I’ve been having a lively discussion on LinkedIn about the use or “misuse” of the word “Yoga” in the American yoga scene. I am posting here my comments in that discussion as they may prove useful or at least entertaining for you as you read this blog. You can read the full discussion by clicking here.
The original message posted was:
90 percent of yoga is just a way to make some extra cash.
I don’t expect much sympathy for this post, but really if anyone studied yoga of the past compared to yoga of today it would be hardly recognizable.
Now with hip hop yoga, dance yoga, kundalini sex yoga, Etc Study the great teachers like Sri Swami Sivananda just for example. They would laugh at what yoga has become.
Most of the people in the discussion seemed to agree with the basic premise expressed in this opening statement. I did, and yet I didn’t. Here are my replies, which will hopefully still make sense even without pasting in the various comments I was replying to.
What an interesting discussion.
As you’ve pointed out yourself, “90%…” is a blanket statement, although I get your point.
I wonder if your statement is mostly applicable to America?
A few years ago I got my introduction to the “yoga scene” in America. I was a teachers assistant in the Ayurveda programs at the Kripalu school of yoga in MA for three months. I stayed on site. After that I was introduced to various people into yoga in San Francisco & other parts of CA.
That was my first look into what I might call the American yoga scene. The magazines, the props, the vast range of yoga brands, the thousand and one kind of yoga mats and clothing, and so on. A well known yoga teacher, who is a friend of mine from New Zealand, calls it “the yoga circus”. I didn’t really appreciate what he meant until I stumbled across it myself.
When I looked through some issues of the Yoga Journal and other yoga magazines I was somewhat surprised to see what looked like endless ads promoting yoga teacher trainings. 200 hour, 400 hour, 1000 hour… this name, that brand, etc.. It has never made sense to me that someone can be “trained” to be a yoga teacher. I can appreciate that it is possible to train someone to safely convey yoga derived postures to people, but as for training them in X number of hours oo teach “Yoga”, that came across to me as odd. It is not my experience that this is something one can be trained to teach… and certainly not in some kind of prepackaged course with a fixed number of hours.
Yoga, in my experience, is a state of consciousness. I either know and embody that “state” or I do not. Even if someone does know and embody it, whether or not they are able to successfully convey it to someone else is another matter. If it is their dharma to do so, and the Grace is there to support them in it, sure… they might manage to. But can anyone off the street be converted into a true Yoga/Yogini in 400 hours?
I would not consider “learning yoga” from someone that is not a Yogi / Yogini. Fortunately, and thankfully, I’ve not had to.
I teach yoga retreats. It’s not my primary source of income. In fact I usually just cover my costs. I see it as a great blessing to be able to sit with interested folk exploring the inner mysteries of Yoga. I know some folk don’t get what they expected when they come to one of my retreats. That is probably obvious to them when I say on the first evening that physical postures (asana) do not necessarily have anything at all to do with Yoga.
I once went to a yoga centre in Sweden for a few weeks. They may have been in it for the money, but my sense was the man who started that school has a sincere interest in Yogic awareness and sharing that with people in an authentic way. Kripalu, in my experience, was in it for commercial reasons, but then again I understand they nearly folded, and brought in someone to pick up the pieces… which meant turning the whole place into a commercial endeavour.
After my American yoga experience I would often ponder the state of Yoga (and the yoga business) in the world. The place I came to was this: Those who are ready for an authentic, deep, and spiritually integrated experience of Yoga will meet with right people and circumstances to bring them to that. Those who are ready for what we might consider to be a superficial experience of yoga will meet the right people and circumstances for that… even through something like Kundalini sex yoga or whatever it may be. When they feel that such as experience is superficial, they will move on to find something deeper. Eventually that too will seem superficial, and again they will look deeper.
In my world, all is a manifestation of the Great Perfection. Even the Yoga Circus. I thank Life that circus takes care of those wanting that experience. That way just a few turn up to my retreats, and they get exactly what they are ready for, without me having to be a circus performer!!
The original poster replied, and more or less agreed with me.
