[Fill in the Blank] Yoga: The 5 Dangers of Practicing Fad Disciplines

Via Kelli Harrington
on Apr 18, 2012
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I had a conversation recently with my husband about the hundreds of yoga styles now available in the U.S. and we shared a laugh about the ridiculous gimmicks that have been invented. As a culture, we love to be entertained, whether through reality TV, sporting events, or musical performances. Now, through [fill in the blank] Yoga for the low low price of $9.99, we can all get our fun fix without really having to do an asana practice that requires physical work and mental discipline. And you’ll also receive an extra set of Ginsu knives with that.

Hammock Yoga? What the heck is that? Aqua Yoga? When did that become a legitimate asana practice? AcroYoga? Is that yoga for those interested in working for Cirque du Solei? We love to be entertained and we love to take things to the limit — it is in our western nature. We are a society that loves to look beautiful in a physical posture — whether made-up or extreme — so we can prove to our peers, Facebook friends, and the world how cool we are, as well as show others that we can do something they can’t. One-upmanship is the name of the game. Got game?

Everything has yoga attached to it now: Yawning Yoga, Weight Loss Yoga, Fashion Yoga, Heart Yoga, you name it! Attach yoga to it and – guaranteed — it will sell for a while, even if it contains very little substance. We have bastardized the traditions that are legitimate and have fallen slave to the charms of Madison Avenue, Hollywood and the yoga magazine media to tell us what yoga should look like in a $300 yoga outfit.

So, who cares, right? If people choose to pursue [fill in the blank] Yoga, how does that affect me personally? If I practice a discipline that has a real lineage, what does it matter what others believe is real yoga? At least they’re moving their bodies, right?

Wrong. Here’s why.

1. People Can, Do & Will Get Hurt

Remember the recent story in the New York Times, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body?” Despite the outrage and commentary that piece brought from members of the yoga community, as well as the facts about yoga the author missed, there is a message worth hearing — you can get hurt in yoga if you are not careful. Just like any other form of physical exercise, if done incorrectly, yoga can injure you.

However, chances of injury are much higher with [fill in the blank] Yoga. When you have yoga trends that are being taught by their inventors, the risk of physical harm is significantly higher. Asana practices that are based in real lineage have been researched and tested by practitioners for hundreds of thousands of years. They have anatomical, physiological and kinesthetic foundations that have proven to generate a myriad of benefits in a safe way. Of course, there is still a risk of injury in traditional disciplines. However, with proper instruction by master teachers possessing the correct knowledge, expertise, background, and training, the chances of injury are much smaller. [fill in the blank] Yoga trends are exactly that — trends with no foundational basis for practice. Rather, they are a mish-mash of the asana kitchen sink thrown together to create something catchy and marketable.

 2. The Ego Drives the Practice

Yoga teachers and students, alike, are usually on the precipice of ego-driven behavior.  Before you say, “I don’t have an ego,” or “I check my ego at the door,” think about the concept of ego as explained in yogic philosophy and in modern science. Simply, the ego is defined in most dictionaries as “the “I” or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought.” In a nutshell, it is our self-esteem and self-identity; how we see ourselves in the world in comparison to someone or something else.

Our culture is set up to serve the ego. It’s a pretty simple formula: When something feeds our ego we are happy; when it does not, we are sad, angry, or frustrated. The irony is that with yoga, we are seeking to remove the ego as the center of self-identity and to move to a center of service with and for others. In the modern yoga culture, however, it appears that very few practitioners and instructors have actually learned that concept. We say we do. We nod our heads and say we understand. Then we get right back on the mat to do that killer “advanced yoga posture” for everyone to see and praise. Essentially we have learned nothing.

[Fill in the blank] Yoga reinforces bad habits and ego-driven behavior because it is about being trendy, not about finding the truth within the discipline of the practice. By inventing new styles of yoga, we satisfy our inner struggle about self-identity and show the world what we can do with our bodies, but have done nothing to actually engage sound yogic principles as described in the foundational texts.

