Often I will see another teacher touting a “yoga” class without all the Sanskrit or spiritual mumbo-jumbo. It seems appealing to the post-modern western culture. People want to sweat, get a great body, do neat balancing tricks and feel good about themselves that they are doing something deep and meaningful for an hour of their day. And in some ways, I support this movement. Enough so, that I want them to take it the rest of the way. The word Yoga is Sanskrit and with deep spiritual meaning. So remove all of the Sanskrit, and spiritual mumbo-jumbo and call it something else.
Yoga is not exactly ours to manipulate. It is a gift from the east. From people that have saved it from the ashes of anglo-imperialist colonialism. Yoga was considered dirty and lowly by much of the English power structure and they wanted it removed from the landscape, in hopes of bringing a more civilized, European, Christian-like essence to the Indian culture. Those who knew the value of Yoga, the ancient mother of all spiritual essence, needed to remain alive and find a way to let the western world see the value of her majesty. It was during the physical health movements of the 19th century that they saw a way in. To align the asana poses with western body movement classes, and give them the smallest taste of these purest forms of practice with some easy chants, or simple readings from codices such as the Sutras of Patanjali; in hopes it would make them hungry for more. A kind of westernized dessert-first tasting thinking that many would want to come and enjoy the whole meal. What seems to have happened instead, as is wont to do by the west, is that we took it, added our own ideas and structures around these small pieces and called it our own. A kind of inverse colonization. Which also lead to greedy unscrupulous false gurus to see a place to engage with this unsuspecting new audience.
Secondly, Yoga is sacred. Literally sacred. It mothered the faith of over a billion people. Yoga is not from Hinduism or Jainism, but rather, Yoga is the force that caused mankind to engage in these practices. It is the deepest connection that humankind has to the unknown, and according to its own ancient teachings, the place where all spirituality and religion was born. To flippantly remove parts of it and add our own ideas to make it more appealing, as if we are smarter than the thousands of years of wisdom that the sages have built upon in that land far away, is pure hubris – a charge of the ego. We treat other people’s deepest faith and iconography as playthings for our enjoyment and commodification.
This is what happens when you water down something to make it more palatable. There is always the hope that it will attract more people, but in fact, we could see that more people are only attracted to the saccharine copy of itself. Are any more truly deep divers being made by serving up a candy coated copy, are more coming to the table for actual nourishment? Most likely not. The minuscule amount of practitioners that actually dive deeper are relatively small and sadly they often become teachers of this copied simulacra as the law of diminishing returns continues. Those that want to dive deeper, would most likely do so in larger number, if a true and deeper version could be found.
What is often taught today is such a small part of Yoga that often the actual practice of Yoga is nearly non-existent. Asana only conditions the body to start the actual practice. It is to make the lungs strong enough for pranayam, the vessel core enough for a steady and comfortable sitting of rounds and rounds of jappa. Yoga ultimately leads to the states of Samadhi. Though most are stuck on one or two rungs of the ladder repeatedly, never even knowing there is a higher space to climb to, too full from filling their bellies with dessert to climb.
If asana class is all that a student can handle in this lifetime, a small bit of Yoga in the form of Asana, (less than 1/10th of the full practice of Yoga) then that is fine; It is a journey. However, as teachers, we should know better, and have more to offer. We should be presenting a full buffet and let those who only want to have dessert choose to push the other plates away. Let them diminish the meal. It is our responsibility to create more learned teachers of the fullness of Yoga and all it has to offer. How can we teach others to create a meal, when we don’t have all of the recipes ourselves?
Give people a real experience, as full and complete as your capacity to understand is capable. There is honor in that. Otherwise take them through Pilates or Russian calisthenics and gymnastics, since that is all they are really going to learn anyway.
Yogi - Devotee