Now that I have your attention, that’s the title of a talk I am attending this week at the Theosophical Society:
“Is American yoga just an exercise regimen masquerading as spirituality? While 16 million Americans practice hatha yoga, yoga’s development as a popular fitness workout has lost sight of its ancient roots and transformative power. Tonight is a wake-up call to yoga’s highest aspirations.”
Tom Pilarzyk is speaking on this topic and his bio says he is a “social scientist and author who has written on Eastern religions and American culture, including most recently, Yoga Beyond Fitness.” You can read words of praise for his book on his website:
“Dr. Kelly McGonigal, Editor-in-Chief, International Journal of Yoga Therapists, says of Yoga beyond Fitness:
‘One of yoga’s core principles is self-reflection. Yoga beyond Fitness gives the yoga community an opportunity to reflect on where we came from, who we are and how to return to the essence of a yoga as a spiritual practice. It is a ‘must read’ for anyone who wants to understand Yoga in the United States, and anyone who cares about the future of Yoga in the West.'”
Regular readers of this blog know my thoughts on “Americanized” yoga, so I’m intrigued. Blog post to follow.
8 thoughts on “is American yoga in crisis?”
I've read Tom's book. It's pretty provocative stuff.
And Tom has become a friend, since we're both here in Milwaukee, which is clearly becoming a hot-bed of Yoga thinking and writing!
This organization looks interesting, too. I've always wanted to know more about it, and now you've given me the website.
This sounds fascinating. Sometimes it's nice to hear from outside the fray. Full report, please!
This is a subject close to my Guru's heart. I can't really comment, not being American and not living in America. I see and read things but I'm sure that's not the total picture.
Also, I know there's schools like my Guru's own and people out there like you Linda, who are keeping 'real' yoga alive.
I sort of think about it like your recent comment on Wii Yoga – people take what they need. If its enough, so be it. If they want more, they'll look for and find it.
Sure, its not so great the way yoga is generally percieved. I mean, here in Australia I once met a guy who told me he'd never do yoga because its “one of those new fads”. I did attempt to explain the origins of yoga but he wouldn't hear it. Ah well, those that do hear it can only benefit!
Looks interesting! Can't wait to read your report.
I was fairly fit before I started yoga, but now that I practice six days a week (and yes, Ashtanga, though I swear it's not about perfecting my primary series!), I've lost a bit more weight and really toned up. When people ask if it's the yoga, I like to say it's a by-product of my yoga practice. It's nice, sure, but it's not the reason I'm on my mat at 5 a.m., or when I've had a stressful day, or if I'm feeling off and uncentered. My mind and body crave yoga practice. A mere workout has NEVER inspired me to leave my warm, comfy bed sooner than I have to. 🙂
I know many yogis in America who practice for the right reasons, but it is sad when you see someone get into it for a “workout” and then never delve any deeper. I'm sure there are benefits to any level of yoga, but when I deepened my practice, as cliche as it sounds, it changed my life. I always hope those who see it as a workout will eventually discover how much more there is to it.
You know Linda, I wonder how those Martial Art teachers felt when Tae Bo came out. Surely someone raised their eyebrows. And look what happened to Tae Bo now, I'm sure people are still doing it in gyms, but it's largely forgotten as a “fad”. And those who seriously study Martial Arts are still marching on.
Also, everything takes time to settle, right? I can only speak for myself, but I was probably the prime example of the typical American yogi who didn't really know much but thought I knew it all a couple years back. I started doing yoga at 15, and after 10 years of Bikram and Vinyasa Flow and all that, got wised up.
I really did think I needed to buy some Lululemon clothes, though thankfully being in college kept me from spending $$$$ on them. I really did think Bikram yoga was what yoga really is (I even looked into becoming a Bikram teacher at some point).
As luck would have it (or, as I call it, my luck of the bonehead), I found a teacher who snapped me out of it. Now I'm studying with all those “oldie but goodie” teachers, and running far away from everything that I once held dear.
So, I suppose this is a comment to reserve some optimism about future of yoga in America 🙂
I, too, am looking forward to hear your report from the conference!
Hi Linda, American Yoga is amazing, and there are lots of strong teachers.
Also there are styles like Bikram, which I taught for years, and rather than higher learning, it's more of a bootcamp, and all about the physical. Even with it's emphasis on the physical, the alignment would have an Iyengar teacher in tears. I can't take Bikram classes anymore.
There are so many yoga studios and teachers. We want to teach classes people will enjoy, or they'll go somewhere else. Sadly, the teachings sometimes offend people who aren't ready for them. It's a real dance to convey the sutras and sanskrit to people in accessible ways. I try. Not so much in my gym classes, but at yoga studios. I see the students zoning out sometimes…
I write about these things too.
Hmmm.. what is your take on the recent surge of yoga selfies? Not in the sense of are they destroying yoga, because I don’t think yoga can be destroyed, but what do you think of so many people taking photo and video of their practice? I think it’s just a reflection of people’s obsession with the physical aspect of the practice, even when people document their “progress”, it’s usually in terms of how quickly they can manage some challenging inversion or backbend. Steve over at theconfluencecountdown made a great point when he wrote that these selfies and videos can’t really capture yoga, other than asana. I agree with this, I think these photos are often egocentric, but then I think of people like Meghan Currie, who I am deeply inspired by when watching her practice, as she tends to lend a quality that shows something deeper, not just look at my backbends and arm balances.