The Homogenization of Yoga. ~ Erin Mathiason

Via on Jan 6, 2013

The Modernization (and Demise?) of a Rich and Ancient Practice.

If the number of yoga poses are infinite, as yoga master Dharma Mittra says, why do I sometimes feel stuck in an endless loop of high plank—low plank—up dog—down dog? More than 15 years into my yoga practice, yoga had become as uninspiring to me as an organic graham cracker dunked in a glass of vanilla soy milk.

At the time, I was studying a style of yoga which dissects yoga poses into the most precise details for the maximum benefit, succeeding in my proper alignment—rendering me absolutely numb of the joys of exploration in the practice. Now, years after my in-depth studies of the basic poses and sequencing, I am all too aware that many yoga classes, including some of my own, have reduced the rich practice of yoga into all sun salutes, all the time.

The standard sun salute-based Vinyasa class sells and that’s why we keep repeating it.

There are advantages, of course, to this standard fare. All of those standing poses are great for warming up the body and building the large muscles. We have the ability to get really good at the poses, since there’s ample time to practice them over and over. We have the opportunity to move out of the mental chatter and fully into our bodies, since we know the sequencing so well. Depending on the class, we may be receiving some cardio benefit and have therefore created a complete workout from our yoga practice.

On the flip side, there’s the possibility of repeating poor alignment over and over, especially as we move quickly and begin to tire. There’s the greater possibility to let the monkey mind take over, since we know the poses and sequencing so well. With the heightened potential that we are not fully present, moving over and over with perhaps imperfect alignment, repetitive movement injuries become a very real possibility—especially for our shoulders and wrists.

I once knew a 20-something yoga practitioner with a chronic down dog injury. He looked puzzled when I suggested he take a break from the pose. Without down dog, how would he practice yoga at all? Despite the negative publicity received from William J. Broad in The Science of Yoga, we insist on presenting yoga in a way that can promote and prolong injuries.

In addition to our increased risk of repetitive injury, is the standard Vinyasa class really a good representation of the ancient practice of yoga? After reading Mark Singleton’s book Yoga Body, I am understanding that sun salutes are likely not ancient, instead a gymnastic practice Krishnamacharya, the grandfather of American yoga, integrated into yoga at the beginning of the previous century.

Sweaty, cardio yoga styles didn’t even make their debut until the 1970s, the era of aerobics and jogging. Yet many yoga students, and some yoga teachers (including myself for many years) believe they are practicing something thousands of years old.

By reducing most yoga classes to the sun salute based flow created by Krishnamacharya for athletic boys, we now have students in Vinyasa classes, including those new to exercise, the weekend warriors and the injured—for whom a different style might be better suited but with which they are unfamiliar. How many would-be yogis have we turned away from yoga entirely, because they are unaware there are options suitable for all bodies and sensibilities, including styles that don’t rely on sun salutes for their sequencing?

While Vinyasa yoga is profitable, why do we want yoga to be so homogeneous as to be interchangeable with Zumba, Nia or any other class at the gym? I am not advocating that we abandon Vinyasa yoga entirely, but isn’t it time that we break this cycle of one size fits all yoga and reclaim the richness of the ancient practice?

It’s time we mix up our practice.

Try variations of the poses, such as those suggested by Judith Lasater in 30 Essential Yoga Poses for Beginning Students and Their Teachers. Give your body and mind a new challenge by trying a different yoga style, like Kundalini, or Yin or even Restorative. If you insist on a consistent Vinyasa practice, at least give a different teacher or studio a try—or go to a heated class. Remember that there is no one right way to practice yoga, but don’t stay still at the rest stop when yoga can take you along some amazing paths.

May your yoga practice be so much, much more.

 

Erin MathiasonErin Mathiason is a yoga teacher in Denver, approaching twenty years of yoga practice and study. Additionally, she is a Yoga Historian, Laughter Yoga Leader, a Holistic HealthPractitioner and spiritual seeker. She can be found at hathayogawitherin.com

 

~

Assist Ed: Lacy Rae Ramunno 

Ed: K.B.

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(photo credit: wikipedia and sciencedirect)

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9 Responses to “The Homogenization of Yoga. ~ Erin Mathiason”

  1. Jay Johnson says:

    'Oh yogi, do not practice asana without vinyasa." ~ Vamana Rishi
    The veritable explosion in yoga's popularity during the past decade is directly attributable to the proliferation of vinyasa style classes. These attracted a whole new demographic to the "holy science of yoga", namely the athletically inclined in general and men in specific. This demographic had shunned yoga in the past since they perceived it did not resonate with their bodies. Whether rightly or not, asana is the tip of the iceberg, but it is what attracts the majority to yoga today. Once attracted to yoga, the informed student can easily discover a multitude of other paths.
    Following a lengthy yin practice this past weekend, this student looks so forward to his next Ashtanga class!

    Namaste,

    Jay

  2. [...] read something the other day, eschewing the overuse of Sun Salutations, especially in Vinyasa classes and practices. To me, spending some quiet time, even just a [...]

  3. Lek says:

    Hi there. Nice article. I have been working on yoga for almost 37 years now, and have found mindfull breathing can be employed in either static or dynamic forms asanam. My approach to Yoga has been to listen to what my body wants at the time. So far this has worked well for me. The main thing is that the practice remains mindful.
    Sometimes one needs to be in rut. Finding this out allows for growth.
    That's my two cents…
    Again thanks for the article.

  4. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Remember in the 90s when Susan Powter wrote the book, "Stop the Insanity!!!" ? How she would go to an aerobics class and work at her level (btw, she had called yoga teachers the "masters of modification" …) Fast forward less than 15 years. Of course, Susan Powter was never to be about modification when it came to yoga. But, so then there should be a new Susan Powter of yoga, telling us: "When that power yoga teacher says, 'plank,chaturanga, updog, downdog' just do forward fold .. or repeat Warrior I or meet up with them in downdog. Start a revolution … one modifier at a time …"

    Well, I personally did that at the gym .. and got very much away with it … but only at the gym. In a yoga studio, tell the teacher before class, "Absolutely no adjusting. Just let me take the class" … Guar-an-teed IF that teacher respects your request 100%, he would get loads of repeat business from you and your friends … ;-)

  5. OleManJake says:

    I like your ideas and thoughts on the subject. I have a home practice only as of now; which means I follow DVD's. Each of these labelled differently rely on Sun Salutations throughout. Two-three warmups involving Sun Salutations then about 10 minutes of something else and back to Sun Salutations. Yep. The same in each one.

  6. Joe Sparks says:

    I highly recommend trying, Michaelle Edwards, YogAlign. http://www.yogalign.com
    "Michaelle Edwards raises a red flag on the prevalence of injuries experienced by people practicing yoga today. Not only does she detail common poses and practices that are at odds with the natural human design, she provides safe, rehabilitative alternatives through-out this richly-illustrated, well-researched guide. An important paradigm-shifting contribution to the world of yoga!" Kathleen Porter-Natural Poster Solutions

  7. [...] The Homogenization of Yoga. ~ Erin Mathiason (elephantjournal.com) [...]

  8. [...] an obligation to help people disentangle the good aspects of the practice from the bad. After all, yoga too often is sold as completely safe—“as safe as mother’s milk,” as a prominent guru once [...]

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