Why Yoga Has Gone from The Sane to The Bizarre.

Via Ed & Deb Shapiro
on Feb 28, 2012
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Yoga has come a long way from its roots in the east.

As it has become more popular in the west teachers have added their own twists—both literally and figuratively. In the process of becoming so widespread, however, yoga often gets misunderstood by both teachers and practitioners.

Yoga is a way of life, the uniting of the body, mind and spirit. Its real purpose is not just to become physically fit or mentally relaxed, but also to deepen our own spirituality, enabling us to be more caring and aware, ultimately leading to self-realization. It is about making friends with our world, true inner happiness, and having a clear mind that is free from delusion.

Developed thousands of years ago, yoga has many different aspects to help bring awakening. These include ethics, discipline, relaxation, service, meditation, devotion, knowledge and movement. And it is in some of these other areas that we are seeing a lack of awareness, real misuse, and even abusive behavior.

In the early days, when yoga first became known in the West, the only way to train was by going to India or by a Swami or yoga master coming from India. They were the experts who embodied the wisdom of the ancients. For instance, Ed trained at the respected Bihar School of Yoga in India in 1968, in an unbroken lineage of yoga masters. He was initiated as a Swami by Paramahamsa Satyananda, whose guru was the renown Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh.

Nowadays, trainee teachers are being taught in “yoga schools” by western teachers, many, sadly, without the benefit of the traditional lineage. As a result, misunderstandings get passed on from teacher to student, in particular the idea that yoga is basically just exercise, without the addition of the rest of the teachings. For example, relaxation is sometimes included just for the last five minutes of a class, whereas the practice of yoga nidra (pratyahara), a deep, dynamic relaxation also known as yogic sleep, is traditionally practiced for at least 20-30 minutes. Similarly with dharana (concentration), and dhyana (meditation), that are rarely emphasized enough and yet are main teachings.

We went into one yoga center near us and no one there had heard of any of the “other” yoga teachings; they just knew and taught Hatha yoga as an exercise class. This is not unusual, but hatha is only one aspect of a rich and expansive system and these teachings are there for a reason: to develop conscious awareness.

In particular, we see yoga teachers wanting to be the most well known—my yoga, my meditation, my practice is the best. And even though the traditional methods are well proven over thousands of years, in an attempt to stand out from the crowd many create their own ‘brand’ of yoga, often loosing the essence of the original meaning. It’s gone so far that, as reported in the UK Daily Mail: “Babies left screaming in terror as they are swung around head of ‘baby yoga’ guru who claims it is good for them.”

Being in the role of a teacher is a position laden with responsibility. As notoriety grows we see how easily the ego can get involved and how deluding power can become. Some teachers use their role in order to make more money (a lot of it!), to have sex with students, or, as reported in a recent case, to use students to receive drugs. Gone are the teachings of yama and niyama, instructions on how to live an ethical and caring life through practicing harmlessness (ahimsa), being truthful, not being greedy, or indulging in addictions, as well as the importance of self-reflection so that we become aware of our own habits and mental tendencies.

Anyone can be a teacher as long as we chose that person to guide us. Which doesn’t mean that person has practiced all of the teachings, or is living a yogic life. Those that have tasted the beauty of yoga and embodied the depth, breadth, and full intent of its different forms could not harm, use or abuse another. They will have realized the beauty within themselves and be able to bring that out in their students. There is really no true yoga without love. A teacher with a loving heart is like a precious jewel.

photo by Raios de Luz Glauca Goes @ Flickr.com


Deb is the author of the award-winning Your Body Speaks Your Mind: Decoding the Emotional, Psychological, and Spiritual Messages That Underlie Illness.

Our 3 meditation CD’s: Metta—Loving kindness and Forgiveness; Samadhi–Breath Awareness and Insight; and Yoga Nidra–Inner Conscious Relaxation, are available at: www.EdandDebShapiro.com


Editor: Brianna Bemel


About Ed & Deb Shapiro

Ed & Deb Shapiro are the authors of new The Unexpected Power of Mindfulness & Meditation. Deb is the author of Your Body Speaks Your Mind, now in 19 languages. They have six meditation CDs. See more at their website.


10 Responses to “Why Yoga Has Gone from The Sane to The Bizarre.”

  1. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  2. ed shapiro says:

    Thank you Tanya!

  3. vikramsrajavat says:

    thanks for this post … its the older generation that trained with the swamis and imbibed the philosophy behind the warrior pose that does not get fooled with illusion … much respect for some sanity …

  4. guest says:

    this sounds a bit whiny to me. everything evolves. everything changes. only because yoga meant these things to people in the past doesn't mean it's not allowed to change and evolve. I like the diversity today. Some people want go to all battsht crazy on spirituality, others would like to avoid all the woo. I love that my teachers include some of the spiritual ideas and philosophies but don't go all out. It's neutral enough for me: no gods, not unproven median power lines but the stories around pidgeon, warrior and the others.. and it gets me where I need to be. To me personally, this kind of yoga is the "sane" yoga. what's the problem?

  5. yogaboca says:

    I agree there needs to be more love and less ego!

  6. ed shapiro says:

    Hey guest – you missed what we are saying.
    do agree with you about all the stuff
    especially when we say:
    there really isn't old yoga or new yoga
    yoga is yoga
    it is seeing clearly – cutting through it all & being free-
    whatever it takes!
    But LOVE is the essence of yoga!
    Without love there is no yoga!
    It becomes a physical or mental aerobic trip!
    But hey guest enjoy the journey!
    Whatever gets you through the night!
    Treasure yourself,

  7. Patrick says:

    Good article, I think that your are right with the importance of lineage, which is something that we are lossing in the yoga world today. However, I make a stay in one of the Sivananda yoga camp (those established by Swami Vishnu-Devananda in America). There ware two satsang a day that include meditation and chanting, two yoga classes on the asana and pranayama, workshop on meditation, ayurveda, indian music, and more. My point is that a yoga class is in fact a asana class, you cannot fit meditation, chanting, asana, etc in a 1h00 class (let alone the 1h00). I am ok with that, I do my meditation at home very early in the morning and I do my bhakti at my temple. The fact is that a yoga studio could be used for kirtan, but kirtan with the murtis, with hundred of people is by fare more powerful. I think that yoga class are a marvelous space for discovering the richness the indian tradition but there is no silver bullet, a yoga studio cannot fulfill all one's need on spirituality.

  8. […] Why Yoga Has Gone from The Sane to The Bizarre. […]

  9. Keren says:

    I happen to completely agree with this article. I teach yoga and come across people with enormous egos who try to disfigure the most beautiful essence of yoga -which is the way it opens the heart through its spiritual teachings- and try to convince people that it's exercise based and better without the spiritual stuff.

    However, that said, I have full belief in yoga and its innate goodness so those who want to learn the real teachings rather than the McDonalds teachings will also find the real teachers. I defend the dignity of yoga with every cell in my body so those who don't get it, are simply not ready for it. Basically it means they are on another path of well-being but not necessarily on the yogic path and that's okay. You can just release them and wish them well.

    The real reason why yoga has gone from the sane to the bizarre is because it is reflecting the world in which we live in and how bizarre it has become. Yoga will remain true to itself and those who are true to themselves too, will find it via other seekers of truth. We attract what we are at every moment we are alive … which is precisely why we should keep searching for truth and hopefully we'll be guided there.

  10. simmonj says:

    Bihar Yoga and their publications are the most concise and accessible to read.

    Authentic transmission of the teachings is essential on the path.

    Thank you for this Article…