@Von Dent: Yes, I do get the impression the yoga scene is more degenerated from its original intention and form in America than elsewhere. There certainly isn’t much of a “yoga scene” in New Zealand. Just people exploring yoga, going to classes, etc. There is, from what I understand, plenty of body-orientated yoga being taught in NZ, but again I think that is indicative of where many people are at. Through in a few spiritual aspects as it’s like throwing them a curve ball. They have a hard time hitting it back so it tends to just end up rolling off the playing field.
I remember asking a Yoga teacher I knew about her yoga classes. In her personal life I knew her to be a very “spiritually aware” woman, and very much interested in the deeper aspects of Yoga. Yet after I attended a few of her classes in order to participate in that side of her life… I had to ask her about her yoga teaching. It seemed to just touch the surface. She shared that in her experience she was not able to go into the deeper aspects. When she had tried it put people off. BUT, and more importantly, she had found that after many months of people coming to these classes they started to naturally open up to more spiritual interests. For instance, the front of her studio was a shop. There were many spiritually orientated books in there. She found that most people gave little, if any, attention to these books and other items. But after many months of this relatively superficial yoga more and more students started to stop and browse through the books, and would buy and read them.
The sort of questions they asked her also changed and deepened. By the way… Her studio was in perhaps one of the most conservative and wealthiest suburbs in the whole of New Zealand. So it was quite something when these students (mostly house wives, married to extremely wealthy men) started to explore deeper as a result of simply connecting, quite superficially, with their body, their breath, and by relaxing very deeply in savasana.
I’ve always remembered talking with her about that (perhaps 18 years ago now), and I remind myself of this when I find myself in situations where I am only able to touch on yoga in a very superficial way with someone. I see it as my challenge to find ways to gently guide them into a deeper and deeper experience of themselves, and thus of Yoga, and of Life.
One or two people agreed with what I shared. A few did not. The next piece from me is:
::VonDent:: – “One point that is almost never mentioned and which will happen at some point is concerning kundalini? If ones kundalini should open up in the wrong way do you think any of these yoga business ventures could help? ”
— I wish to understand this way of thinking, as expressed in your words. I’ve seen it before. The other place I find it is on the many websites dedicated to exposing scams, snake oil salesmen, cults, fraudulent gurus, and so on. The people running such sites (and dedicating what to me seems like an extraordinary amount of energy to them) call themselves “skeptics”, I have my assumption is that they consider themselves protectors of the truth and of the people they think are being duped and victimised by all manor of evils, including YOGA by any name, form, or brand. This level of thinking appears, to me, of being one based on the concept that all these poor people trying out natural medicine, joining so-called “cults”, taking NLP courses, going to yoga and meditation retreats, following Indian and Western Gurus, trying out cranio-sacral therapy, etc., etc., (the list is virtually endless), and VICTIMS… helpless victims.
Based on what you’ve expressed I get the impression it is another form of this level of thinking, to one degree or another. Is that an accurate assessment VD?
::Von Dent:: – “Money, money, money” & “90 percent of yoga is just a way to make some extra cash”
I am wondering what your issue is, if any, with “money”?
As far as I have been able to ascertain 90+% of almost all human activity (in the industrialized world populations) has a link to money. It just so happens money is the medium we have chosen as the external representation our personal energy / power.
If a person who was previously not teaching yoga as a profession decides to now start teaching yoga, and even drop their previous profession in order to dedicate fully to the teaching of yoga, should they not do their best to ensure they have sufficient income from it? And can anyone but them determine just how much is “sufficient”? Am I, or you, in any position cosmologically to judge that?
In any field of human endeavour that has any degree of commerce tied to it I think we will find that there will be a percentage of people who are doing it primarily for money, a percentage who are doing it entirely for altruistic purposes, and a various percentages of people going it for a whole host of other reasons that fit somewhere between those two extremes. Is there something “wrong” with that” Something ultimately life-taking about that? Or it that natural?
I wonder, and I ask you VD (& all) even if “I” and “I” alone offer the highest, purest, most authentic yoga teachings (let’s just say for arguments sake), do you think any of the following would be true:
– Would it be so that most, or all, of the people in the world currently interested in yoga (in one form or another) coming to the class “I” offer and only the class “I” offer?
