These days the practice of yoga has reached cult status. More people in the west than ever before are taking to the yoga mat. This is a wonderful thing because science is showing us that yoga is beneficial in so many ways. Too many to mention in this blog.
Modern technology has made yoga so much more accessible to all of us. Information is abundant, we can do online yoga classes, courses, workshops, listen to podcasts, watch it on you tube, download apps onto our devices, hear about festivals, challenges, and all the rest.
People are making yoga their new career choice. Studios are churning out yoga teachers by the thousands. We can go to Bali for a “three week intensive” and come home a fully qualified yoga teacher. Yoga merchandising has come along for the ride. Props, mats, clothes, beads, workshops, retreats in exotic locations, books, music, incense, etc. etc. are big business.
Along with the surge in yoga teacher numbers, comes competition. Social media profiles are popping up everywhere and each teacher must promote themselves and what they do in order to make a living.
Yes, yoga has become commodified. While I don’t see this as being a completely negative occurrence, what I notice happening is this pop culture generated “image" that surrounds yoga…and it’s not all good.
While the promotion of yoga in general is a wonderful thing for the well being and happiness of the population at large, there is also an undercurrent of ego generated imagery that promotes yoga as a hierarchical enterprise based on physical prowess and images of the body beautiful rather than the unification of mind, body and spirit in the never ending quest for ultimate Self realisation…whatever that means for the individual.
For example, I haven’t seen many high profile teachers putting many pictures of themselves in Savasana (arguably the most difficult pose for many because it involves lying completely still for 10 minutes), or in an accessible-for-most-people posture to impress and lure would-be students and impress peers. I see lots of difficult circus-trick type poses that most people would be entertained by but not see themselves being able to achieve.
We mostly see slim yogis and their enviable poses on the world's beaches and mountainsides, not everyday people practising yoga in an accessible and realistic way.
If I had a bead for every “I’m not flexible/fit/thin/strong/peaceful/vegetarian/spiritual enough to do yoga”, I have heard in the last 12 months, I would have a mala (yoga joke). It is a commonly held belief that yoga is for the few…the flexible ones, the thin ones, the young ones, the hippies, vegetarian peace flower children or the devotees of some strange Hindu deity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yoga, real yoga, knows no boundaries. Yoga is for everyone. During my brief stay at the gurukula in India last year, people from all walks of life came to the shala everyday for their yoga practice; young, old, able bodied, not so able bodied. They all came to roll out the ragged cloth mat and practice and find inner peace. There were no shows of a gracefully executed Vrschikasana, Hanumanasana or Urdhva Dhanurasana, just a humble heartfelt practice of simple poses followed by pranayama and meditation. I’m not saying that the practice of the more difficult to execute poses isn’t heartfelt. On the contrary. The more difficult poses are usually the result of many years of devoted and sincere practice and are beautiful to behold. What I am saying is that these needn’t be the ultimate goal in order to reap the fruits of devoted practice.
There is a great movement that’s been going since 2014 called the “Yoga and Body Image Coalition (ybicoalition)”. Their aim is to change the stereotype of what a typical yogi looks like. They remind the world that yoga is for every body, and in doing so they're fueling a body-positive movement that encourages people, particularly women, to love themselves unconditionally, both inside and out. They say: "YOGA IS FOR... every age, every race & ethnicity, every class & socioeconomic status, every gender identity & sexual orientation, every size, shape, height, weight & dis/ability". And I would like to add…every religion and spiritual orientation…yoga does not discriminate. It is not for Hindus or Buddhists only, nor is it anti-Christian as some would have you believe. It accommodates all belief systems, even atheism.
With regards to the way yoga is promoted in the media, a reader of the ybicoalition website commented "This is what it takes to sell yoga nowadays, because of the internet you can buy enlightenment, the perfect body, and almost any darn thing you can think of.” Unhealthy ideas that can be found on the internet, promoted by well meaning well known yoga teachers who should know better include “How to get rid of love handles with yoga”, and "How Often Should I Do Yoga to Lose Weight?”. The message is reinforced yet again that if we are not thin, we are not healthy. I love the way Sarah Harry has blown this idea out of the water with her “Fat Yoga” revolution. This blog aims to counter any of the misleading messages that may have been inadvertently cast your way, and to help everyone to realise that yoga IS for them.
So how do you start? Just do a search of yoga classes in your local area, find a beginner’s class or course, and give it a go. If you don’t like it, try again. There are usually plenty to choose from unless you live on the moon or the Simpson Desert. Eventually you WILL find your yoga ”family”. XXX