Yoga’s Future Requires Sunglasses. ~ Scott Smith Miller

Via elephant journal
on Apr 30, 2012
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lululemon athletica

Since it’s hip right now to write about yoga’s degeneration, and since all the recent articles I’ve read have targeted Lululemon as the symbol of yoga world commercialization, I made up this purposefully silly dialectical prescription:

When the yoga world hands you Lululemons, you should make Lululemonade.

In other words, it would help if we could just roll with things a bit. Then we might see yoga’s future in a better light. Yoga is not degenerating; it’s just continuing to move in the direction that it has always moved, becoming more accessible and inclusive. That hasn’t changed, and there’s always been the same possible downside to yoga’s evolutionary process: increased commercialization and decreased depth.

The upside is that more people end up practicing and teaching yoga. Again, that’s been the case since yoga’s inception and like it or not, after 5,000 years, yoga has become something that can be taught effectively by people with no training as teachers.

I’m sorry. That’s the truth. Since I run hatha yoga teacher-training programs, it’s not in my best financial interest to spread the word, but facts are facts, and they refute what people like Waylon Lewis, editor of elephant journal, have written. Like so many other well-intentioned yoga world writers, Mr. Lewis decries the present state of teaching. Among other concerns, he thinks teachers don’t focus on alignment because they have not been trained well.

So, it’s funny that in his piece “The Future of Yoga…or Lack Thereof,” Mr. Lewis singles out Richard Freeman as an exception to the degeneration. It’s funny because Richard was never taught how to teach Ashtanga. I know because we had the same teacher, and from first hand experience, I know that the famous Pattabhi Jois only taught people how to practice, not how to teach. Even so, Mr. Jois gave teacher certifications to a lot of his advanced students.

So, was the famous Mr. Jois irresponsible? No. He didn’t train people how to teach because he didn’t have to. He knew that his best students would become good or even great teachers on their own because instructing yoga is something we can all do on one level or another, in one way or another.

Again, that’s just the way it is. And we should love the way it is. Why not? We love yoga.

It took yoga 5,000 years to become something easy to teach, so let’s appreciate what we’ve got. All the styles of hatha yoga (even Ashtanga and Iyengar Yoga) are easy to teach. It’s clearly the point of their existence, since it’s the point of hatha yoga’s existence.

Hatha yoga replaced karma yoga as the yoga of its time because it was easier to teach; just as karma yoga replaced jnana yoga as the yoga of its time because it was easier to teach; just as jnana yoga replaced bhakti yoga as the yoga of its time because it was easier to teach; just as bhakti yoga replaced the original yogic form because it was easier to teach.

lululemon athletica

So, it’s all about evolution.

Yoga evolved to the point that it could be taught as easily as possible, and that means Pattabhi Jois was right not to worry about training his certified teachers. They learned just fine on their own. They learned just fine on their own even though the Ashtanga sequences include the hardest, riskiest poses there are. And the truth is that teaching the advanced poses is easier than doing them, which means Pattabhi Jois was only wrong about one thing. He shouldn’t have been afraid to certify any of his students.

Of course, students who receive actual teacher training do experience a faster learning curve. They go through less trial and error, and even long time Ashtanga instructor Tim Miller has taken to running teacher training programs. He’s taken to doing it even though he himself was never formally taught how to teach. Tim learned on his own, picking up things from fellow self-taught teachers as he went. Again, I know from personal experience that Tim is a great teacher, even when it comes to helping students with alignment.

Plus, Mr. Lewis couldn’t be more wrong about the connection between a supposed lack of focus on alignment and an increase in yoga world shallowness.

If anything, it’s the reverse. If anything, excessive concern about alignment is the problem. It distracts people from breathing well in class and it distracts people from studying yoga deeply. And that’s been the case now for decades. The truth is that older yoga teachers have been sounding the warning bell about alignment and injuries ever since they realized how many people were starting to teach yoga. They felt threatened on a business level, took to fear mongering, and started the whole “injury” scare.

And since people do get hurt doing yoga, the scare tactics seem justified. They seem warranted, but again, the reality is different. From what I’ve seen, experienced yoga teachers end up with the same percentage of injured students as inexperienced ones. For explainable reasons having to do with lack of muscle development, people get hurt in supposedly “gentle” yoga classes as often as they do in aggressive ones—and it’s really a matter of luck. As far as I know, no one has ever been seriously injured in one of my classes. I think it’s because I don’t think about injuries and so (knock on wood) the lack of fear creates a protective energy. That could be pre-rational hog-wash, but in any case, I don’t think fear is the way to go.

