The Yoga Bubble Bursts the Heart Wide Open: Recovering the Sacred by Returning to the Roots of Your Practice. ~ Dr. Katy Poole

Via Aminda R. Courtwright
on Feb 21, 2012
get elephant's newsletter
M Car

Never in my life would I have imagined words like lawsuit, injury, capitalism and even murder to be associated with yoga, a practice I’ve cherished my entire life.

Now, even if I don’t want to, I think about these things every time I unroll my mat. It takes more breaths than usual to calm my mind. I have to remind myself to let go a lot more vigorously than ever before when I sit to meditate.

It’s no wonder. Consider the news about yoga over the past two years:

 “Now in the United States [the practice of yoga] has been tinted with…competition, status and sweat.” ~ The New York Times

“Yoga has developed a vigorous capitalistic side.” ~ The Guardian

“[Bikram’s] lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $1 million, as well as an injunction stopping Yoga to the People from conducting hot yoga classes.” ~ The New York Times

“Murder at Lululemon, yoga’s ‘heart of darkness’…a killing that seasoned homicide detectives have described as one of the worst they’ve ever seen.” ~ The Huffington Post

“The vast majority of people should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm.” ~ The New York Times

These days it’s harder than ever to be an authentic yogi. It seems the more popular yoga becomes, the further away it is from fulfilling its original goals—to unify the world, to end violence, to establish an enlightened society, and to bring peace on earth.

When Swami Vivekananda came to America in the 1890’s seeking support for his anti-British rule campaign, he found fertile ground here for a new spiritual frontier.  As he voiced the first words of yoga philosophy—“Brothers and sisters of America!”—to the rapt audience in attendance at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, he unleashed a wave of yogic unity.

In the 1930’s Paramahansa Yogananda rode the wave all the way to Encinitas, California where he founded the first temple to yoga in the West, The Self-Realization Fellowship. By instructing crowds of open-minded seekers into Kriya Yoga, he fulfilled a chilling prophesy, which he recounts in his Autobiography of a Yogi.  Yogananda recollected that years before the immortal Himalayan yogi, Babaji, had predicted:

 “India can teach the universal methods by which the West will be able to base its religious beliefs on the unshakeable foundations of yogic science.”


To this day, Yogananda’s Autobiography of  Yogi is the most read and inspiring book about yoga—and it has nothing to do with lawsuits, capitalism, injury or murder.

In the 1970s, while everyone was dropping out they were also tuning-in to the power of the mind—unlike today’s yoga, which is almost entirely focused on the body.

Millions of people the world over started meditating, in some cases just to see what would happen if thousands practiced together at the same time. Scientific experiments were conducted to investigate how meditation increases intelligence and expands the field of our brain’s perception. There was a large and collective interest in raising consciousness to establish an ideal society. We discovered that we are much more than the body and the thoughts in our mind—and proved it scientifically.

 We know now that we are indeed unified on the level of collective consciousness and all our thoughts influence the whole—but especially those that resonate with the source of consciousness.  In yoga philosophy these are the Sanskrit mantras, which were once studied by Harvard University researchers for their uses in developing psychic abilities, telepathy, and other related phenomena. 

And doesn’t anyone remember episodes of That’s Incredible when Bikram was run over by a motorcycle and Swami Rama was submerged under water for 24 hours—and they were unharmed due to their mastery of yoga?  No one cared about obtaining a luscious “yoga butt” then.  We were more blown away by how yoga could achieve supernatural and miraculous states of the human mind.

Where has this spirit gone? To lawsuits, capitalistic greed, injuries due to ego, and murder over a pair of stolen yoga pants?

As a corrective, I believe we need to move back to move forward—like an archer pulls the bow-string back before releasing the arrow. Sincere and authentic yogis need to return to the roots of their practice before the east-meets-west yoga hybridization experiment went awry.

Classically speaking, the roots of yoga are found in samadhi, the state of awakened awareness beyond the thinking mind and feeling body. That’s why Patanjali begins the Yoga Sutras with samadhi.

In yoga philosophy, you begin with the end in mind. Attaining the goal of yoga, therefore, is not the same as gaining the reward of heaven after a life lived without sin. It’s easy for us in the West to adhere to the latter way of thinking—even unconsciously—because it’s how the dominant religious ideologies of Judaism, Christianity and Islam condition our collective way of viewing spiritual practice. We think we’ll get something by putting in our time on the mat. Perhaps that’s why yoga has wed itself so nicely to our capitalistic way of life.

