Yoga is Changing

TABLE OF CONTENTS

A. Yoga Changing is AWESOME

  1. Women can do yoga
  2. There is a style of yoga for everyone
  3. Yoga can be integrated into a householder’s lifestyle
  4. We are learning how to integrate science and yoga
  5. Yoga loses some of its elitism
  6. Ideas of yoga are becoming secularized
  7. Less of that pesky “black magic” business

B. Yoga Changing is NOT new

  1. Yoga was changing as early as Gorakshanath
  2. Each individual puts their own spin on things, even saints, whom I don’t believe in, anyway
  3. What we recognize as yoga is a 20th century invention.

YOGA IS CHANGING

 A.  That is awesome.

1. Women can do yoga.

Oh, hai, I might be a little biased, but this seems to be a prettttty important reason why yoga changing is awesome.

While there is some evidence that women had equal status in ancient India, around 500BC things started to look bad for equal rights in India, and in the world in general as the Dark Ages later swathed the world in…well, metaphorical darkness.

Wifey was definitely not studying yoga. She was more likely trying to avoid being a child bride, or being burned alive on her husband’s funeral pyre, or concealing her body from men’s view (with some awesome exceptions, of course.) Philosophical studies? Not so much. Hell, bride-burning was only outlawed in 1829!

Best. Change. Ever.

2. There is a style of yoga for everyone.

There is a thing called Christoga now. I’m not entirely sure how to say that word, but right on, Christoga! I love new kinds of yoga. The more styles, or sub-sets, or whatevers of yoga, the more chances folks have to find a yoga for them.

  • Vinyasa too vigorous? Try restorative yoga!
  • Iyengar too slow-moving? Try Baptiste!
  • Too hot in Barkan? Try Prana-Flow!

Folks who never would have found their way to a mindfulness practice now have accessible doors in which to walk.

Everyone is welcome in yoga, and better yet- we can find a place for you where you feel most comfortable.

3. Yoga can be integrated into a householder’s lifestyle.

A householder is a layperson, or non-monastic. Someone who has staked a claim living among the regular folks, getting involved in the marketplace, getting married and having kiddos.

Yeah…I’d say “non-monastic” is a pretty apt way to describe me.

But I can still integrate yoga into my life! This crazy modern world has its pitfalls, but information transfer isn’t one of them. I can read about yoga, I can be involved in mini-communities with other yogis, and I can take yoga classes.

Well, that’s just rad.

Far from having to travel across the world and finding a guru to learn about yoga, I have my choice of local studios. I’m so lucky!

4. We are learning how to integrate science and yoga

Did you read that study of how “6.3 million Americans use mind-body therapies based on a referral from their physicians” ? Yeah, dawg!

love modern medicine. I want to know that if something radical happens to my body, there is a good chance that the docs will know what it is, where it is, and how to fix it. I’ve already mentioned how modern medicine positively affects my day-to-day life.

But I am also in awe at the subtle or broad (but always lovely) changes that yoga brings to my life. Science and yoga are moving into a place where they not only peacefully co-exist, but pleasantly inform each other. My friend David is a radpants yoga teacher, but also holds a masters in exercise physiology. He knows the human body from a very scientific perspective. His teaching, far from dry and wrote, it is exciting and informed by both his study of yoga and his study of physiology.

5. Yoga loses some of its elitism

The more people study yoga, the less an elite few can lay claim to it as “theirs.” Honestly, my favorite people to teach yoga to are the folks brand new to it and hungry to learn, OR the emotionally raw feeling their worst and looking for help.

I don’t need (or want to join) a group of disciples who study harder and learn better than everyone else; who get it right all the time and are perfect yoginis.

Yoga has an amazing way of helping people transform their lives, not into monks, but into better versions of themselves. And that is an experience to wish on as many imperfect people as possible. (Like me )

6. Ideas of yoga are becoming secularized

Yoga is often summarized as being part of the Vedic traditions and Hinduism. But it is also intimately linked to Buddhism, Jainism, Tantra, and Sikhism. So I prefer to not marry yoga off to one religious tradition. She’s a gal about town, ya know!

(Oh jeez…did I just imply yoga is promiscuous? I’ll never get away with that.)

In our modern lives, as we live in communities of many religions and no religions, so as thoughtful folks, we learn to tread in a common area of respect towards all people.

Yoga has found its way into this space, as well. Less than “stripping” religion out of yoga, turning the volume up on other areas of the practice (like self-study, non-violence, and meditation–and asana, of course!) open the door for folks of all or no religious beliefs to explore yoga. PLUS it also lets yoga and its practices to enter into secular arenas like the workplace, schools, and counseling. More places = more better!

7. Less of that pesky “black magic” business

“The REAL yoga, ancient and obscure, was nothing like the feel-good hippie stretching of today. It was more like black magic: transforming one’s semen into magical nectar, flying around and taking over other peoples’ bodies, and the like.”         -Nicolas Rosen

Yeeeeeee-aaaaaaaaaah. Haven’t done those tricks lately.

Patanjali’s sutras are also full of obtuse lessons in invisibility, shape-shifting, and becoming infinitely large.

Honestly, whether or not I believe that stuff is possible with a hearty yoga practice, I’m just not interested.

I wanna be a good person, hang out with ma dogs, be nice to my physical body, and do some feel-good hippy stretching, ya know?

If that’s not REAL yoga, man, I’m SO OKAY with that.