I think confidence is the way to go.

There’s good reason for us to have confidence in yoga.  Its evolution tells us it’s important to appreciate the accessibility and inclusiveness of yoga’s newest form. Everyone can practice hatha yoga, and everyone who loves hatha yoga should be teaching it on one level or another, in one way or another. Pattabhi Jois used to say, “No fear.” Again, he was right.

We should cultivate courage and when we consider the future of yoga, we should trust that yoga itself knows what it’s doing.


Scott Smith Miller is director of Western Yoga College.  He has written two books on yoga:  What Is(n’t) Hatha Yoga? and A Prelude to Radical Yogic Discourse.  Mr. Miller has been running large general hatha yoga teacher training programs in Southern California for over a decade.

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Editor: Cassandra Smith


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18 Responses to “Yoga’s Future Requires Sunglasses. ~ Scott Smith Miller”

  1. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posted to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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  2. Aron says:

    While I agree there can sometimes be to much emphasis on alignment in 'some classes' I assume you have some data showing there is no correlation between injuries and lack of teaching alingment or the experience of a teacher? If not and it is only a case study of 'your classes' and is just 'your opinion' then that would pretty much throw any credibility out the window in 'my opinion.'

    Just one more blanket statement based on your own personal perception such as:
    "If anything, excessive concern about alignment is the problem. It distracts people from breathing well in class and it distracts people from studying yoga deeply."

    I am sorry, but for me Yoga is first and foremost a discipline.
    Good alignment is not just about physical alignment. It is also integrating the breath and the spiritual experience of yoga, brining all of these elements into alignment.

  3. Scott Smith Miller says:

    Thanks for sharing your opinion, Aron. We are all free to practice hatha yoga as we like and we can all find ways to support our reasons for practicing the way we do. That's what makes hatha yoga so democratically inclusive. It also makes sense that someone who sees yoga "first and foremost (as) a discipline" would feel the way you do about alignment. It's consistent. But please understand that there is no data showing that there is or is not any correlation between injuries and alignment. We all just have our opinions and opposite opinions than mine have been voiced a lot lately. Obviously, it would contradict the real point of what I've written to get into a debate about what makes my opinions credible or not. Really, I'm just trying to encourage yoga people to feel good about what we're doing. If you feel good about being yogically disciplined and alignment conscious, then great! I wish you the best.

  4. Scott Smith Miller says:

    Just to avoid misunderstanding, I'm all for teachers knowing how to help people do the poses well. So of course we do cover alignment issues in my teacher training programs. It's a part of teaching, and an important part. I even have some background in Iyengar Yoga and I go to my friend's Iyengar classes from time to time. My point in the article is that too much concern about alignment can cause the problems noted by Waylon Lewis instead of alleviating them. So it's not an either or thing. We can find a balance and at the same time not play into fear and negativity. That's my main point.

  5. Scott, I don't know what Waylon wrote that you are responding to but I think your point that teachers do not need teacher training to be good teachers is accurate.

    I have been asked to train students to be teachers many times over many years and I've always said no telling them that they can learn how to teach by being good students. And if they can't, perhaps that's not the thing they should be doing. Instead they should just enjoy doing yoga. However, taking classes from a wide variety of teachers who are more seasoned than you will make a big difference.

    I think that the yoga teacher who became certified because she went to yoga school and bypassed years of experience first is probably the less skilled teacher.

    I will also add that I've finally agreed to act as a school so that less experienced teachers can get credits taking class from me. It seemed like a necessary progression. I do not teach them how to teach but I teach them by explaining every reason for a posture, breath or adjustment. I did that because this is where yoga is going, as you say, and so I am making lemonade though you'll never ever find a horseshoe on my clothing.

  6. Scott Smith Miller says:

    Right, no horseshoes here either. You totally get it, Hilary. Making lemonade doesn't mean joining in the commercialization. When I saw the ad picture that elephant journal added into the article I was squeezing lemons for a second.

