“Real Yoga” Revealed.

We all come to yoga in our own ways and for our own reasons.

As everyone in the developed world knows, yoga is fast-growing part of mainstream American culture. According to Yoga Journal’s 2012 Market Study:

20.4 million Americans practice yoga, compared to 15.8 million from the previous 2008 study, an increase of 29 percent. 

The ample teachings that fall under the umbrella of “yoga” are widely available via books, DVDs, gyms, studios, online classes, videos and websites. And people are paying a lot to learn yoga and look good doing it.

Practitioners spend $10.3 billion a year on yoga classes and products, including equipment, clothing, vacations, and media. The previous estimate from the 2008 study was $5.7 billion.

According to the study, over half of American yogis have practiced for three years or less. About half consider themselves to be intermediate to advanced. Most come to yoga for the flexibility—closely followed by conditioning, stress relief, improvement of overall health and physical fitness.

Who am I to be a spokesperson for “Real Yoga”?

Just a woman who’s been practicing for twenty years and teaching for twelve.

There are 37,000 Registered Yoga Teachers (RYT) through Yoga Alliance, and I’m not one of them. I belong to no official lineage, but I have studied and practiced hatha, raja and karma yoga for many years.

If you think this makes me a self-righteous yoga b*tch, so be it. Let me state the obvious: the views expressed in this article are my opinions. My hope is that they will resonate with readers and “real” yogis everywhere.

There’s no wrong way to come to yoga. People who start with the physical only may or may not evolve their practice to encompass the spiritual. However…

Is All Yoga Created Equal?

No. Without mindfulness, meditation, compassion and ethics, yoga is not yoga.

I used to think that the trouble with yoga was its Americanization, its being watered down and modified and marketed in the West.

All I wanted to do was escape to India. Find peace and quiet and enlightenment in the Himalayas. In 2008, I went to India and discovered that peace and quiet and enlightenment are just as rare and precious there as they are anywhere.

I used to think that the trouble with yoga was the popularity of Bikram. Copyrighted sequences, stiff competition, word-by-word scripted classes. And the heat, my God, the heat!

I used to think that the trouble with yoga stemmed from Yoga Journal with its Photoshopped-to-perfection bendy white female models on its glossy cover and inside hawking prohibitively pricey and exclusive exotic retreats catering to the rich and restless.

I used to think that the trouble with yoga was brands like Lululemon who sell riduculously expensive translucent yoga pants and color coordinated tops. And yoga socks. You don’t need socks to do yoga!

I used to think that the trouble with yoga was its New Agey factor. I would delineate between real, authentic yoga versus pseudoyoga.

Yes, clearly the trouble with yoga was its superficiality.

But then I had to let that go.

I had to remember that yoga is not yoga when materialism, ego and attachment are blocking the way.

Yoga is not yoga when you are beating yourself up on the inside, bashing your mind and body for being less capable than you wish you were.

The real trouble with yoga is that once you start, you cannot go back. Or else!—your muscles will tighten, your mind will cloud and your soul will weep. The more you practice, the more you have to keep practicing.

Once you reach a certain turning point, you simply will not quit. What starts out as a few minutes or an hour a day will evolve into “daily life practice,” morning, noon and night.

One day, your may find that your practice has transformed from stretching, breathing and meditating into compassionate action, active listening, mindful speech and modeling kindness and presence to everyone in your sphere of influence.

I leave you with an important addendum to the Yoga Schmoga Sutra:

  1. Real Yogis have flexible, balanced and strong bodies and minds.
  2. Real Yogis are mindful.
  3. Real Yogis are humble and imperfect.
  4. Real Yogis are nonviolent, compassionate and kind.
  5. Real Yoga takes practice.
  6. Real Yoga is service.
  7. Real Yoga is teaching by example.
  8. Real Yoga is attainable and should be available to every human being on this planet.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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laportama Oct 14, 2015 8:56am

Let me preface by saying that I agree with you to the most extent — but take a breath! — and your list is pretty cool, but I am deeply and recurrently drawn back to the simple question — insurmountable but with wriggle room for interpretation:

What would Patanjali do? (You know, the Grammarian. )

PS>> I’m a physician. ( So was Patanjali.)
I try to be authentic.
And like the respondent above, it’s hard to make a living doing it the authentic way when the power lies in the hands and mouths and “quality standards” of the FAKIRS.

To paraphrase Sri Anthony DeMello,
“When the master hears the song of a bird, he does not ask what its credentials are.”
I know a very young woman (23) who leads a class in a very small town. She is a wonderful, dedicated example, and thus, teacher, even if she doesn’t have —YET — some of the nuance and some of the verbiage.
Yoga is as yoga does, its own reward, and by its fruits you shall know it.

Thanks for sharing.

Amanda Sep 29, 2015 10:02pm

Yes!! You rule. It's really hard trying to make a living doing this yoga thing the authentic way. I am meeting a lot of weird people "teaching yoga" that don't seem to really live what they teach. I do not fit into what America thinks the yoga world is, it's hard to find my niche, but if I stay true to myself and the teachings I will succeed.

Great article.

Gary Oct 18, 2013 12:21pm

I don't think it makes you a "…a self-righteous yoga b*tch," love the truth and passion. – I feel the same way. I also love the "Yoga Schmoga Sutra" and phrase. If you don't mind I'm going to use it. It's like they said in the neighborhood years ago, "you gotta be a standup guy, else no one will respect you". You just have to live this stuff and send it out to everyone you come in contact with.

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Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Michelle Margaret is a heart-centered writer, teacher and creator of Yoga Freedom.

She has been a columnist on Elephant Journal since 2010 and has self-published inspiring books. She incorporates dharma, hatha, yin, mindfulness, chakras, chanting and pranayama into her teachings and practice. A former advertising copywriter and elementary school teacher, she is now a freelance writer and translator. Michelle learned yoga from a book at age 12 and started teaching at 22. She met the Buddha in California at 23 and has been a student of the dharma ever since. Michelle is now approaching her forties with grace and gratitude.

Join Michelle for a writing and yoga retreat this summer at magical Lake Atitlan in the western highlands of Guatemala! https://yogafreedom.org/group-retreats/