Real yoga, on the other hand, isn’t about gaining something that you don’t already have. When you tangibly know without knowing the state of silent witness at your core, you don’t actually practice anything. You simply express a natural connection with things exactly as they need to be in this moment. You become the present moment. That’s why the Yoga Sutras begin with “Now.” Now is yoga.

Within the present moment awareness of samadhi, you can easily recognize how the mind slips back and forth—from the present to the past to the future. Like the rudder of a boat, a yogi constantly pulls the mind back toward a state of being untouched by any event—back to the state of innocent awareness.

The events over the past two years of yoga in the West necessitate that as an authentic yogi, you pull back to the present moment of your core being. Feel what’s arising from there.  Listen to the rhythm of your breath and heart. Synchronize them.

As you notice the busy nature of your mind, remember Patanjali’s prescription to soothe the waves of thoughts. Chant the Sanskrit mantra, OM, with full attention on the syllables: A—U—M.

As each sound travels from the naval, the chest, and the center of the forehead, experience how their vibrations calm the inner core of your nervous system. Then as the mind reposes into the blissful “4th state” of no-mind, let your awareness sink beyond self-identification. Abide there until the thought of “you” re-arises.

When your subject-object awareness returns, begin again and again and “all is coming,” as Sri Pattabhi Jois once observed.

From this source, all sincere and authentic yogis should begin again. Recreate the yoga movement that has sunk to the bottom. Raise it up with the same practices yogis have engaged in for thousands of years by returning to the core teachings. Make it shine.


Editor: Aminda R. Courtwright

Dr. Katy Poole
Dr. Katy Poole

Abandoning the safety of her academic career for the less-traveled thrill of an infopreneur, Dr. Katy Poole has spent the past ten years serving as an author, teacher,  Vedic astrologer, and tour-guide of  what’s sacred and profane in India.  She’s also enjoyed applying her very fine education (and many years spent geeking-out with crazy holy men) toward producing high-quality online courses on Sanskrit for Yoga.  Recently, she and her husband got rid of their car and ride their bikes everywhere.  It’s making her dream of living like a real Himalayan Baba one pedal closer.  Check out her free 10-video mini-course and ebook, Awakening with Sanskrit, and find out how Sanskrit revolutionizes your yoga by turning off your mind and tuning you in toward your higher source, for more info visit her website.






About Aminda R. Courtwright

Aminda is a wellness facilitator and founder of ARCreated Wellness, LLC. A yoga teacher, transpersonal hypnotherapist, and Reiki Master, she shares her own healing journey with others in hopes of inspiring and uplifting those she meets. Her yoga classes are gentle and workshop style to invoke a real sense of learning and designed to be truly accessible for all levels. Her biggest hope is to help others take their yoga practice off the mat and into everyday life where it is truly meant to be experienced. (and can be most useful) Refusing to settle into the middle path just yet she prefers to dally on both edges and can be seen swinging right and leaning left. A devoted animal lover and activist and a humanist she is prone to rants and believes strongly that life is to be savored and that “we are all in this together, shouldn’t we enjoy it that way? “ When she isn’t teaching yoga, hypnotizing people, adoring her husband or doting on her grandson she is out riding her motorcycle—promoting the image that yogis are rebels and are a force to be reckoned with! You can also find her on Facebook. To join her for free classes online follow her here.


15 Responses to “The Yoga Bubble Bursts the Heart Wide Open: Recovering the Sacred by Returning to the Roots of Your Practice. ~ Dr. Katy Poole”

  1. LOVED this — it was an honor to read this and make sure it was posted.

  2. Katy Poole says:

    Thanks, Aminda! I'm amazed that you found the old footage of Bikram getting run over by a motorcycle. Some of our younger readers might enjoy that! 🙂 Blessings to you. Katy

  3. Katy Poole says:

    Actually, in reviewing my own article (and watching the video which now as an adult seems a bit silly, but hey I was 8 when I watched these episodes on "That's Incredible!) I have to point out that the past history of yoga in this country was not as glorious as I may have idealized here. Swami Vivekananda actually came to the United States not to spread yoga but to solicit help in ousting the British from India. He was in actuality politically — not spiritually — motivated. "Autobiography of Yoga" was the subject of fierce debates and lawsuits among the various branches of Yogananda's followers who each claimed the "rights" to the inspiring text. And Bikram…well, I think he's always been the same!

