By Kai Teo
Cover picture from blog.ae.com
Ever since white people were introduced to yoga in the 1890s, the practice has evolved drastically to include just about everything that’s not considered “original”.
Today, you can probably find Hot Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Acro Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Yin Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Christian Yoga, Beer Yoga, or even Techno Yoga classes in your city. Yoga is in the app store, in every gym, in every sports apparel store, and on every social network, including Tinder.
“I can’t believe what has happened to yoga. Everyone claims to be a yoga instructor, and everyone’s trying to be ultra spiritual. Heck, they haven’t even been to India.”
Sure, yoga is indeed different from what has been practiced by the yogis and ascetics in 500 b.c. – just like everything else. Christianity used to be really into the crusades, colonialisation was considered righteous, slavery was a popular hobby. But times have changed, and much has improved, whether we admit it or not.
Many cultural traditions have evolved to fit with our changing values and belief systems. Much of what was acceptable 50 years ago is today seen as shocking, or even an outright insult to humanity.
Change is inevitable. Because we are all creatures of evolution.
Yoga was first introduced to the Western world by Swami Vivikananda with the intention of spreading the benefits of yoga and meditation. He quoted from the Shiva Mahimna Stotram, “Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths that in the end lead to Me."
Since all creatures are a divine manifestation of the Universe, or God if you prefer that term, every path towards self betterment and service is a sacred path. Every true religion, in its purest of intentions, promotes love and unity, and they’re all talking about the same god, just catered to different cultures and time periods.
The thousands of forms of yoga today, then, is evidence of the widespread reach of the practice of meditation and focus. Just as every religion promises the same “salvation”, every form of yoga opens up a path to possible enlightenment.
Personally, I believe that it’s at least better to do fitness yoga than no yoga. It isn’t about the position, or the sanskrit name that you can’t even pronounce; what matters is that the student is performing some kind of movement that requires deep concentration and focus, thus clearing the mind of all clutter, unconsciously subjecting the mind to meditation.
Of course, there are traditional systems that have been passed down over the millenniums. These systems are still as valid as they were when they were first practiced. But to deny yoga’s evolution to the popular practice it is today is a needless holding back of its growth. If the Shaolin Temple today could combine technology and tradition to build a state-of-the-art “Flying Monks Theatre” wind tunnel amphitheatre, why couldn’t yogic guidance come from a $0.99 app?
Why did you start to do yoga? Did you see something on Facebook? Did you go to a fancy studio? Did you pay for your first class? Did your teacher study in India? Or did you try it in some studio in Goa?
Whatever your answers are, you started doing yoga. And that’s a good thing. And however yoga is reaching out today, what remains undeniable is that every practice presents its students an opportunity to pursue a life of spiritual development and service. I did my first yoga at a Psytrance festival when I was high on acid, but that too, has opened my eyes to its benefits and started me on a path of consciousness exploration and study.
Are you still thinking that your yoga is more original than my yoga? Isn’t that the same as saying that your spiritual path is more righteous than mine? Or a Catholic telling a Christian that they’re worshipping in the wrong way?
So when we look at how other people practice yoga and point out that they’re doing a watered-down, bastardised, form, do we look at ourselves and ask if we are, indeed, living our lives according to every yogic belief that we’ve learnt?
So someone comes to yoga class with a $600 pair of yoga tights. Sure, that’s lame. But do we reach out with love and say, “Hey, at least someone that buys $600 pants are starting to do yoga.” Or do we hide ourselves in self-righteousness and brush away a chance to change someone’s perspective?
Sure, yoga is a business. But at least someone’s making a living teaching yoga, inspiring others to begin their own spiritual journeys in some form or another. We pay for classes so that these teachers can continue dedicating themselves to teaching in the modern society. Sure, ancient teachers don’t accept payment but are instead served food and given shelter wherever they go. Would you do that for your yoga teacher today?
I guess the problem isn’t how yoga has changed, but how we haven’t allowed it to change us.
Instead of smartphones, designer clothing, or fancy cars, we feed our egos with our ease of performing headstands, our knowledge of the different sanskrit terms, and our constant “I’m better than you” way of insisting that we say Namaste when we meet others in the yoga class. We haven’t become better human beings, we’ve just adopted other shiny badges to embellish our insecurities with.
So your teacher studied in Rishikesh for 4 months and now she’s qualified just because she has a certificate from “Bhakti Shakti Sai Baba Yoga Institute (Official)”. Who’s to say that they’re teaching the “original” stuff? Just because it’s in India? Just because you don’t understand what the name means?
We’re all children of the same era. So let’s drop the pretentiousness and commit our energy to spreading love, understanding, inclusiveness, and respect instead. If someone’s doing yoga, try to help out. If you think you don’t agree with the practice, share what you know and have a discussion. Let’s be humble, try to learn from one another, and teach one another. Let’s use spirituality to unite, not to divide.
Because if we’ve ever once said “Namaste”, we should indeed be praising the divine in everyone.