The following, and all the articles in this blog, represent my opinion. Where possible I’ve tried to back up what I’m saying with research, when I can find it. I’ve tried to find sources which aren’t just other people’s opinions off the internet, although sometimes I’ve had to rely on crowd-sourced opinion, Wikipedia. That doesn’t mean that I think what I’m writing is absolute truth or scientifically proven, but I hope that will be obvious.
It’s just a coincidence that I’m writing this now. Now of all times that the world is being thrown about on the waves of a pandemic. I’m not cashing in on end of the world anxiety, I’ve had it for as long as I can remember.
Now there’s yoga for everything. Every body part, mental state, situation and lifestyle accessory has a yoga. It’s amazing how a system as complex and fundamentally transformative as yoga can be boiled down to that one word and then pasted onto pretty much anything.
It would be easy to say that its overuse has devalued it. You could even take the approach that some academics have, that yoga is now two words with exactly the same pronunciation but different meanings, and the widespread mat-based practices of Modern Yoga are part of the second meaning that branched off and has now become rampantly overgrown. But this is all only pseudo-academic, and only very occasionally.
And that kind of thinking gets into the dangerous territory of declaring that what you practice is Real Yoga and everything else is inauthentic at best. At worst an exercise in ego-bolstering vanity.
What someone gets out of practising “inauthentic yoga” is as valuable to them as someone who has seen right through to the base layer of Reality from doing their Real Yoga™ practice. Maybe. Or maybe not. But what’s the point in giving them a hard time about it.
There’s enough division in the world already.
“And don’t you know, yoga means union?” said every yoga teacher everywhere when someone did something they didn’t want them to do just then. That’s a part of its meaning, but yoga’s had a lot of meanings associated with it in its lifetime, and it’s highly likely to have some more.
And right now yoga’s everywhere. It’s all over the internet. The supply is high, but the demand seems to be higher. More studios want to open, more videos are uploaded to YouTube every second, more streaming platforms are established and endless content is available live or on-demand from the cloud.
Why can’t people get enough of yoga?
Is it just a fashion? Will it be like boxercise or step aerobics, just another phase that the fitness industry goes through? A stepping stone somewhere near to HIIT and spinning that leads to a greater fitness future? A cog in the mind-body health machine that we’re attempting to construct to allow us to live forever?
Perhaps. Many, even in the yoga industry itself, can see that some of the practices gathered under the yoga umbrella are problematic, and thankfully the world at large has risen up against the abuse of the power structures that large parts of the industry is built on. I’m using the word “industry” deliberately as a trigger. So maybe the yoga practice as part of your daily routine will be replaced by something new.
Perhaps it will be here to stay. It can certainly do amazing things. Has our modern understanding of all the different interlocking parts of yoga increased so significantly that we have a greater fundamental understanding of how powerful it can be?
How well do we actually understand it? And would it be possible to understand it even better than we currently do and use that knowledge to the benefit of everybody?
It would be nice to think so. And I hope to cover some of that in this blog.
But yoga’s a big subject, and few people begin to even approach looking at a small corner of it. They’re content to do their sun salutes and get their sweat on, or plug themselves into their meditation app, and that’s it. It’s this kind of lack of seeking that leads those on the route from sadhaka to siddha to label other people’s practices as inauthentic. That’s not Real Yoga they mutter into their oat milk chai latte.
“But yoga”, the bright spark of the new generation insists, “is an experience. You get the benefit from doing it. Don’t think so much. Just experience it.”
But it depends a lot on what you’re experiencing. It requires that you continually try to identify why you’re doing what you’re doing. And it means trying to understand who or what is doing the experiencing.
That’s the big question.
It’s even bigger than the question you have to ask yourself eventually: What is yoga?
If you know what it is – or if you have an answer to the question that you’re happy with – it can help you understand how yoga fits into the modern world. For such a large industry, with such a large footprint, it’s currently quite hard to pin down. It seems to straddle several different disciplines and not be at home in any of them. It’s also remarkably unregulated. That’s not intrinsically a bad thing.
And it is an industry, regardless of whether you feel it should be or not. It has been chewed up by the machine of capitalism and is being spat out in content-sized chunks for a referral fee.
The world needs yoga. Nowadays everyone’s quick to say that the world needs it more than ever.
But the world’s always needed yoga as much as it does now. Maybe if we’d had more of it earlier on, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now.
More and more now there’s a sense that we’re running out of time. That our civilisation is dependent on finite resources that we’ve been throwing thoughtlessly into landfill, that things can change rapidly and without much warning. That the weave of the underlying fabric which holds us all together, that makes everything seem normal, can be easily pulled apart. And that when that happens, everything starts unravelling much faster than you thought possible.
Maybe some of the stitching needs to come loose, maybe “normal” wasn’t really working so well for us and we need to find out what’s underneath to work out what really matters.
Yoga can help with that. That’s what yoga does, on an individual level, with the self, with the stuff that makes you you. And the world is just full of billions of yous in all your various and wonderful forms.
Yoga is for everyone, yoga is for the whole world, even if it’s the end of the world.