3. The Field Becomes Compromised

We have a lack of professionalism in the yoga field as it is. Thousands of “recognized” styles of yoga that have been approved as certifying schools (most of to which I would not send my cat) are handing out 200-500 hour certificates and qualifying people with a serious lack of real training. In addition, many people are teaching asana without having gone through any certifying program at all — good, bad or mediocre — which is even scarier. These so-called yoga instructors and lifestyle yogis do a disservice to the field in general. When you add on top of it  [fill in the blank] Yoga styles, the field takes an even further downward spiral. It becomes a free-for-all with no boundaries, no professional rigor, and no quality. The biggest disservice is to new practitioners – they have no idea what to expect, what questions to ask, or experience for comparison. They trust what is being thrown at them and then find themselves in a place on inadequacy or worse, in the orthopedic surgeon’s office.

4. Yoga Becomes a Commodity, Rather Than a Lifestyle

Like most things in western society, yoga has become a sellable commodity. This has some benefits – marketing serves to get the word out about a life-changing health and lifestyle solution in a language that is understandable by the average westerner. However, marketing yoga as a commodity often reduces the practice to buying the right sticky mat, wearing the latest bamboo clothes, and looking like the man or woman on the cover of Yoga Journal.

Ultimately, yoga is a lifestyle and a life path. It is a discipline that becomes part of who you are as a person when taken seriously. Those who have the good fortune to teach yoga understand that yoga lifestyle is a responsibility; a responsibility to all those that you serve. [fill in the blank] Yoga does not possess those same qualities. In more ways than not, it cheapens the foundation on which yoga was built.

5. The Rise of the Yoga Diva & The Emergence of the False Guru

Yoga Diva/False Guru: “Look what I can do that you cannot, Aspiring Yogi!” [Dramatically displays an “advanced” yoga posture.]

Aspiring Yogi: “Oh, you are so amazing Yoga Diva/False Guru! I wish I could do that!” [Clasps hands in prayer with star-struck eyes looking up.]

Yoga Diva/False Guru: “If you stare at me long enough, I may bestow upon you my magical asana powers so you can replicate my greatness!” [Puffs chest, smirks, pretending to be humble.]

Aspiring Yogi: “Oh, please do, Yoga Diva/False Guru! I am not awesome like you, but if I can do that “advanced” yoga posture, I could be like you, and then I will be happy!”  [Bows in humility.]

Yoga Diva/False Guru: “You will never be as great as I am because I invented this [fill in the blank] Yoga style! But if you follow me, you could be my favorite student and not maximize your own potential! How does that sound?” [Looks down at bowing student.]

Aspiring Yogi: “Oh yes great one! That’s what I want — to be your disciple! Shall I call you Guru now?” [Looks up for acceptance.]

This short skit in the one-act play called “The Rise of the Yoga Diva & The Emergence of the False Guru” may seem a bit extreme, but you get the point. I have seen way too many yoga instructors and students fall into this pattern of behavior and seek out their ego fixes on a daily basis, both on and off the mat.

Don’t be one of them. Choose a yoga style vetted by time and rooted in tradition and solid methodology. And remember, friends don’t let friends do [fill in the blank] Yoga.











About Kelli Harrington

Dr. Kelli Harrington is a teacher trainer, a yoga teacher and co-founder of ZenSpot, Inc.--Hot Yoga, Human Empowerment and Feng Shui design company dedicated to creating positive life balance for mind, body, and spirit. Harrington is also the co-founder of the ZenSpot Institute, a yoga teacher training facility and online education school dedicated to certifying high quality yoga teachers and wellness change-agents. As a certified fitness trainer, Ayurvedic lifestyle and weight management specialist, stress management and life coach, Reiki Master and wellness leader, Kelli spends her days running her business in service to others. As a vegan, EdTech geek, social media junkie, entrepreneur, activist, and environmentalist Harrington earned a doctorate in Educational Organizational Development and Leadership from the University of San Francisco; two Masters degrees at Teachers College, Columbia University and Pace University respectively. ZenSpot, Inc., is based in Oregon with facilities in both Portland and Eugene.