  4. BradYantzer says:

    You rock Katy. My thoughts entirely. Thank you for putting it beautifully and gently. I tend to believe that yoga has never really come to the west though so maybe we can instead if reawakening it, actually teach it.
    It is not an aerobics class. True educated embodied teachers are really not anywhere to be seen. How would we turn it around? Sue Yoga Alliance for lack of any integrity? 🙂 The masses want exercise not yoga.
    200 hr teacher trainings taught by some one that has never even read yoga sutras or bhagavad gita is what we have. I know one in phoenix that didn't know what the yamas and niyamas are.
    Yoga is an energy science not based off of western exercise physiology theory. Why do you think it is in the state it is?
    Yes, I am on your side but i don't see a way to correct the direction that has been set in motion.

  5. Andy says:

    I mean this with the utmost respect because this is a wonderfully thought out article, but isn't the intent of yoga to still the fluctuations of the mind? I feel like all this outward stuff like bringing peace on earth and of thinking of yoga in societal parameters is what brings us to the trouble you delineated in this article. Why can't it just be personal – inhale, exhale?

  6. Katy Poole says:

    Hi Brad,

    Well, you packed a lot in your comment. I could say a lot about Yoga Alliance and how it's failed the yoga community. But before I start running off on the mouth that will undoubtably get me "deleted" from this post because of my unbridled anger for that organization, I'd urge you to give them a call. Ask them yourself what exactly they do for the yoga community. I'm sure you'll experience the same thing I've experience whenever I've called them. The emperor has no clothes.

    In this regard, years ago I attempted to get YA to include more serious requirements of the deeper limbs of yoga for anyone training to be a yoga teacher. I admit I had an ulterior motive. I wanted Sanskrit to be required and not relegated to a 10 hour "elective." Knowing the history of yoga as a scholar, life-long practitioner, and student of Vedic and Yoga masters in India, it seemed totally ridiculous to me to create a 200-hour certification curriculum and NOT include what's been at the basis of the yoga traditions for centuries. It's like painting the leaves green instead of attending to the root. My pleas fell on deaf ears. And I received no support from any of the "top tier," celebrity yoga teachers who truthfully know very little about Sanskrit and its value. Of course this isn't entirely their fault. It has to do with brahminical prejudice that's also unfortunately been at the root of yoga in India and has denied us westerners access to the real power behind the tradition. What this means is that while the great yoga master, Sri Krishnamacarya, required his students — notably Sri Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar — to chant Sanskrit while practicing asana to culture the nervous system in preparation for the whole body experience of samadhi — his students deliberately kept this practice out of the western import. Why? Because we aren't brahmins and we aren't worthy by birth to even hear the Vedas being chanted, let alone chant them ourselves and really access the true power behind the yoga system. So they gave us asana and a bit later, pranayama.

    I was very fortunate because when I was a young Sanskrit student and yogi, I found a brahmin teacher in India who would accept me — even though I was not of the right caste, gender and nationality. He was very passionate that students of yoga should learn to chant Sanskrit for the way that it tones and readies the body for higher states of consciousness, which is the true attainment of yoga practice. At the time I approached him for teachings, his son had accepted a scholarship to study engineering in the USA. He felt his tradition would be lost with no one to pass it on to. He really had hesitations about teaching me, but he was convinced after a series of dreams that told him that if the Vedas were in the hands of women they would never be lost. So I learned something every yogi should learn — and that's what's at the heart of yoga. For the past 10 years, I've been working to make its value known. I can assure you — it's been an uphill climb. And Yoga Alliance has been of absolute no help at all.

    There's more I can write about all this. I've never been short of words. But perhaps this may give you, Brad, one of the reasons why yoga has been somewhat of a debacle in this country. It's not a complete system here. Yoga is only about the body in the west. Hari Om Tat Sat.

  7. Katy Poole says:

    Hi Andy,

    Yes, yoga is about stilling the fluctuations of the mind (stuff). For what gain? And more importantly, to what effect? What happens to your body and breath when you experience that which is behind the mind, the witnessing Self? What happens in your relationships? Does your perception of reality shift when the mind and its fluctuations return to your conscious awareness? Some yoga masters have claimed and have attempted to prove that the state of samadhi positively benefits everything in the environment of the yogi who has attained it. This has been recognized for centuries in India. That's why villagers welcome with great joy a yogi who has decided to practice in their vicinity. They believe the rain will be sufficient for abundant crops due to the yogi's tapasya. Illness will vanish from the community and family relations will improve. Bouts of violence and aggression diminish in the presence of a real yogi who's attained samadhi. (You may have seen depictions of yogis surrounded by aggressive animals like snakes and lions who become very peaceful in the presence of the enlightened one — like in the ancient seal from Mohenjo Dharo (

    The beauty of yoga is that it's self-evident. You are very right to question me like this. You should never accept anything said on the basis of belief alone, but should test it yourself. Practice deeply and sincerely and witness what happens. I am only a finger pointing at the Moon — to give you a place to look. Whether what I conclude or assert is "true" or not depends entirely on your own observation. That's why yoga is not a "religion" but a "science" of self-realization.

