yoga in the west: the new aerobics?

Amanda left a very juicy comment to this post. I thought she left such delicious yoga food for thought that it was worthy of its own post.

so what say you, readers? has westernized yoga for the last dozen years or so merely been the “new aerobics”?

Yoga has been in the west for a long time. I have a book I bought at an antique store called The Dayspring of Youth: Yoga Practice Adapted for Western Bodies written by “M” and published in 1933 — not one word about asana is in the book. Indra Devi taught Hollywood stars such as Gloria Swanson and Olivia de Havilland after World War II and in the 1950s. I dabbled in yoga and meditation back in the my college hippie days in the early 1970s and my claim to fame is OMing with Buddhist and Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg. but for yoga to have become so popular and trendy, I believe what Paul Grilley has said about it: that the spirituality had to be totally stripped out of it in order for most westerners to come to it.

So here is what Amanda thinks…the only edits have been for spelling, punctuation, and flow (no yoga pun intended.)

“I am sure there are some lessons for the Western (not the Eastern) yoga community that could be learned from studying the aerobics/groups fitness craze of the 1980s.

At its peak, the aerobics craze dictated (somewhere around 1986-1989) that you ‘needed’ to have all the right brands, the matching leotards, headbands, etc. And preferably be able to teach or do mindnumbingly complex choreography. Aerobics was everywhere – and it was of a variable and questionable quality. Some instructors had ‘it’ and others were simply amateurish, and at worse, downright dangerous. Ironically, the average lifespan of an aerobics instructor was 2 1/2 years.

In the early 1990s, the bubble burst. Be it the matching headbands, the complex choreography, or the whole ‘Barbie Doll/airhead’ image that had built up around the fitness industry, or the economic recession we had back then, people began staying away from classes in droves. It began with men, and continued until it was only the hardcore addicts who were left. Centres that were once highly profitable closed overnight. I know — I owned and operated a centre at this time. I was able to close it and sell the plant equipment and barely avoid losing my house.

By the mid-1990s, this situation began to change. The industry, in Australia at least, had totally professionalised (you need a Diploma level qualification to teach at gyms in Australia — you don’t need this to teach yoga, I notice) and an amazing New Zealand franchise called Body Pump hit the scene. People began to come back. Especially men.

What did Body Pump do? It totally did away with the complexity and the ‘trendy’ clothes. You did Pump in daggy shorts. Instructors taught participants that technique was everything and image was nothing. You focused on the foundations, getting the basics right – with incredible results. As instructors, we were taught how to communicate as experts, were were taught that safety was paramount. Our music and moves were choreographed for us by experts.

Nowadays, if you don’t have Pump on your timetable, you’re losing money. The same New Zealand company has followed with other programs, including one based on yoga. Worldwide, 10 million people every week do either Pump and Body Balance (Flow) alone!

So yoga is 3500 years old and there is a complete way of life, rather than just physical exercise. But when I look at the yoga world in the cities and in the US, all I see is uber-flexible Barbie Dolls in brand name clothes, and a frenzied mega-popularity that will surely burst in this economic climate. I see the aerobics craze all over again. [emphasis supplied.]

Underneath, however, are some dedicated souls who have depth, who are professional and authentic. If I was going to say what can we learn from the aerobics craze, it is this:

the yoga world in the West is yet to really mature – at the moment, it’s an incorrigible teenager. The bubble will burst.

Yet it will mature in order to survive. It will do this and thrive because it will find the right cultural “mix” and niche.

Yoga teachers, studios and schools will disappear whilst this is happening. Those that remain will do so because they have the basics – the heart and soul – of teaching yoga to the community and sharing those basics with others. This is a long, hard journey but one that has to be had.”

Thanks for writing this post, Amanda! check out Amanda’s blog — she is now a “friend of the family”!

And comments are solicited and appreciated!

addthis_pub = ‘yogagal60510’;

5 thoughts on “yoga in the west: the new aerobics?

  1. I went to a couple of yoga classes and I liked it but could not afford to keep going. I would like to wear baggy, comfortable clothes with tight fitting ones on underneath so that when I bend over I don’t inadvertently show everyone my goodies. I never cared too much for brand name anything–I want the clothes to be functional and comfortable. If it makes me look good besides then that is always a plus. Anyway, upper middle class snobbery never appealed to me and is not what yoga is about.


  2. Amanda is also one of my buddies… and doesn’t she know how to rock a comment?It kind of scares me really, that yoga is gaining more prominence via being part of the schedule at a gym than it does on its own. But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.I console myself by thinking that even in the stripped bare environs of a gym – its possible for the juice of the ages to seep through to whoever might be even the tiniest bit awake…The yoga community in Australia is alot less mature than in the states. Then, we don’t have celebrities who make it the latest ‘must try’ craze. People find it here on their own or through friends or they don’t.If you ever find yourself in Berkley, San Fran then you’ll find an incredibly authentic and amazing yoga studio here: is my Guru’s studio, and it now runs independantly of him (since he lives in Thailand). There’s even a non-agamic temple located in the main yoga space. πŸ™‚P.S. I realised after the fact I’d used the same font for Dr Jay’s blog design as you use here…


  3. so what yoga is current craze or new aerobic exercise..Good things pass the test of time which yoga has already passed.It is just a phase that yoga is or should I say yogis/yoginis are going through. Let it be. People do mature in their practice and approach to yoga over time.I think yoga is we should try and keep away from assumption like eastern yoga i sbetter than western or one style is better than another…anyways..just my 2 cents worth πŸ™‚Linda, it is always a pleasure to read your blog.


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