This article addresses 3 categories of ‘yoga users’ and asks a fundamental question for each to consider. I don't want to offend with use of categorizations, however, sorting things out can help shed light on a matter and help reality come into focus.
I wonder, has yoga changed so much since the historical days of the Mahabharata where we learn of kings, queens, warriors and householders who applied yoga to their life (and after life) endeavors?
Or, is yoga really fodder for a business model to be applied to it?
Daily, ads pop up on my FB newsfeed encouraging me to “Use these tips to make your yoga business BOOM!”? Simply because I have the word yoga in my name, the cultural expectation is for me to take it into business.
Is this ok with us?
Should we continue to accept and encourage the redefining of yoga as it has been so thoroughly in the west and to some extent even in the east?
Yoga is generally treated like a second hand spiritual practice. It is meme’d on, made light of, made fun of and presented by Instagram celebs as the ultimate, sexy, trendy lifestyle of happiness and positivity.
I remember enduring the supermodel Christy Turlington on Oprah, slinging her line of ‘yoga’ clothes while I struggled with the Sutras, naively waiting during the program for Oprah to bring something up of relevance to the scriptural context of Yoga.
I stomached, and maybe you did too, Madonna’s yoga phase in which she used contortionism to bring attention to herself and her new movie– while I made trip after trip to book stores in search of the best translation of the Bhagavad Gita and doing side by side comparisons.
I fought off a rising heart rate when, time after time, some city dwelling entrepreneur/yoga celebrity wannabe made a big dollar deal on the back of this ancient mystic practice of spiritual transmigration, launching yet another charlatan into superstardom.
What is Yoga?
One of the biggest problems I observe is that yoga is deceptively marketed as non-religious, when it is actually very religious, the most religious, albeit of the isolationist sort, but religious, by definition, nonetheless. Yoga’s objectives are 100% spiritually inclined and Deity oriented yet it isn’t protected with reverence or respect the way other religions are, is it?
Have you ever seen Christianity marketed for arthritis?
How about Judaism for diabetes?
Or Hinduism for stress relief?
The fight for yoga to be used in public schools demonstrates the lack of knowledge society has for this to even be a question. Pick up one traditional yoga scripture and discover that the God(s) is there from beginning to end and the whole point of taking on yoga is ultimate togetherness with God. Wrong or right, this requires it fall under our civic principle of separation of church and state.
In its completeness yoga contains within in it an exercise expectation for physical and subtle body purification purposes. These exercises are traditionally done privately, relatively quietly, alone, outside and with supreme focus and devotion.
Yet here we are today. Americans, especially females, took to the aesthetic beauty of the postures and the exploitation we witness today began and continues to gather momentum. Many celebrity teachers are perfect examples of the wild exploitation of yoga asana as a means toward epidemic exhibitionism.
Sorting It Out
As I said before, it may not be popular to put things in categories but I find it useful considering the current situation at hand. Application of yoga, meaning restraint or detachment, helps us clear our minds, systematize our lives, de-emotionalize and break things down so that we have a fighting chance at seeing the forest through the trees.
To do this we have to pull some things apart to get a better look.
Things like: Who are the main groups in the world using what they call yoga and what are they using it for?
The Three Groups
The first group is Mainstream yoga, the biggest group. Presented by yoga celebrities, business owners, conference organizers, festival gatherers, studio owners and yoga teachers attempting to make a living off teaching 'yoga'. In simple economic terms they are the money changers of the yoga-business world. They vie for opportunity to make deals with even bigger money changers. This group includes anyone who applies a business model to yoga. They almost always tell a story of trauma, depression or injury that led them to practice the stretching and relaxing techniques they call yoga. This group includes mainstream uninformed yoga students who are the fuel ($) behind the phenomenon.
The full commercialization of Yoga has been brought to fruition by savvy capitalist minds from this group. Consumer driven yoga culture is currently headed up by self-proclaimed peace seeking business moguls calling themselves yogi’s while projecting an innocent wish to bring the ‘message’ of yoga to the masses. Ambassadors, they think of themselves, links between the old and the new yoga.
Through objective observation it does appear that the mainstream message is 99 % focused on physical fitness and trendy lifestyle. They use contortionism and attractive bodies captivating the public to aspire to be (buy) something more. We find that yoga is professionally, convincingly sold by big name, very popular business adventurists who drop just enough Sanskrit and just enough philosophy to convince uniformed others that their message is actually yoga.
An example. One big name currently making waves due to questionable alliances and business practices is a person called Kino MacGregor, a teacher who behaves in ways forbidden by the guru she claims devotion. Embroiled with other money changers in an ugly battle over ethics, money, contracts, lawsuits, Kino captivates her devotees with her gymnastic poses she more than generously shares everywhere. To hear anything she might say regarding a relevant text like the Yoga Sutras, beyond verse one, you will pay a monthly subscription to her membership organization which capitalizes on all things sacred.