– Would all the people currently interested in yoga (in any form) have even heard of yoga? Would any of them have heard of it? More than a few % of them?
– Would the approach “I” have to yoga be of direct benefit to ALL the people currently interested in yoga (in one form or another), or would it just suit a tiny fraction of them who happen to be ready for the highest, purest, most authentic approach to yoga that “I” teach (in this hypothetical situation)?
I suspect we would find that almost none of the people who have currently heard of the word “yoga” would have even heard that word… let alone done even a single yoga asana, etc.
I suspect we would find that even if all the people who currently have an interest in yoga still had an interest in it (in my hypothetical situation) would NOT come to the class “I” am offering. If they did, they would not continue to come. It would simply not appeal to them.
And I then went on to say:
Hi Ragavan… Would you please explain how the part of my comment which zoned in on the question of money was out of context? It was in direct response to two points made by Von Dent that specifically referred to money/cash. As you will see in a later comment by Von Dent (who started this thread) for him at least part of this conversation is about “money” — ::Von Dent:: “The reason that there is no mention here about Samadhi is because the conversation is about money.”
::Ragavan:: “The comment from us is”
— I am not sure who “us” is referring to. Please elaborate.
::Ragavan:: “Why do you call it is some kind of YOGA–because yoga sells and you make money.”
— I accept I have yet to develop the siddhi of all-knowing psychic perception and mind-reading. In the absence of this ability, I have not been able to come to the same conclusion as you, with regards to knowing what motivates people to do the things they do. My own life experiences and observations give me the sense “motivation” is a complex phenomenon taking into account a vast array of factors, most of which I suspect reside firmly in the Unknown and the other-than-conscious mind of Man. I will have to simply take your word for it that people are using the word YOGA because it sells and this makes them money.
@Regis — thanks for sharing. I’ve enjoyed reading your contribution. I agree, much of this is a question of “ignorance”.
In my experience ignorance is rife in the world today, and has been for a quite some time.
I am not aware of much within the American culture that is not distorted and mis-qualified by ignorance. Even the very foundational belief much of the American population has with regards to America being the “Land of the free” is a gross display of ignorance. It spreads from there into most, if not all or nearly all aspects of the so-called American Dream. Politics, economics, religion, Wall Street, medicine, wars, foreign policy, the financial collapse, Presidential agendas, media, National (in)Security, The War on Drugs, The War on Terror, the War on Cancer (et all), the FDA, AMA, FBI, CIA, ad infinitum. Why would “Yoga” be any different? It’s not.
… in closing…
I have not paid with money for the Yoga practices I have received over the past 20+ years. For that I am grateful. Not because it saved me some money, but rather because I feel it was a blessing to not have to get involved in yoga through a commercial enterprise or transaction. Of course, I paid in other ways, but not monetarily. I have been to a few (I could likely count them on two hands) paid yoga classes, and one paid yoga training, but relatively little of my yoga practice and approach to yoga was derived from those classes. Does that mean I’d not pay if I felt it was worth while? Not at all. It’s just not been on my life-path to do so… not so far.
I hear that Von Dent, and others, have an issue with the way the word “yoga” is used in society today. I respect that, and I’ve also raised issue around that matter from time to time, and I get the impression I don’t feel the same way about it. I see it as all part of the unfolding Perfection. I am neither “for it” or “against it”. I choose to participate in it as little as possible, yet I don’t condemn it. Because of that, there is perhaps little more I can add to this conversation. I am aware a number of the points I have raised have yet to be directly addressed by the primary participants in this conversation, and I am content to assume they were not considered relevant.
@Von Dent, et al.: I do appreciate it when someone is willing to stick their neck out and put forth statements that may be inclined to provoke a reaction from others, as it can be a great stimulus for dialogue and exchange that perhaps differs from the status quo. Thank you Von Dent.
