I’m sorry my yoga offends you…….
There is a divide in the yoga community right now and I feel like I have one foot on either side of a great valley. The teachers, gurus, and practitioners who are seasoned and rooted in the traditional and classical styles of yoga stand on one side. The newbies to the yoga scene, with their fast paced vinyasa, fusions styles, intense heat, loud music, Instagram poses, and flashy lycra stand on the other side. I am somehow straddling the void with an understanding and appreciation of both perspectives and hope that this piece can act as an opportunity to bridge the gap.
I have recently been joking with some colleagues that I am the rock and roll of yoga, that there has been a shift in yoga culture brought on by a new generation of yogis to the scene. This shift is causing the classical yoga community to shake its head and cover its ears, and declare “that is not yoga!” It is not a far stretch of our imagination or memory to compare this scenario to arrival of rock and roll in the 1950s, the divide that was created and the defensiveness of the previous generation over what they believed the only definition of real music was. It was music, just different music, that was connecting with a new generation that needed a different way to connect with and express what it was like to live in their world.
Yoga like music is evolving, and western culture is doing what it does best to anything popular by capitalizing, glamorizing, sexualizing and Hollywoodizing this ancient tradition.
I understand the uproar, because I know the beauty, art, science, tradition and mystery that makes the holistic practice of yoga so incredible. I understand the path that is so clearly laid out that does lead to evolvement of the self, harmonizing of the individual and collective, and the ability to live more rooted in that which is real. I am starting to step deeper into my own practice and understanding of all the limbs of this practice, though like many I started only intrigued by the physical. I too cringe a bit when I see images or new versions of asana practice, and the money making slant many are using. I have deep respect for the elders, the holders of wisdom and tradition and seek to learn from them as I become more and more ready for what they have to share. I have one foot deeply rooted with this side.
I understand and am part of the new generation of yogis who are living in a reality that is virtual, imaginary, and not at all rooted in the physical world. The reason yoga that is so physical, intense, difficult or hot catches there attention is simple, it reminds them what it is to feel. On the most basic level to create a sensation in the body and in the moment that immediately grounds them. It is like a gasp of air when you held it for too long. This reconnection with the physical is so foreign, yet so familiar, it sparks a moment of presence that becomes a seed. Using asana to recreate that moment is what catches the attention of this generation, and holding attention is no small task. Never before has the human mind been so tugged at, so over stimulated. Yoga gives us a taste of what it feels like to again be a real human. A seed is planted in the root chakra and then grows, because that is how yoga works.
One of my first teachers, Arlene Bjork, always reminded me not to concern myself with why people came to practice. The reasons/motivations could be a million different things and none would end up dictating what that person actually ended up receiving from that practice. Just know the more they come the deeper that seed will take root, the more it will be nourished, the more it will grow. We can all take something from this, to be reminded that each person’s path is their own. We can encourage people to come to the path and encourage them to continue, but where that path goes, what it looks like and where it ultimately leads is none of our business.
That being said, I do want to encourage more people getting on this path and perhaps that means opening our perspectives on how this looks for all of us. Perhaps we can see it all as a progression that will lead us in different ways to the same place. Maybe this new generation needs the flashy, hot, and loud practice of asana to catch their attention in the beginning. But if you watch them beyond that you will see an evolution within them. Their interest will spread over time to mantra, mudra, chanting, mythology, spirituality, meditation, and more sincere human connection. I witness this all the time, but it happens over time. We need to see the bigger picture, the potential that exists within this illusionary “problem” with modern yoga. We have the potential of millions of humans becoming interested in their individual and collective evolvement. They may not end up on the list of the enlightened, but they may end up achieving human adulthood (thank you Jed Mckenna). To have a world filled with people who have learned to live in a way with more consideration will be of great benefit to the planet and all the beings who call it home.
My request to the elders: I respect what you stand for and what you have preserved, what you practice and what you teach, and I hope to learn all you are willing to share. I ask that you take a moment to consider a new perspective, to open your arms to me, to us, and our rock and roll yoga. To teach us when we are ready, to allow our path to where you are to be different than yours was. To have faith that many of us will get there too. We will need you as teachers as guides to preserve the flame and carry the tradition, have patience and willingness to lead and not judge.
“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise, seek what they sought.” Basho