2. The second group of yoga users is yogically interested Indians.
Indians who possess at least some affection for yoga are understandably upset by the disturbing explosion of misinformation surrounding this sacred application - an application that, in their history, has been regarded as the most supreme of spiritual practices.
Yoga was given by the Gods and sages to the ancestors of modern Indians and it is in their preserved ancient texts that we find out what yoga is.
However, we have to remember that it was Indians themselves who brought the message of yoga to the shores of the west. We are familiar with names like Yogananda, Vivekananda and Vishnu-devananda. Each had their own sects to represent and essentially sold yoga in some modified format to the American public. A format palatable to the western attitude and one which often stretched or warped the truth of yoga's most important goals and practices. Big money was and still is involved.
I was told numerous times while receiving training at the Sivananda Yoga Academy that yogic Hindu’s built ashrams in America because souls from the east were reincarnating in the west and needed their yoga! In practice though, I haven't experienced this to be the actual mindset.
Since I was born into a white body in the west, some, especially caste conscious Indians possessive of or protective of information, may see me as an impostor, an appropriator, a 'self-declared' yogini - rather than in the light of reincarnation, evolution and self-development.
The Indian factor in yoga is a most complex subject due to the caste structure limitations and varying levels of belief in and understanding of reincarnation. I've personally had Indian yoga students (every single one a doctor) show up to class who were the most humble and gracious students ever, openly admitting to knowing literally nothing about yoga. I've been invited into the home of a student, an Indian single father, to speak to his sons on yoga because he knew nothing to tell them about it - but wanted them to hear of their ancestor’s ancient past and the glories of the yoga.
3. The third group of yoga users are genuine devotees of the true practice of yoga and its promise of transmigration to the spiritual world to be with God, Ishwara.
This group are souls who are yoga dependents. If yoga were considered a deity, they would be devotees.
They are the only group that, in my opinion, should even consider teaching.
They are driven for yoga for more than injury recovery, healthcare, relaxation or a hobby after a dance career. These are the souls who pursue the yoga and to who’s mind a business deal would never even cross.
These students have their nose in the books:
· The Bhagavad Gita · The Yoga Sutras · The Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
Their little cannon of holy books.
Their curiosity regarding the depth of these psychological wonders is nearly insatiable.
Their lives revolve around them just the way a good Christian can always refer to a verse in the bible during any life circumstance.
Three Questions, One for Each Group
The question for the first group, Mainstreamers, is this:
- If you stop making a business of yoga, even stop teaching yoga as you traditionally do, what would happen to your own studies and practice if you were on your own with no devotees, no special attention, no pics, no Instagram, no recognition? If you could tell no one you do yoga for the rest of your life would you still do it?
The question for the second group (Indians) is:
- What do you really believe (or know) about reincarnation? If you really believe that souls reincarnate (and we find ample evidence of this in Vedic texts) then why is race and geography playing such a role in the upset over Yoga in the west?
Do you really believe that I could be a yogini who has incarnated into bodies of other races in other parts of the world only to end up in the body I use to write this article today? (Depending on how Indians answer this determines how our cultures can proceed forth productively. If Indians see westerns as their own ancestors, ancestors in need of deep spiritual options just as they are, than I think hand and hand, this could be a potentially easy fix. But knowledge of reincarnation is imperative.)
The question for the third group (Devotees) is:
- What’s your role in this, if any? You are lucky if you have no part to play in this and unlike myself, have no words compelled to come out of your mouth about it. So if you ask yourself this question and find no energy within your psyche to participate in being critical toward it, count yourself as lucky.
In Conclusion, Some Recommendations:
If you are making a business on yoga maybe shut it down. There is really good reason to this for yourself and others. Take the business out of Yoga and apply the Yoga to the business of your life.
Whether you are a nurse, a farmer, an engineer, hairdresser, banker, cop, whatever your skill, yoga is meant to be applied to it.
Application of Yoga is a full time job
If you apply yoga to your life you might find it takes up a lot of your focus. It takes effort and sacrifice. Its demands on adherence to lifestyle regulation consumes a lot of your energy…and for the true devotee, this is a welcome condition.
I think it's time to tame the beast that has become this misapplication of the ultimate application.
I suggest a boycott of consumerist yoga.
And no more using the word out of context.
Demand that your teacher know things, relevant things, advanced things.
Ask questions in class.
No more adoration of the Emperor who wore no clothes.
Let us, this generation of yoga practitioners, care enough about the future of yoga to bring this exploitation to an end.