January 27, 2012

American mentality blocks ancient intentions of yoga. ~ Caroline Young


Photo: J. Star

In light of a recent controversial New York Times article, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body,” followed by a bandwagon effect of yogis firing back, I feel naturally compelled to offer up my own two cents on what is going on in America.

First of all, I am a baby yoga instructor. In other words, I received my 200-hour training certification a mere six months ago and I realize I have much to learn.

However, I have been practicing for nearly nine years and was lucky enough to grow at a studio that has stayed true to yoga’s roots. In effect, I developed a clear understanding in my mind of what yoga should truly be about: Compassion, liberation, focus, acceptance, relaxation and inner joy.

Photo: Happydog

And, I see exactly how we [Americans] are distorting it. We twist it and tweak it beyond belief. We now have a successfully spun web of everything contradictory to the true 2,000-year-old practice.

No wonder people are destroying their bodies and having “yoga injuries.” It has been taken to a level where it never initially intended to go –– a place of competition, comparison and purely physical gain. I was reminded by this blurred ego-centered vision of yoga after I walked into a beautiful studio excited to possibly teach there.

But I drove away an hour later feeling let down by my own culture.

The woman was perfectly nice but one of the first questions out of her mouth was, “Have you ever been to L.A.? Have you taken the classes out there? They are so much better than here.”

“Well, um, no,” I said. “I haven’t. What makes them so much better?”

Once she began rattling off her response, I felt disheartened. Her list of answers included “sweat”, “work-out”, “toned” and “tighter”.

After our L.A. conversation, I led her through a demo of one of my yoga classes. She kept saying, “I need to sweat! I need to sweat!”

This was the first studio I set foot in on my search. It really freaked me out.

I thought, “Is this what yoga has to be like now for us –– for Americans? Has our intense, ‘Go-Go-Go’ over-achieving attitude overflowed into an ancient Indian practice intended to release the ego and calm our minds?” We have “Yoga Bikini Bootcamps,” which makes me think we want yoga to make us look sexy as we strut our little yoga butts and bods on the beach.

Photo: lululemon athletica

We are obsessed with Lululemon pants, water bottles, tank tops and everything else as long as it has the little symbol on it and priced at least 50 bucks. We want to go into 109-degree rooms for 90 minutes to stare at ourselves in the mirror and be yelled at by our almighty yoga instructor on a microphone, all while we must keep reminding ourselves we are burning calories.

As a woman, I understand the want to look good in a bikini and the want to burn calories. I understand wanting to be “tighter” and “toned,” but that is why we have push-ups, weights, resistance bands, cardio machines, group fitness classes, bikes, running shoes and everything else- and I personally enjoy all of these things. I love to get my heart pumping and break a good sweat –– it is healthy. But it should not be a necessity in a yoga class.

To my relief, I quickly discovered there are definitely studios here maintaining true yogic ways and I am lucky enough to teach at a few of them. I feel fortunate to work in these studios and grow as a new teacher and to spread my passion with others.

My personal benefits from yoga are three-fold: mental, spiritual and physical. My practice helps me to create mental focus and clarity, to understand the inner-workings of my mind and to overcome obstacles and break any mental chains holding me back from living life to its fullest potential.

Yoga brings me closer to my heart to clear past betrayals and hurts, leaving me free to share love for myself and everyone else around me. It helps me to take responsibility for my words and actions, to acknowledge and accept my flaws, and to live with clearer intent and awareness of the world around me.

And my physical gain from yoga has nothing to do with the tightening of my rear end. It has to do with my ever- increasing acceptance of my body and feeling comfortable in my own skin. It has to do with feeling like a warrior.

I could go on and on about how yoga serves as a tremendous aid in the richness of my life. It does this for many people I know, along with thousands of others. And it can do this for everybody, even A-type Americans (I am one of them, okay?).

It is not just about the Asanas, the physical postures of the practice, but it is also about life off the rubber mat. Yoga is about taking what we develop in our practice, whatever that may be – joy, strength, unconditional love, compassion — and bringing it out into the world to share, to make a positive difference in other people’s lives.

The true journey of yoga – an exploration of the heart, mind and soul — must begin on the inside. And it certainly does not begin in a session of Bikini Bootcamp.

Edited by Lindsay Friedman.


Caroline Young is currently a freelance journalist and Kripalu-certified yoga instructor currently living in Atlanta.

Here is my blog.

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