24 Responses to “[Fill in the Blank] Yoga: The 5 Dangers of Practicing Fad Disciplines”

  1. yes and no. 😉 I do think some of those practices have a real benefit. Aqua yoga has been awesome for injured and mature people – some of my students adore it! and although I don't do "hammock" yoga I have a "yoga" sling that I use at home for back traction and I can totally see the benefits for a class environment. We must be as critical as possible I do agree…but just because something is new doesn't make it bad and something old isn't always good — by that logic we could throw out any current medical advance and apply leeches.
    it gets overwhelming for sure and I do think that we need some ways for people to decipher what's out there… (personally I do not like acro yoga but I've watched it and I've seen some amazing yogis get amazing benefits from it so who am I to judge?and the focus and discipline seem pretty intense. I mean I still think Bikram yoga is nuts but look at where that gets me! ) But in the end OLD doesn't equal good, does that make it harder to determine what's right? yes but we can't just throw the baby out with the bath water. Ultimately as my first teacher said to us — yoga will find a way and if someone finds a path to themselves yawning or laughing or flying I'm all for it.
    Just because someone isn't on the same path we are doesn't mean they are lost!
    I do get your point but I get wary when we start talking "standards" it feels very much like a case of "be careful what you wish for"

  2. PS personally I think "yoga" could be applied to EVERYTHING… it's about doing what you are doing mindfully, vinyasa, focus, alignment, connection, awareness. If you are doing these things while walking or doing dishes you are "practicing" yoga and if more people bring any/all of these things to bear in all areas of their life I fail to see the drawback!

  3. yogasamurai says:

    The drawback is by calling everything in life "yoga" we are fostering a kind of conceptual megalomania. We are creating a totalitarian branding scheme that allows marketers – and yoga wannabes – to come in and turn our entire life in to "Yoga 1984."

    Shitting becomes Toilet Pose. Fucking becomes Missionary Pose. Eating becomes Fork and Spoon pose. Picking my Nose becomes Digging Pose.

    I could just as easily say these daily activities are an expression of the Holy Spirit, or it's all a reflection of the Buddha. Why choose the Yoga spin, as opposed to another? Just because it's your favorite? That's purely subjective, and entirely self-serving.

    Yoga needs boundaries. if we've learned nothing else from Anusara "Uber Alles," it's that yoga and yogis need to learn their PLACE – like loud, unruly me-me-me children in constant need of adult guidance and supervision.

    And part of learning that PLACE is knowing what is decidedly NOT yoga, or at least learning how to share that space with others.

  4. everything IS yoga…(fucking becomes missionary pose — pretty sure the tantras already covered that) Eating mindfully? fail to see the issue? ever heard of kriya's? yep toilet pose already covered.

    Sure they could be the holy spirit or the buddha – for some people they are and they can take that route if it speaks to them got NO issues with that. Sure it's MY favorite and that's how I identify but it's not self serving it's my life. And if someone else says everything they do is in the name or Christ is it self serving? not by definition. Could my practice be self serving can any faith or religion or practice become self serving? sure but that doesn't take away from what the heart of the practice is.

    Anusara??? really? …that maybe a question of the yoga diva/false guru issue but that is not exclusive to fad type practices. Even your ancient lineages (in yoga and Buddhism and just about any other ancient practice) have had gurus gone wild, disillusioned practitioners, sex scandals and abuse of power… sticking to a particular practice or keeping yogis in their PLACE will not change that…people learning, being mindful, and taking bake their power by discovering their inner guru THAT might help and that can happen if yoga (or the holy spirit or buddha) are out in the world in every action, thought, interaction and practice. So if I wanted to call it buddhist mountain climbing or yoga mountain climbing or climbing for christ – and that helped people connect and grow ? again I fail to see the drawback…will there be charlatons? uber marketers trying to cash in? SURE but again that doesn't make everything new crap and the responsibility still lies within us to seek our path and to question and not turn our power over to anyone no matter the name… so If someone wants to take their love of yoga and their love of knitting and make that a spiritual practice and share it with others? I'm all for it… always remember that these ancient practices were once new and someone some where had to forge ahead, and suffer the injuries and the mistakes are we to just stop? and only take what has come before? I say create, grow, learn,expand and discover and what doesn't work will fade, that without substance will drop away

  5. Kelli Harrington says:

    ARCreated Wellness- comments much appreciated especially "that without substance will drop away ." Although we may not fully agree on the issues it's good to have dialogue. Thanks.