B. Yoga Changing is Not New

1. Yoga was changing as early as Gorakshanath

Wait. Whatwiththehoo-wuh? The story goes that Adi Nath, an embodiment of Shiva, taught yoga to his disciple Matsyendranath (who was born a fish).

We don’t really know what Shiva taught Matsyendranath. Matsyendranath called it “Hatha Yoga” and taught his students, and one of ’em, Gorakshanath, created “Laya Yoga.”

The first two yoga innovators/teachers/bastardizers were also two of the first yogis.

Even as close to the source of Shiva, a God (if you’re into that sort of story) those guys still felt like they individually had something to offer, something new to teach their students.

2. Each individual puts their own spin on things, even saints, whom I don’t believe in, anyway

The only way to even ATTEMPT to keep yoga from changing is to make each class exactly the same, like Ashtanga or Bikram…and having taken plenty of Ashtanga classes and a few Bikram classes, even a script, even a solid structure, can’t keep an individual teacher’s style from shining through.

We can’t help it.

We are the first time these molecules have ever come together in this way, human or saint or mushroom. Even if every yogi ever was still dedicated to keeping yoga pure, unchanged, a mystical secret passed down through the ages, we still couldn’t help but putting our own mark on it; translating it through our own experience.

Look at all the individuals on this chart I made. This is just a a fraction of all the people who have studied yoga, and every one of them (shown or not) has changed yoga before he/she passed it on.

That is a lot of refracting and shifting and re-imagining, and it happens between every single teacher and every single student.

Anecdote time: David Swenson told us in a workshop last year that when he first started learning the Ashtanga Primary series with Pattabhi Jois, there was no triangle or revolved triangle.

There WAS however, triangle and revolved triangle in IYENGAR’S classes. Suddenly triangle and revolved triangle appeared in the Ashtanga Primary series, as well, and Jois insisted that it had been there all along, and that Mr. Swenson was the one who hadn’t learned the sequence properly. 😉

Mr. Swenson told this as an endearing tale of his teacher (who by all accounts was a pretty swell guy) and I don’t tell this story to frame Mr. Jois as anything but.

I just tell it to say that even revered teachers of our time were changing things in yoga, not standing as guards against it.

3. What we recognize as yoga is a 20th century invention.

“In a rare interview, BKS Iyengar, the 90-year old ambassador of yoga to the West, told me that his yoga, as taught to him by his master, was a purely physical exercise and completely unrelated to ancient philosophy. He says he invented and refined much of it himself. It wasn’t until 1960, while on a visit to London, that English intellectuals introduced Iyengar to the ancient ‘yoga sutras.’ Five years later, he combined the yoga poses and the Hindu teachings together in his book Light on Yoga, which then sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the United States.”                           -Nicolas Rosen

Gorgeously said, Nic. Patanjali’s Sutras, pretty much the bastion of our modern yoga ethics, ONLY CONTAINS ONLY ONE POSE. A comfortable seat. If we were all Patanjali Yogis, we would only practice ONE POSE.

But we don’t.

We practice the poses later taught in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and MUCH later in Mr. Iyengar’s 1966 “Light on Yoga.” Why? Because they are great poses! Not because they are ancient or magical or inherently contain yogic knowledge.

Because change has been an integral part of yoga from the beginning and adaptations to yoga can make it better.

Okay, one more from Nicolas to wrap things up:

“It gives the lie to the notion that one yoga is more “authentic” than another, or that we in the west have somehow bastardized yoga into a profane exercise craze. It was already a crazy 20th century hybrid of calisthenics and khirtan when it got here.”

CONCLUSION

So yoga is changing. It is nothing new, nor nothing bad. I can’t even pinpoint a time when yoga WASN’T changing, even as passed down from saint to saint.

So find a yoga that you like, and don’t worry if it’s the RIGHT yoga. If you believe that Kundalini will bring you enlightenment, go for it. If you like that feeling you get doing camel in the Baptiste Journey into Power series, do that. If you like the gallons you sweat in Bikram, do that.

There is no better reason to do yoga than that secret personal reason: you like it.

Now go forth and change yoga, precious fawns.

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8 thoughts on “Yoga is Changing

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this Alison. Your writing speaks to how I was taught and also how everyone’s approach to yoga is very personal. Yoga, in my opinion, is about looking inward and connecting with yourself on a level not normally visited in daily life. Yoga meets you where you are in life and the physical changes experienced in Yoga have an equal impact on the emotional mind.This, to me, is the driving reason to practice and enjoy Yoga daily. Getting “fit” is simply frosting on the cake. While I truly have the utmost respect and love for the people who accessed and honed this practice and, in turn, decided to share it with us, Yoga doesn’t need to be bound to a particular set of hard and fast rules that restrict the above mentioned beauty of the practice in the name of authenticity. While I study and teach Vedic history extensively, and have immense respect for the beauty and spiritual depth of this history, it matters not to me whether what I practice daily in Yoga has some mystical attachment to it. All I know is that I feel a mystical and spiritual attachment and, when I practice my version of Hatha yoga authentically, it is a blissful experience that takes me into the rest of my life with grace and joy. This daily “upgrading” of myself has the amazing impact of also upgrading others around me and that dominoes into our world in immense ways. This is completely independent of the version of yoga I choose to do or whether this form of yoga was truly practiced in India 5000 years ago… Namaste _/\_

  2. I’ve heard you touch on these points here and there over the last year or so, but it is really amazing and thought-provoking to see it all laid out at once (or twice). Thanks for sharing it with us.

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