One of the more successful “yoga” studios in the Los Angeles area is called “Yoga and Spinning” or, simply, “YAS.” YAS is lead by the one-line philosophy, “No sanskrit. No granola. No chanting.” Owner Kimberly Fowler has been called “the new face of yoga.” Fowler doesn’t need the Sutras, the Gita, the tradition or, as she lovingly calls it, the sanskrit, granola and chanting, to practice yoga. And, as is obvious by the success of her studios, many of her students feel the same way.
If you’re anything like me, this “new face” of yoga terrifies you.
YAS’s teacher training includes an outline including “marketing & polish” and “music selection.” The outline does not include Patanjali. There is also no Yogananda, no Iyengar, no Bhajan. There is no chakra discussion, no meditation, no Tibetan rites.
Will this be the teacher of the future? Polished, with a great iPod playlist, delivering a sweaty sequence but devoid of any knowledge of where it all comes from?
I’m not saying there should be a specific set of guidelines about what yoga “is” or “is not.” If the decline in church attendance has taught us anything, it is that these types of guidelines can belittle the real message, send people away instead of calling them in. If yoga is to truly make the world a better place – and I think that is one thing we can all agree we want – then we need to make it inclusive.
But, even if you want your church to be inclusive of all people and open to many interpretations of the Bible – don’t you still want your minister to read the Bible? When you ask a question about the history of the church, the potential meanings of the Old Testament or the role of Christ, would it be helpful if your pastor had considered those questions deeply, read about them, stayed abreast of the many interpretations? Don’t you want your priest to bring those questions to you as well? And to bring them from an informed perspective, knowing more than you know because, after all, this is the leader?
And, wouldn’t the same be true for your yoga teacher? Don’t you want your yoga teacher to be open to all the best methods out there? To know the ancient texts and to share this knowledge with you so you may decide what works in your practice?
Regardless of the type of yogi or yogini you personally are, whether you are a swami on a mountain top, a Bourbon-loving “Outlaw Yogini,” or a granola-free YAS devotee, do you think you could benefit from understanding the roots of what you are doing? I think so.
Yoga is many things to many people. In the end, though, the beauty of yoga is that it really is just one thing: a practice. Practice is about learning to use all of the tools at your disposal. As a yoga teacher, bringing those tools to the table is your job. Being the most authoritative person in the room not just because of who you are but because of what yoga – powerful yoga – is, that is what makes you effective. Don’t lose the great knowledge of the ages just because it does not apply to your life today.