  6. Loretta says:

    To quote John Mellencamp: "if you dont stand for something you will fall for anything" .

    The yoga community needs to stand for something other then trendy clothing, artsy, catchy cool sounding poses, self-absorption, and a mashup of hundreds well-meaning yoga clubs. Yoga is starting to resemble religious denominations. Monty Python has our number good people: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUBAx8jbYNs&fe

    There are consequences, friends.

    The public will wake up. As reality dawns – and quality trumps trendy – they will regard you like yesterdays moldy organic cheese sandwich and fling you in the pop-culture trash. Fad Yoga is not sustainable. It's bad karma and bad business. Ms Harrington speaks like a prophet. Thanks for being honest about the pink elephant in the yoga room (no pun intended).

    As for Yogasamurai, will you marry me?

    Loretta of California

  7. melissa says:

    I agree with "The biggest disservice is to new practitioners – they have no idea what to expect, what questions to ask, or experience for comparison." However, what I'm finding is that when someone is really ready to receive yoga as more than a physical practice… they will keep seeking until they find what speaks to them. And, in the end, isn't it that we want people to move their bodies, be mindful/ full of integrity, etc etc. and live the fullest life… whether it's with asanas or meditation or just gardening… yoga is I believe a lifestyle… and it takes: time and the seeker to find each other.

    In joy,
    fellow EJ contributor,

    Melissa Smith

  8. Charon P. says:

    I don't know where the author has been living, but people have been and will be getting hurt no matter what, ego has always driven the practice, the field is thoroughly compromised and yoga is fully a commodity, and divas and false gurus are as old, older, culturally at least, than the practice. I agree with the sentiment of the article, but "the lifestyle" is only for those few who embrace it, who are about 1000 times more likely to have access to "real" teaching due to the commidifation and babbling blasphemers. I think when people are done with the gimmick yoga, they "discover" regular practice, and really get down to it instead of futzing around with it, cause that's what the gimmicks are there for.

  9. Kelli Harrington says:

    Thanks for the validation Charon P.

  10. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Amen on that. The commodification may drive the authenticity and/or availability of "live" and maybe even private live, teaching to only those who could afford it. BUT you could (I have) gotten there also, even with many fits, starts and much backtracking; with heavy research on the Internet. In addition to realizing I could use an outside teacher once in a while. I get that from online yoga sites now. [But I have been very lucky–normally I could not afford even such like that, timewise or moneywise].

    If I knew I had the potential to get into Marichyasana D, for example, which often requires assistance from a teacher; it would be a different story. But I am NO ashtangi; and ever since my falling out with one vinyasa studio, I have sought more timeless, mild type of instruction at a second studio (for a while; it helped my regular home practice immensely). The first studio, I think, has jumped onto the running-scared path recently of milding down and taking on more "throwback" teachings–forever transforming what they'd hoped was to be a new yoga-fusion FAD to make them loads of fame, loads of money and blow Jivamukti out of the water!! But by now–2 years later–I am not interested–as I am sure many others have written them off on first impression.

  11. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posted to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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  12. You know some of those yoga fads do have merit. Chair yoga, for instance, allows people to practice who otherwise may be unable to do so. I also think that Curvy Yoga, Megayoga, or other types geared towards segments of the population who feel uncomfortable in the average yoga class and who have been under served by the yoga community are wonderful avenues to bring yoga to more people. I agree that the segmenting and compartmentalizing of yoga is not a good trend but put yourself in the shoes of someone curvy and you will see it's BEEN that way before new types or names of yoga emerged.

