Would Darwin Still Call It Yoga?

It gets harder. With the incense, mirrors, attention-seekers, bells, music, microphones, stand-up paddle boards – modern yoga would share sympathy with the dog whose canted owner dresses it up in gaudy outfits for money.

Some students who knew the yoga of yore aren’t happy that these new asana sports claim the yoga name. They have a strong argument that it is a completely different animal, and at the very least, a new species that has swept the yoga world by storm.  For starters, it has a thousand faces, not a few. A modern consumerist who earned 10 billion dollars in the US last year, it defines, re-defines and trademarks what yoga currently is.

Pardon me if I come across as two centuries old, but IN MY DAY yoga was a quiet room, a series of asana and the occasional insightful adjustment. Yoga teachers spoke just enough to guide. They created a timeless space for students to witness the silent sway of consciousness and breath of the internal and eternal, while asanas were little more than a scene change.

I stand on awkward footing because of a single yoga phrase, one more off-putting than a third-eye bonding session, which is now in my crosshairs:

This is not real yoga.

I never thought I would write those words, but it must be asked: the stuff taught in gyms, yoga franchises, waterways, strip clubs, music festivals and some schools –  is that yoga?

It definitely looks like yoga, since these exciting workouts and my own practice appear similar in that we both muck around with asana. The difference of course is where the focus lies. With the loud music, strange fish bobbing below the SUP board, sexual chemistry with the girl in the see-through pants one mat over, or the teacher’s insatiable demand for attention, can students focus enough of their awareness on the subtle internal universe? Does time on the mat deepen their perspective of them in all of this? <flays arms wildly>

Do they even want that?

It is clear that the neo-yoga student and I are very different people. The heavy peppering of cliché words such as chakra and Namaste, the self-obsession with yogic accessories – and don’t get me started on their weird behavior <ba dum cha>.

Yoga has evolved, regressively, since the ancient Indian art and philosophy was franchised by a million entrepreneurs to mass acclaim. Its depth was lost when it was packaged, branded and diluted down to the most prosperous demographic. Despite this, the gifts that yoga offers have not entirely disappeared. Asana alone might calm students down a little, and offer them the gift of insight here and there. If they take but a fraction of what an hour of yoga can potentially give, students will feel something, if only because they paused long enough to breathe five breaths with each asana. In the blingiest yoga room, students will relax deeper than if they went to the gym, because Cold Play will play through the speakers instead of Iggy Azelia.

250 million people now practice yoga. Most of them will connect with themselves, a little, like a big mac offers nutrition, a little. For that reason alone, the world is a better place, as long as the old guard hangs around, to teach a few students slowly and thoroughly. The familiar flame of a quieter deeper yoga shall forever exist in some corner of Colorado, Mysore or Byron Bay. When the party dies down, and millions stampede toward air dancing or arbour chakra pounding or DNA lighting, those seeking to witness the more subtle fields of existence through yoga will search for a teacher and move heaven and earth to study under their guidance. This will never change.

It would be a practice of yoga to witness (this crazy trend) without attachment, would it not?

 

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