a question of semantics?

Carol Horton’s post on Tara Stiles’ book still has legs so I thought I would add my two rupees here as a post.

I’m a jazz freak and usually listen to what is considered “real jazz” (as a Sirius XM satellite radio station is entitled) as opposed to “lite jazz” (as a former Chicago radio station billed itself.) Although I learned the piano as a child, I am not a jazz musician so I don’t know what technically makes jazz “real jazz” or “lite jazz” — all I know is that they each sound very different to my ears. However, I also have a “lite jazz” station programmed in my car radio. They advertise themselves as “contemporary jazz.”

The other day when I was driving I thought how appropo for yoga nowadays. If a teacher teaches an asana-only class — i.e,. no pranayama, no meditation, no chanting, no proper instructions on bandhas, no mention of chakras, no discussion on texts or philosophy — call the class “contemporary yoga” and call it a day.  Don’t bother with any name branding, calling it vinyasa, or anything else.  Just “contemporary yoga.”

Or if it’s an asana-only class, why call it yoga at all? Physical therapists use movements derived from yoga all the time but they don’t call it “yoga.” It’s physical therapy and everybody knows that is what it is. Nothing else.

Just like Frank Jude said in his comment to Carol’s post, I have also taught in places other than yoga studios. I started out at my local park district in a gym. But even nine years ago when supposedly there were a lot less people doing yoga, I never felt the need to water down yoga.  Something brought people to my classes other than “slim sexy yoga” or “yoga for abs” when the number of asana-only “yoga” books did not exist as they do now. What brought them, what were they looking for?

I’ve also been told that more people are being brought to yoga now because of books like Tara Stiles’, allegedly a book for beginning students.  If that is the case (i.e., more people doing yoga), then why did I have 40 students in a class nine years ago (when supposedly there was less awareness about yoga) and am lucky now to have 10 in a public class? I’m not the only teacher in my area who has experienced this.

Something in this modern yoga equation does not compute.

As Frank Jude said, “It’s so EASY to teach mindfulness, compassionate action, non-judgmental awareness, radical acceptance [my note: what is usually seen in "real yoga" classes] without using any yoga jargon, overt ‘spiritual’ terms or expressions.”

Indeed it is.  So why the sea of change with the new generation of American yoga teachers?

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5 thoughts on “a question of semantics?

  1. Hi Linda,

    Okay, you got me to read the whole thread over there at Carol Horton's, and the comments that really resonated were yours and Frank Jude Boccio's.

    Frank Jude's first comment is crucial: it's a path of liberation we are talking about here – and not from “bra fat!” Patanjali's first yoga sutra (Hartranft translaton) says it all:

    Now, the teachings of yoga.
    Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness.
    Then pure awareness can abide in its very nature.
    Otherwise awareness takes itself to be the patterns of
    consciousness.

    That's what you – and Frank Jude – are talking about. I don't know what to call what the others there are talking about, but it isn't yoga. If that makes me a fundamentalist….well, I've been called worse.

  2. No one I've talked to in Australia really thinks of yoga for weight loss. They *might* think of it as “stretching” and something to calm the mind.

    With my training, I can not imagine teaching a yoga class without some pranayama and at least some Om chants. Of course, the rest comes with time, not in the very first class I teach… but it all has a place. What am I talking about? It's all ESSENTIAL to help people understand what yoga is really all about.

    Agreed – don't call it yoga if it ain't got that “swing”. Pilates is at least somewhat related to yoga, isn't it? But they don't call it yoga. And then there's that weird hybrid “yogalates”… never been to a class, but at least they're clear! Same with that Les Mills stuff, which apparently uses some yoga poses but IS NOT called yoga!

    I don't think it even really needs to be called 'contemporary yoga'. Though, I'm not sure what else they should be calling all that asana-only stuff…

    A reader on my blog wrote this: “The sacred things in life deserve to maintain their purity, and I will be here applauding your protecting all that is sacred in yoga.”

    Couldn't agree more!

  3. Hey Linda- Haven't stopped by in some time. I did some classical yoga training from out of Australia, and my experience was the same: highly meditation focused and asana as a means to sustained meditation. There was a time when new books such as these would annoy the hell out of me: someone who modelled on top of a car and danced for a few years proposing to have a single thing to offer in the realm of yoga . . . but today, it's hardly worth the energy of such a joke, isn't it? Just another extension on the branch of yoga consumerism. And we real yogis and yoginis know it is far from the real deal. People can call this type of exercise whatever they want. But we have a responsibility to stay true to the teachings . . and that's about all we can do! Drop by, say hi, http://www.RighteousYogini.com

  4. “why the sea change?”

    It is interesting to ask, because it does seem like–as this discussion continues to polarize–this celebration of the commercial, seems new.

    Maybe everyone is a marketer, these days, figuring out how to get some attention for their own little piece of the Interwebs. If you get more attention, you are more successful (which seems to be the equation on one recent elephant journal post).

    The only bad publicity is no publicity. I guess…

    (scoot over in that cave, will ya?)

  5. Hi Linda,

    I thought of this post this morning when I came across a PR release advertising “Pologa”.

    Sigh. Get ready for it.

    Pologa is, you guessed it, a lovely combination of pole dancing and yoga.

    It was only a matter of time. That cave is going to get crowded.

    YogaBird
    Yogi, interrupted.

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