As I have pointed out elsewhere, perhaps in different words… in my experience “Yoga” and any form of so called “yoga practice” (asana, pranayama, kriya, etc.) are not synonymous. I suspect many yoga practitioners and teachers might disagree with me. I am fine with that. In my experience the later are potential doorways to the prior… ways of putting the prior (our fundamentally Yogic or Unified state of Being) into practice… ways to participate in that Unified nature more intentionally and consciously… to awaken and deepen our relationship with it. I’ve only met a few people “into” yoga who, from what I could ascertain, share this perception (both in theory and in practice). Does that get me riled up? Not in the slightest.
And That I AM.
My final reply was in response to this:
HI Joanathan comment is like a good flow and has got nice rhythm. but out of context. This thread is not about exactly money. It is about misuse of YOGA. We find many school of music from orient to classical western to jazz to beatles. They call it –jazz music or rap music or karnatic music or mexican. Nobody calls– it is pure classical music. If anybody wants to showcase their fitness programme with dance and music–call it by their own name. Why do you call it as HIP HOP YOGA or face down savasana?
@Ragavan:: Rereading your message in my inbox, I am curious about the logic you’ve expressed.
You use the example of music, and different styles as an analogy.
After referring to various styles of music, you finish that analogy with “nobody calls it pure classical music”.
Yet I am not at all certain all these yoga brands Von Dent (and others) are riled about claim their yoga is “pure classical yoga”. I’ve not looked deeply into the “Hip Hop Yoga” website (just the front page) but I don’t get the impression they are trying to claim to be a form of traditional/classical yoga. I doubt the Kundalini Sex Yoga makes that claim either. Did you get that impression?
I do, however, like your analogy, especially because I think it brings a very pertinent point to light — although perhaps not the one you were intending to make.
From my perspective you are quite right… there are many forms of music, which vary greatly in style and approach. And over the years new forms have been created. It was not that long ago that millions of people thought Rock and Roll Music was the work of the devil and must be banned from the world. Perhaps some fundamentalist Christians still do. I understand that when Jazz music emerged into the world many people (perhaps particularly those inclined towards classical music) did not consider it music at all. It broke all the basic rules and protocols of classical music (which many other forms of music are still at least loosely based). But these days few would argue that Jazz is “not real music” and must not be referred to as “music”, and that they are doing that just to make money.
I suspect you can see where I am going with this. So I will simply say that perhaps we face something similar with yoga (among many other things!!). People take THEIR basic experience of it, and then add something to it, modify it, even dramatically change it (just as Jazz did in the music world), yet I must ask myself, who am I to say that they can’t refer to it as yoga? I’ve been an avid listener of classical music since I was a child, yet I’ve never felt the need to speak out against Jazz, Death Metal, Hip Hop, or Rock and roll. I don’t choose to listen to Death Metal, Hip Hop, or even Rock’n’Roll (these days) but I can appreciate that for some people that’s the kind of music they like to practice and play, and that’s the kind some people like to listen to.
As for “face down savasana”. I didn’t see the original message about that, but from what I gather I’d be inclined to agree with you and other’s in this discussion that it is potentially confusing for people when terms from classical yoga are inappropriately used in such a way.
Although, having said that, I will add that I actually minimise (even eliminate) the use of all Sanskrit words in reference to yoga asana and practices when I teach yoga. Some traditional yoga practitioners might scorn at me for doing so, yet I’ve found that in general using words from a language English speaking people are not familiar with only adds an element to the yoga practice that for the many people (especially those just starting out in Yoga) is unnecessary and a potential source of unwarranted confusion and stress. So from that perspective, if someone wants to refer to a yoga asana as a face-down savasana… I say “good on them for being creative”. I wouldn’t do it, I suspect many yoga teachers I know would not do it, but that doesn’t deny them the right to.
I will also mention that on many days a considerable amount of my yoga asana practice arises spontaneously and I wouldn’t have a clue what name the positions I end up in are officially called (in English, Sanskrit, of Japanese for that matter) or if they even exist at all in the traditional yoga texts. Does that detract from my experience of yoga or the meditative bliss and dissolution I am sometimes blessed enough to experience during the yoga and afterwards? Not in the slightest! 😉 Go figure…