In Defense of American Yoga.

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American yoga

The Yoga scene in America is changing.

Recently Quartz published an article by Michelle Garcia titled, Americans Ruined Yoga for the Rest of the World. The article poses some very important questions that many in the Yoga community have been asking recently.

Issues of body image, sexism, classism, racism and injury have now made their way into a conversation about this seemingly peaceful practice. And I do agree that the conversation is necessary for the future of our industry.

But Americans ruined Yoga?



Now, I’m not typically one of those rootin’-tootin’ flag wavin’ “America-can-do-no-wrong” patriots.

I enjoy questioning the status quo and although I love my country and my industry, I have written quite a bit on the problems I see with the current state of Yoga in this country. I, like Ms. Garcia, have commented on how this may be doing a disservice to those who seek to practice yoga.

But Americans ruined Yoga? Saying that Americans have ruined Yoga is like saying that American bloggers have ruined journalism because of their love of click-bait titles.

Controversial, hard statements like the title of this article cause people to click, share, and comment. And let’s be honest. It’s the same driving force that the Ms. Garcia states is all that is wrong with American Yoga. Okay, if you want to find blame for the lack of authenticity and humility from Yoga or journalism, that’s fair.

Capitalism, commercialism, corporate gain and the modern human’s lack of attention span can all be blamed for “sweaty” Yoga as well as click-bait journalism. I think we can agree that those attributes are not strictly American.

If they are, can we also add revolutionary, inventive and charitable to the list?

Because with 20 million and growing, Americans growing currently practicing Yoga, I think it’s safe to say that for every “blonde waif with a face scrubbed free of character” there is at least one inventive, revolutionary American changing the face of Yoga as we speak.

Take J. Brown and Giaconda Parker, both Yoga teachers that the Ms. Garcia uses to emphasize her argument.

These are thoughtful, deliberate, independently talented Yoga teachers.

J. Brown is especially thoughtful when it comes to questioning the modern world of Yoga.

He’s been a major contributor to the conversation of authenticity in Yoga today. And what’s better? He’s an American.

So is Giaconda Parker.

Both are making the world a better place with their Yoga teaching. They have different styles.

Ms. Parker teaches Vinyasa Flow here in my hometown of Austin, Texas. While Mr. Brown teaches more in line with my own passion; slow, accessible, anatomy-conscious Yoga.

Most likely, both are responsible for new students falling in love with Yoga everyday. Both are active in the American Yoga scene. They aren’t the only ones.

Some of the Ms. Garcia’s main issues with Yoga today in America are being talked about in meetings, on blogs, in studios by people she didn’t mention. People like Leslie Kaminoff, Amy Matthews, Jill Miller, Ariana Rabinovitch, Katy Bowman, Carol Horton and Brooke Thomas. These are just a few people having this conversation about Yoga and as far as my Google search would have me believe, they are American.

Let’s address the question about the roots of Yoga being lost in today’s American culture.


That’s valid.

Yes, Americans have adapted Yoga to fit their Christian/secular/skeptic needs. And yes, you could argue that the roots of Yoga and Yoga culture have been white-washed by the West. This is a common argument and I won’t refute it.

I will say, that there are Americans teaching today who are very devoted to keeping the sacred aspects of the practice intact. I know less of those people because that’s less my teaching style.

But they are out there. Boy, are they out there. David Life and Sharon Gannon of Jivamukti Yoga are legit. As is my one of my first teachers, Will Duprey of Hathavidya Yoga. These are teachers who emphasize a meditation and Sadhana practice, and living the eight limbs of Yoga in daily life. They are also American.

Here’s why this article is wrong: Coke, McDonalds, Ford, Apple are all worldwide brands that started in America.

Yoga is not a brand (although some are trying to make it so) and it is not rooted in the American tradition.

But it is quickly becoming a huge part of it. Future generations of Americans will have a clear understanding of the benefits of Yoga from their own parents, schools and popular culture. And if you’re a person who endorses Yoga, you can see why this is exciting.

Because what Americans are great at is making a good thing catch.

Is it in need of reform?

Some say yes.

Should it return to it’s roots?

Some others say yes.

Should it be less commercial?

Eh, where there is something to be gained, you will be hard-pressed to find someone who is not looking to capitalize on their skills, even if it’s only to pay rent on their studio.

Money, body image, classism, these are all a part of the human experience, not just the American one.

It would be narrow to state otherwise.