    Thanks for asking such a great question!

  8. Katy Poole says:

    Since we're on the subject, I may as well add a shameless plug for my free 10 video-course and ebook — "Awakening with Sanskrit" — which will give you some really valuable insights into the role of Sanskrit in the development of yoga as it's arisen from the ancient Vedas. Sanskrit is not just a classical language fit only to be translated by elite academics, but a vibrational reality to be entered into. When pronounced properly and chanted according to precise meter, Sanskrit opens the channels of higher perception that the practice of asana and pranayama prepare you for. It is the birthright of every yogi to at least know this possibility exists — especially in the western yoga environment which is predominantly a commercial enterprise aimed at attaining the perfect yoga butt. The real attainment is the yoga buddhi. You can find out more by signing up for my free course: http://www.SanskritforYoga (Okay — enough shameless self-promotion!)

  9. Sonia Hannah says:

    Personally, I am not surprised at the associations of yoga with lawsuits, injury or capitalism. Injury and capitalism has always been in the equation, and lawsuits is certainly imbedded in our culture so it was only a matter of time.
    The article begins with "Recovering the sacred by returning to the roots of your practice" …..and my response is …why? I never left and there is no teacher or person that can take me from my foundation (the audacity of anyone who thinks they can).

  10. Sonia Hannah says:

    The actions of a few leading instructors isn't enough to shatter or uproot me, it is their choice, their path. Yoga is not a religion nor is it something to follow blind. It is a personal growth and unification of body mind and breath to enable connection with our higher self. The spirit is thrilled when there is harmony and this state lends to Samadhi. Ashtanga Yoga is based on 8 limbs (like a tree), the first two of course being the yama’s and niyamas (personal and community obligations for a better self and society), the third limb is asana which is physical and tangible,a bridge that links one to the breath, mind and beyond. Asanas are not intended to be isolated, secluded or dominated, this leads to inbalance. Perhaps we are realizing we are root bound and not growing where we can and should. It takes bravery to‘step out on a limb’ and branch out away from the base of Ashtanga and grow to our fullest potential.

  11. Katy Poole says:

    What a great reminder, Sonia. I whole-heartedly agree. For one truly committed to the path of yoga, there is no "return." There is only the expression of what is — what always has been. My article was addressed, I think, more to the popular movement of yoga. It isn't a matter of a "few" leading instructors being made a fuss about because of some unyogic, but distinctly American actions. These people have influenced whole generations of yoga practitioners all over the world. They have "sway" over what is perceived as "authentic" yoga practice. And that deeply offends me. But it also incites me toward opening my mouth and presenting another view. An obvious view from your perspective (and mine — and many other such yogis), but not so obvious perhaps among the general audience of yogis who've been influenced –in my view — incorrectly. Thanks for your feedback!

  12. Karina Moonflower says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your insights and your work bringing more depth to Yoga again. It really seems to be mainly about exercise, body shaping and being hip and modern filled with lots of pretentiousness, when actually Asana is just supposed to prepare for a deeper journey. Although I started my Yoga Path just out of purely physical interests and am just starting to explore it´s full potential. So maybe it can even be viewed as a good thing that Yoga is "just" a popular thing to do nowadays, with highly worshipped "Yoga celebrities", because now it is more accessible for anyone, and there are always some getting the call for awakening to dive deeper into it, especially if there are people like you, working on spreading the truth. And once on the path, they might stumble about writings like yours, which invites them explore further and they might have not done so otherwise ………?

  13. Katy Poole says:

    Hi Karina,

    Yes! I might come across as "poo-pooing" these yoga celebrities, but they have served a great purpose in that they have exposed many, many people to yoga. I even regard the recent "scandals" that have rocked the yoga world as highly valuable for its evolution in this country. There's an opening that hasn't been there before and an audience of seekers wanting something higher. It's a wonderful time for yoga's evolution in this country. So while it's a tired and over-used expression, it really is "all good." Thanks for sharing your insights!

  14. […] Om is liberating. It’s a shout out to our true selves as well as a way to support our fellow yogis during the yoga […]