  7. thirtydaysofyoga says:

    As a relatively new yogi who is planning on teacher training, I loved your article and for that extra glimmer of hope I get from it, I salute you! :O)

  8. Cassandra Smith says:

    I'm the elephant intern who added the lulu photos to this story. I'd just like to say that they are not ads. They are photos have have been uploaded to the internet for free use on photo sharing websites. When I saw who uploaded them, I thought it was extremely ironic, considering the "silly dialectical prescription" that leads this piece.

    I happen to agree with many things in this article. I intensely studied ballet for 16 years and danced at a professional level, and if someone tried to tell me I had to go through "teacher training" before I would be a good ballet teacher, I would laugh at them. Being a good teacher depends on how good of student you were/are and how much care you take in giving what you have learned to others.

    I did not intend the pictures to make you "squeeze" your lemons or distract from the content of the piece. I thought they were ironic, which I found funny, but apparently not everyone shares my sense of humor.

  9. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Agreed. Alignment gets those lines of energy working for you. Your practice could literally soar from that point.

    I would go even further to say that opening your heart center helps, and is a major building block of alignment. Alignment does not have to be perfect, but the intention should be there …

    Three of the four schools of yoga that have influenced my main practice, have been alignment-focused. The one remaining that proudly isn't, believe me, was based on classical postures and "did not get very creative" …

  10. Scott Smith Miller says:

    Thanks for explaining, Cassandra. As someone who makes a lot of jokes, I sympathize with the feeling that people aren't getting the irony of something. No harm done. It was ironic for sure. I just didn't realize it was on purpose. Next time I'll know.

  11. Scott Smith Miller says:

    Cool. That is exactly the purpose behind all this–to give people an extra glimmer of hope. And I like your "phrase-ology."

  12. Emily says:

    This article was very thought-provoking: it brings up questions about teacher training in general, and who exactly set the standards put forth by Yoga Alliance as the industry stamp of approval? When I did my YTT in 2008, I chose the program because I trusted and loved learning from my teachers. I knew that whatever they had to offer was good, because I had so enjoyed taking their classes. Also, graduating from a YTT program will not make you a great teacher. Experience and continuing to be an active student is what gets you there. Thanks!

  13. Diana says:

    As a student of Scott's–both his teacher training and his regular classes–I have deeply cherished the beautiful communal experience that comes from being in a Sangha. Creating this sacred community is one of Scott's greatest strengths and one of the great blessings of the evolution of yoga. As Scott teaches, because we all can, at some level, be teachers of yoga, the Sangha–the sacred community–is where conditions are most favorable to learn from one another, to connect to energy…to Spirit (whether or not you sport a horseshoe on your body).

  14. Alona says:

    Beautiful, Diana. I, too, am a student of Scotts. I am thankful for my teacher, my sangha and the bright future of yoga. Sometimes I am a little hazy on alignment issues in my classes, as well. Especially considering we are all made differently. But, like Scott, I have never had any injuries in any of my classes and I don't really worry too much about it. I'm going to choose to believe "the lack of fear creates a protective energy". Thanks for that, Scott!

  15. Madeleine says:

    Thanks Scott. Its nice to hear your "voice."

  16. Melinda says:

    Great article Scott! As a daughter of a Chiropractor I have spent my entire life fascinated with the human body ( I even studied Kinesiology in College). I was introduced to yoga 12 yrs ago and started teaching around 4 yrs ago. Teacher Training Certification never really appealed to me due to the fact I was traveling around a lot at that point in my life and was lucky enough to be taking classes and learning from so many different teachers. I felt, and still do feel, that I will ALWAYS be growing my practice, taking classes whenever I can and being open to learning from every yogi I come in contact with.

    Even with all my experience when someone asks me about my yoga teacher training and I tell them I never received one, I can see the look in their eyes…the, "and you teach when you've never spent all that money to get your certificate, how do you know what you're doing" look. Don't get me wrong, YTT's are great and have their place but I have to agree with Hilary:

    "I think that the yoga teacher who became certified because she went to yoga school and bypassed years of experience first is probably the less skilled teacher."

    I do however struggle with this sometimes and my ego will at times want to jump in and execute a flawless rebuttal of my qualifications. I then realize…what's the point, myself and my students are happy with my practice ( I've even had a few students go on to pursue teaching yoga themselves!)

    In the end I really appreciate this article, Scott. I too don't own anything with a horseshoe on it…I mean, come on, I'm a yoga teacher…do you think I have that kind of money to spend on a cute pair of capri's? 😉

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