out about a life-changing health and lifestyle solution in a language that is understandable by the average westerner. However, marketing yoga as a commodity often reduces the practice to buying the right sticky mat, wearing the latest bamboo clothes, and looking like the man or woman on the cover of Yoga Journal.
Ultimately, yoga is a lifestyle and a life path. It is a discipline that becomes part of who you are as a person when taken seriously. Those who have the good fortune to teach yoga understand that yoga lifestyle is a responsibility; a responsibility to all those that you serve. [fill in the blank] Yoga does not possess those same qualities. In more ways than not, it cheapens the foundation on which yoga was built.
5. The Rise of the Yoga Diva & The Emergence of the False Guru
Yoga Diva/False Guru: “Look what I can do that you cannot, Aspiring Yogi!” [Dramatically displays an “advanced” yoga posture.]
Aspiring Yogi: “Oh, you are so amazing Yoga Diva/False Guru! I wish I could do that!” [Clasps hands in prayer with star-struck eyes looking up.]
Yoga Diva/False Guru: “If you stare at me long enough, I may bestow upon you my magical asana powers so you can replicate my greatness!” [Puffs chest, smirks, pretending to be humble.]
Aspiring Yogi: “Oh, please do, Yoga Diva/False Guru! I am not awesome like you, but if I can do that “advanced” yoga posture, I could be like you, and then I will be happy!” [Bows in humility.]
Yoga Diva/False Guru: “You will never be as great as I am because I invented this [fill in the blank] Yoga style! But if you follow me, you could be my favorite student and not maximize your own potential! How does that sound?” [Looks down at bowing student.]
Aspiring Yogi: “Oh yes great one! That’s what I want — to be your disciple! Shall I call you Guru now?” [Looks up for acceptance.]
This short skit in the one-act play called “The Rise of the Yoga Diva & The Emergence of the False Guru” may seem a bit extreme, but you get the point. I have seen way too many yoga instructors and students fall into this pattern of behavior and seek out their ego fixes on a daily basis, both on and off the mat.
Don’t be one of them. Choose a yoga style vetted by time and rooted in tradition and solid methodology. And remember, friends don’t let friends do [fill in the blank] Yoga.