The great thing about Yoga is it addresses the negative aspects of the human experience.

All types of Yoga: sweaty, restorative, power, traditional Hatha, gym Yoga, share a common core. What is central to all Yoga practices is breath, movement, and spiritual peace or transcendence. It matters not the degree of each of these employed by the teacher, or their country of origin. What matters is what the practitioner seeks.

What matters is the intention.

And when all else fails, Yoga still has a transformative effect.

Each individual comes to the practice and exits with a more clear idea of what they do or don’t want for themselves.

The amazing thing about Yoga in America is the many choices you have as a consumer. You don’t have to patronize a studio that does not align with your beliefs or one that does not promote the peace you seek. You do not have to chant, you do not have to wear Lululemon, you do not have to be thin. As a consumer, you have a choice where your money goes. The market is flooded and you, the consumer, are left with the luxury of choice.

You identify your destination. You choose your path. Anything else would be un-American.



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Author: Sara Kleinsmith

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: flickr


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About Sara Kleinsmith

Sara Kleinsmith is a Yoga Therapist, Health Coach, and Personal Trainer. She owns her own business, SKY, in Austin, Texas. She is passionate about embracing questions and teaching people that there is no one right way to eat, live, or workout. After living in New York for seven years, Sara and her husband moved South in search of warmer Winters and better tacos. When not teaching, writing or reading books on anatomy or business, she can be found drinking wine and watching bad reality shows. To find out more about her work visit her website.


6 Responses to “In Defense of American Yoga.”

  1. tiniertina says:

    J. Brown did not prevent me from leaving yoga for (what I thought was) "forever" … I'd had some real big issues with yoga after over 7 years of regular practice.

    The fitness industry itself (at whatever price level and live-engagement level) will save this travesty that has become the overcommercialized, self-mortifying, sadism masquerading as spiritual justification that has become American live studio yoga. No, it won't go back to "old school yoga"–whatever that was, and whatever it is these days. And the number and saturation of handstand and urban precipice selfies will only go down with maturation, attrition, and possible collective yawns and the general zeitgeist. The Yogaglo people–and whoever would follow in their footsteps–have been suitably chastened by judicial decision on patent laws. Patent laws that they–in their quest for measurable bottom-line results FIRST, before non-commercial experimental exploration of their innovative cinematographic technique–chose to ignore, even if subconsciously.

    I actually came back to yoga, but not in the exact way you describe here … Not just with dollar votes to different studios long before I left off (mostly self-practicing) yoga, but it took the American fitness industry, in the guise of a Kathy Smith video (that had some segment that was really, actually, and almost gratuitously gentle yoga, but never labeled as such), to bring me back.

    I had not been gone long. But long enough … months, actually …

    • A lot of what you're saying resonates with me. The important thing is that your practice continued to evolve. It's wonderful that you find something that works for you, even if it doesn't fit the typical "yoga" mold. It's important for us to have this conversation about what's turning us off about Yoga. I really appreciate you for voicing your thoughts on this.

  2. neil says:

    What I see most people doing in yoga classes is asana, breathing exercises (pranayama), followed by resting (savasana). There is nothing wrong with this but if you aren't doing traditional yoga as taught by people like Patanjali as per the Yoga Sutra; how can you say you are doing yoga? Which brings up the question – "What is yoga?" According to the Father of Yoga, Patanjali, asana should be interlaced with the other seven limbs of yoga for a balanced and well-rounded practice. The ultimate goal in yoga is to make positive changes in one's life. According to Patanjali one must to beyond the mat and live yoga not for just 90 minutes a few times a week, but all the time as yoga is a dedication that requires much study and practice. If we are going to change yoga to fit our way of life then why not call it something other than yoga?

    • You bring up some great points, Neil. And I hear this argument a lot. I think the common thread, or sutra, to use Patanjali’s word, is the aim of union. Everyone has a different path to this union. Yoga, itself, is union. The path to Yoga remains open to the student. As enthusiasts of union, this is something we should learn to respect. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita “All paths lead to me.”

  3. Scott says:

    Yoga is a state of mind/body. Asana serves as one of many entry points into that state of being. Anything aside from the action of asana is just fluff.

    • Hi Scott,
      It sounds like you have found the path to Yoga through your asana practice, which is a wonderful thing. For many American yogis, asana is the most popular limb of the practice. But the higher limbs can be as beneficial as asana. I love asana. I teach asana. I practice Yoga.

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