Our world has never seen as much Yoga as it does today. Whether you’re a teacher or a student (or even both), you’ll see the word Yoga almost everywhere you go. Just a few decades ago you’d have had to search high and wide for any sort of Yoga, or even to hear the word uttered. And a few decades before that, you might have lived your whole life in Western society without even hearing the word at all.
The fact that almost everyone nowadays has heard the word Yoga, and most people have some idea of what it means, is pretty incredible. For a once-obscure Indian approach to spirituality that almost died out, it’s doing pretty well. It’s almost impossible to walk a few city blocks in Melbourne without finding a new Yoga studio, and in-between those are many gyms and other places offering occasional classes.
Yet with all the wondrous styles and variations in Yoga, did you ever wonder whether all of it is real? When Yoga styles vary from the fast and the furious to the downright immobile, can they really represent the same thing?
Ostrich Yoga vs. Parachute Yoga
Every week we seem to hear of a new Yoga fad, from Horse or Duck or Goat Yoga, to Hot Yoga, Beer Yoga and <insert adjective of your choice> Yoga. We have styles and traditions like Bikram, Ashtanga and Iyengar, and descriptions like Slow Yoga and Aerial Yoga to contend with. Is there anybody doing just Yoga any more?
Whatever the style, people also seem to love to portray Yoga as being an extreme activity of body-morphing contortions and physical extremes. So the body-beautiful teachers on most Yoga magazines show physical perfection, and advertising backs that up with serene images selling you the latest Yoga clothes and accessories. The internet has been an amazing tool in spreading genuine information about Yoga and giving us access to its practices across the globe. And yet at the same time, selective publishing can make it seem like an elitist activity only undertaken by the body beautiful (by someone’s limited perspective).
Of course it’s difficult in the Yoga industry to show anything else, as the advertising that helps people buy in to your particular approach isn’t the one that tells you how difficult it is, or that it’s sometimes just okay to rest. Thankfully, a kickback on the Yoga scene a few years ago has led to more focus on Yoga for relaxation, with the whole Yin and Restorative movement gathering equal steam, and the balance is restored.
Sex, Yoga and Rock ’N’ Roll
And just when you thought it was safe to go back and rest in the Yoga studio, along came a round of sex scandals and tales of financial and physical manipulation by (usually male) teachers. Cast down from their lofty heights, it seems that most such offenders only need to bide their time for a few years (often still surrounded by those who most bought into their Yoga cult of personality). The teachers are reborn (and re-marketed no doubt) afresh, and the faithful flock back to the fold.
Has the era of instant gratification really led to the end of any true path of Yoga? Have we gone too far in commercialisation and pandering to the market forces? Does anyone really care any more?
What Goes Around…
Thing is, this isn’t really anything new. Gaze back into the ghost of Yoga past and you’ll find pretty much the same old story being regurgitated through the ages. Fake yogis abound through history, with their dubious methods and intentions shown out through centuries of Indian tales. The yogi was often the bad guy in those stories, hiding a lust for personal gain in his perceived spiritual excellence. How much of that truly reflected ancient yogis and how much was persecution of people who chose a different life, we’ll never know. But if the downfall of modern yogis are anything to go by then the cautionary tales aren’t so far fetched.
If you look honestly at the history of Yoga, you’ll find plenty of scandal, and even a fair bit of poison and murder involved. So the problems with modern Yoga traditions aren’t really anything new. More importantly, the future of Yoga won’t be created by such people, or by those who are best at marketing or selling gimmicks to rebound Yoga as nothing more than exercise. The traditions based on gimmicks and sideshow tricks will soon lose favour, and the real, lifelong practitioners will carry Yoga forward to the next generation.
The Future Of Yoga
So what is the future of Yoga?
Is it Hot Yoga or Goat Yoga? Beer Yoga or Nude Yoga? If we dozed off into cryogenic sleep, would we wake up to find the world full go Laughter Yogis, or will they all be practising on their Stand Up Paddleboards?
There are two things for sure, and the first is that we don’t know what kind of Yoga will lead us forward. The best guess we can make is that it will be whatever kind of Yoga develops to meet the needs of the coming generations (as it always has). When Yoga doesn’t meet our needs, it will die out in favour of something that does.
The second is that it’s all up to you. All of it!
The future of Yoga won’t be defined by someone in a marketing lab with a host of silly ideas. Because their ideas can never be put into practice unless you allow them to, so the power lies with you. You decide what Yoga will become with the choices you make every day.
If you choose to favour the gimmicks over the authentic, powerful practices, that’s what Yoga will become. If you choose to knuckle down to the hard work of practice on the mat every day, that’s the future of Yoga right there. One breath after another, it’s you, the practitioner of Yoga that decides what Yoga will become. The living traditions of Yoga have never been set in stone, and only the actions of its practitioners have determined what is passed on to the next generation. So choose wisely, as you’re influencing the possibilities of the coming generations.
What kind of Yoga are you going to do today?
Words by Scott Rennie