    What I find thoroughly disheartening and really very sad is the need for teachers to brand their general yoga (thanks to Bikram) and try to make it something else. I get that there is a market here for this but I think it's getting out of control. See Sadie Nardini (who I really really liked and respected) now offering 'Rockstar Teacher Training.' It's not enough to be a great teacher. One must now be a rock star. One now must embrace being seen as a rock star. Egorunamok. It's heartbreaking.

  13. jess says:

    I agree with most of what you have in this article. When I first heard about aquayoga my first thought was "seriously? wtf?" It sounded wholly like some sort of surfers show off bs. I have taken yoga on the beach and found it spiritually awing. I love the water and bringing my practice closer to it seems quite natural and beautiful, but trying to do tricks on a widened surf board is just gimmicky and off the point of the practice (way off.) Admittedly I am torn. I hate terms like Power Yoga (yuk), but my first thought on seeing yoga practiced in a sling or hammock was that it was an opportunity to take a restorative practice even further. I haven't done it 🙂 . I think chair yoga and other modifications for those whose physicality is limited or altered for what ever reason is very important. And I admire yogis who look for ways to make yoga approachable and intriguing to all. But I am frustrated or maybe just disappointed that there is a lot done that, other than borrowing a few postures, essentially isn't yoga and isn't doing anything for the would be practitioner. Letting it go… the gimmicky stuff is inherent for anything that grows in popularity, so it can be a good sign and the best way I see to handle it is just to exemplify the practice with the purest intention and contentment.

  14. pranalisa says:

    acro yoga…a fad? here's a 1938 clip of Krishnamacharya in this "new" fad:

  15. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Hey, wait a minute. There is an old-school (I GUESS) interpretation of the term, "aquayoga", as being a subset of aqua fitness exercises (you know, the "old lady" type) …. In the shallow end of a swimming pool. This former lap swimmer had come thisclose to taking private lessons in it. Aquayoga is a boon for the obese and for those with little balance (which I was at that time, and at age 45 then). And being that there are various levels in it, perhaps aquayoga is the only way for a swimmer to be able to do a (face-underwater) handstand without the wall…. I know, after having taken off 60 pounds and doing much grueling ab work, it had been that for me.

  16. jess says:

    now see, that makes good yoga sense. A supported means to the practice. Wonderful! What I was introduced to as aqua yoga was doing a reg flow practice on a wide surf board. That's not support. It just looked like a big old gimmick. I lost my 30+ lbs when I found my practice last yr at 40yrs old, so I am totally in line with you (not from power yoga lol- just tuning into my body mind and soul.) I think using props and safe therapeutic supports to facilitate and even enhance a practice is invaluable. Truly my favorite yoga practice is restorative, which if you haven't tried is ALL props :). So the aquayoga you are familiar with sounds awesome (although again not for everyone- water phobs probably not so much lol.) I think the point of the article was not to condemn those who are doing a legitimate while alternative practice, but to recognize that just because someone has attached the word yoga to an activity does not necessarily make it a yoga practice. The focus of the the "yoga" shifts away from coming in tune with yourself and your connection to everything and just becomes well, parlor tricks. There is great concern for me with tying yoga to anything that evokes a competitive nature. Basketball yoga anyone? I'm very happy for you to have had an alternative yoga experience that was so supportive and opening and I hope you continue to be enriched with yoga as a part of your life. Peace

  17. chezwalton says:

    is hot yoga an ancient yoga?

  18. Kelli Harrington says:

    It's Vinyasa and the heat is replicating the conditions of Ancient India. Thanks for the inquiry chezwalton

  19. trueayurveda says:

    Thanks for being real. It is completely hilarious to see the comments that are made from all the people about what they think. You are absolutely correct with everything you wrote and it is like being the little kid in the emperor's new clothes, people are so full of it. Step aerobics had as much spirituality in it as 99% of the yoga being practiced today. We have made it all about asana and we don't even understand asana. We don't have a clue what prana is and the basis of the practice is from that. It is hilarious as well as painful to watch everyone doing a exercise class that is in the direction of disease formation because of the lack of education and understanding that this is a science, then walking around acting lovey and spiritual when they can't even get out of their heads. When you try to say something like what you have above which is really quite true, they come back with all kinds of BS like most of the comments written from undereducation and knowledge but valid to their level. What to do, what to do.

