Ira Israel made some good points in his recent Huffington Post article The Future of Yoga in America, where he outlined yoga’s meteoric rise from its Indian roots to the Western world’s current dogmatic fixation with this ancient science. Mr. Israel has a dour view of yoga’s future in America. I’m not sure I agree entirely.
The Westernization, or more pointedly, the Americanization of yoga has arguably stripped it of its spiritual roots and landed it firmly in the secular world of health and fitness. Never fear, though; this ancient discipline extends itself equally well to seekers of the mere mundane — such as a healthy body and a relaxed mind.
As a result of the surging popularity of this traditional Eastern practice, yoga teachers abound in the Western world — more of them being pumped out with each successive yoga training and every new studio that pops up. It can be challenging to verify the integrity and skill level of teachers before you take their class. Some have been teaching — and practicing — for a very short period of time compared to the gurus of old. It can be hurtful or even harmful to practice yoga (or any fitness regime) without the guidance of a fully trained instructor. A group class where your specific needs or constraints are not considered can be counter-productive.
Traditionalists might very well worry that yoga is going down an unsavory path in the West. On the other hand, it’s hard to complain when a practice based in goodness and well being is being spread all over the world. The intentions behind yoga practice are rooted in the Yamas and Niyamas — the traditional ethics and behavior codes that Patanjali first transcribed in his Yoga Sutras. Whether or not each and every teacher can, or even should, uphold these intentions is another question entirely.
Traditionally, turning oneself over to a guru was the only true way to pursue the yogic path of enlightenment. In a student/guru relationship, the student was expected to listen unequivocally to every word the guru said. The student threw himself into his yoga practice as an entire lifestyle, with devotion.
But these days it’s rare to find a yogi that has had a “guru,” and indeed it seems more important to approach any student/teacher relationship with a degree of skepticism and pragmatism. With so many different styles of yoga having erupted from just a few traditional lineages, it’s equally important that students find a style that works for them. A critical eye on choosing a teacher is paramount these days. And while I agree with Ira Israel that there is a lot of bad mixed in with the good, a little bit of scrupulous critical thinking goes a long way in one’s yoga practice.
ABOUT ANURAG LOHIA:
Anurag Lohia is the founder and principle of Divine Wellness, a web site offering live interactive and personalized one-on-one yoga classes and wellness consultations with real teachers via webcam. He is based in New Delhi, India and is a lifetime advocate of yoga from a traditional Indian perspective.
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