  20. trueayurveda says:

    Kelli, where did you buy into that BS? If you understood the physiology of the body from a yogic lens we would never heat up a room.

    This is exactly what has happened in the west, uneducated people believing uneducated teachers handing on misinformation and exactly what you were talking about above. If you look at asana through the western lens it is not asana but a bastardation and doesn't have the effects intended.

    Over exertion is when the physiology of the body changes and the prana is no longer being balanced but will go into an imbalance creating disease. The heat increases too much in the body and starts to create problem. Two of the main signs of this is when perspiration appears on the forehead or under the nose on the upper lip and also when you can no longer breathe only through the nose. Says a lot about what is being practiced out there in the masses as “yoga”.

    In the summer the human is at its weakest, exercise is limited and the sun takes all of our energy away, digestion is very poor. Winter time the human body is strongest due to the external cold pushing the heat into the torso, exercise is max which is only to half capacity.

    In the body there are other channels or srotas. One of them is the ambu maha srotas or water channel. This as well as other channels (srotamsi) get completely imbalanced and cause disease when you over exert. Lets talk of that for a second. In yoga and ayurveda the limits of vyayama (exercise) is to half capacity ever, dependent upon the season and the individuals overall health. This is the limit to the point you have to breath through your mouth or when you start to sweat. Beyond this means you have passed your limits. What happens is that when you have these physiological changes the energies of the body (5 pranas) are going out of balance. In both Western and Eastern systems one of the main cause of disease in later life is ativyayam or excessive exercise in earlier life and you don’t see the results till much later.

    When you start to sweat or break perspiration on your brow or under your nose, the body heat has increased to the point that the body needs to cool it off. If you open your mouth to breath there is a conflict between heat and cold within your body. It confuses the body and creates an imbalance of doshas and harm to the tissues. The strength of the body tissues weakens in time. This is why in yoga you only breathe through the nose.

    Think about what turning the heat up in the “hot yoga” room beyond the core temperature of the body does. The body tries to cool itself down and shuts down the digestive function as well as pours out the water of the system by sweating (Sveda Vaha Srotas is the sweat channel) to cool off. This will destroy the digestive system as well as others internal organs functions. It depletes and weakens body and mind as well as weakens the tissues, creates an imbalance of doshas and creates disease. The digestive capacity is know as agni or the digestive fire. In the summer the digestive fire is weak due to the heat of the long days of sun. In the winter the digestive fire is strong due to the external cold and how it pushes the heat to the koshta or torso and the hands and feet get cold. Not only this but then from a hot room you walk wet with sweat out into a cool or colder environment. This shocks the body, again vitiates the doshas, moves any disease that are already prevalent deeper or even worse, to the periphery where it is either impossible or much worse to treat.

  21. trueayurveda says:

    Most of the stuff you read on the net is written much like most of the stuff written for elephant journal. Lots of talk from people who have actually very little true knowledge on the subject. It is just where we are today. What everything is.

  22. trueayurveda: While I see the validity of your points, it's very hard to get through because of the overtly placed elitism in your comments. Additionally, you clearly have a ton of knowledge to offer. It would be great to read that supplemental knowledge without feeling like you are putting me down in the process. It comes across like you have achieved a level of enlightenment that we laypeople have not achieved and all we do is flounder about. If this is the case, write an article and educate us.

  23. Vision_Quest2 says:

    "Step aerobics had as much spirituality in it as 99% of the yoga being practiced today."

    You actually managed to insult step classes.

    In actuality, back in the day, with Jazzercise, anyway, I'd derived a sense of ritual from each of my classes. A sequence that contained, redirected and channeled energy … but Jazzercise had (most of the time) been really mild and low impact back then … and, unfortunately, I think it had just been me …. lol

  24. Kelli Harrington says:

    This video is beautiful but in most "modern" acro yoga classes they use implements and devices that give people a false sense of ability- THAT's the problem!