Yoga as Commodity

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Much has been written in this blog and others about the material things of Yoga. Look over the last 10 years of Yoga Journal (or any other recent yoga magazine) to see how many ads there are to get yoga dudettes and dudes (although mostly the dudettes) to buy/consume things that we are supposed to let go of.  That is, all the accoutrements of yoga such as $100 pants, detox and cleansing rituals, $200 malas to help you get deeper into meditation (as if the Rs 50 ones I get in India don’t work), and Swarovski crystal chakra necklaces to help you balance your chakras.

Since I’ve been writing this blog for the last 10 years, it amuses me to no end on how the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Same yoga shit, different day.  I wrote on the commercialization of yoga a good 7 years ago at least.

So when a new reader who has recently discovered this blog wrote me, I had to smile.  YES!  This old blog is still appreciated and that does this Krazy Old Yogini’s heart good.  The new reader nailed it: YOGA AS COMMODITY.  I remember the words of a long ago student who believed that the way yoga is taught in the West serves to reinforce negative patterns (of speed, busy-ness, mindLESSness) instead of creating new ones (slowing down, stillness, mindFULLness.)  The addictions are fed, not lessened.

“It’s funny because I came to the practice in order to alleviate hardcore issues with insomnia which I eventually learned was hardcore anxiety. Then, like so many, I became obsessed with the superficial and physical aspects of yoga and thought the mental part was only meditation.  

In the US it seems we define yoga as just the physical practice and how it can be “used” (weight loss, “enlightenment”, calming, better sex.)  Sigh. I wanted to be a yoga expert and I read all of the literature and bought all of the clothes and took all the types of classes and it wasn’t until a life event smacked me right in the face that I realized – all I need to do is practice. And through practice I have shed so much that was so unnecessary, both material things and ideas or feelings that I was attached to.  

There are many vessels through which people learn this lesson but for me it was Ashtanga that taught me. The heavy emphasis on practice made me show up consistently and didn’t let me analyze the practice.  In practice nothing matters but whether or not you showed up and did what you can do. Through that I feel the real journey has begun for me and things are starting to unravel both beautifully and painfully at times (emotionally, not physically.)

I devoured the Babarazzi’s blog because it was another smack in the face that made me realize – why do I buy Lululemon, why do I want to do cool backbends, why is my subscription to Yoga Journal so important to me? Because it’s been shoved in my face and I have been told that it’s necessary.  I’ve since realized that these things actually have nothing to do with yoga.  It’s very refreshing.

I’m sad to hear that you do not continue to create new posts, but I have subscribed anyway. I appreciate your honest take on the subject and wish there were bloggers doing what you’re doing.  There’s so much Yoga Journal and elephant journal and we don’t even realize how toxic they are!”

I stated writing this blog BYS — Before Yoga Selfies. Now there are yoga dudettes almost killing themselves on electrified rail tracks for likes on Facebook and retweets on Twitter.

“The stream of wishy washy spirituality and body-insane yoga culture streams into my world every single day. I catch myself, sometimes, and wonder how with a shred of honesty I can associate myself with this stuff; how do I teach when most teaching is such a sham? How do I ask people to connect with their own flesh when ‘flesh’ is a loaded word? I pause, often, when I’m writing and when I’m standing in front of a class; the words I most want to say are so bloody, so honest, so scary I’m not sure I should.”

Yeah, it really IS that simple that it comes down to a bare soul and a sharp truth.

I’m tired of the noise and it’s why I’m moving to a place, outside the West, where what I teach is valued.

it truly IS the Kali Yuga

The Kali Yuga: the “Dark Age” lasting 432,000 years…when avarice and wrath are common, rulers become unreasonable, cowards have the reputation of bravery and the brave are called cowards…and lies are passed out as truth.

“In the age of Kali, every virtue had been engulfed by the sins of Kali-Yuga; all good books had disappeared; impostors had promulgated a number of creeds which they had invented out of their own wit. The people had all fallen prey to delusion and all pious acts had been swallowed by greed….

In the age of Kali duplicity, perversity, hypocrisy, malice, heresy, pride, infatuation, concupiscence and arrogance etc. pervade the whole universe….

In the age of Kali there is no contentment, nor discernment, nor composure…Envy, harsh words and covetousness are rampant; while evenness of mind is absent….

Self-control, charity, compassion and wisdom disappear while stupidity and fraud multiply to a large extent. Men and women all pamper their body; while slanderers are diffused all over the world….”
(excerpts from the Tulsi Ramayana.)

As roseanne wrote, it sure does seem like the end of yoga as we know it….

I saw this over at YogaDork and shook my head. Just when you thought the commercialization of American Yoga couldn’t get any worse, eh?

Everything eventually comes full circle. I used to be a fitness instructor and saw things come and go. Is that tai-bo guy still around?

This is why I say the “new yogi” will be a “radical yoga traditionalist.”** Two teachers I consider radical traditional yogis are Paul Grilley and Mark Whitwell (uh, and me, too, because like Paul I’m a traditionalist but don’t mind killing yoga’s sacred cows on occasion.)

Yup, Playboy Yoga, no chanting and no Sanskrit for sure (but does she eat granola?). No clothes either, because you can download her naked yoga (which will be a boon for everyone who searches for “naked yoga” and hits on this blog post so knock yourself out.)

Talk amongst yourselves.

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**“radical yoga traditionalist” concept originating here, comment #6. if that inspires you, then please give credit where credit is due. or else I’m calling Bikram’s lawyer regarding copyright.


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I have heard these words inside me

The narrator of the Gateways of Light video says that we are coming to some type of major defining moment in our history and “those people who are meant to unfold through this are unfolding and are doing it pretty rapidly.”

Words similar to those above were said to me about 15 years ago when I got back on this yogic and spiritual path. The first time I talked with a spiritual adept she stopped and looked me in the eyes. She said that the world as we know it will seem to split into two camps, and that those who have been working on their inner life will ascend while the others…well, it will take them a bit longer, so maybe not in their present lifetimes. Then she said, “and you will be part of this ascension on a global level, part of the new paradigm.” At the time I said nothing and took it with a grain of salt, merely nodding my head. I remember that conversation like it was yesterday.

I’ve had more than few conversations like that in 15 years, and things that were told to me have come to fruition, slowly but surely. Even before India was a thought in my mind a vedic astrologer told me that I would experience “divine grace” around 2010. At the time I did not even know what divine grace meant so I shrugged it off.

But I will be at the Kumbh Mela next year, the “great festival of the pot of nectar of immortality”, on an auspicious day and I’ve known in my bones for a long time that something will happen to me. I can’t say what, but something is calling me there like nothing else has ever done. I can’t explain it so I just let it be. I surrender. I have felt the shakti in certain temples in South India and have broken down. I surrendered. I’ve even thought that maybe I will die in India, and if so, all things happen for a reason. At least I will be on the Ganges and my body can be burned.

The narrator speaks of the disconnectedness of this world and I have seen this more and more in even long time yoga students, their disconnection from their bodies, the fear of closing their eyes. Students I’ve been teaching for over 5 years are suddenly like beginners again and they have no explanation. It is as if they have become afraid to feel.

I truly believe that all the turmoil that is happening in the world today is meant to be — the economy, the layoffs, the environment. This Kali Yuga is a cycle. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can begin the climb back up. Sometimes you have to lose everything in order to wake up.

My time on the cushion now brings me much more satisfaction than asana ever did. Sure I feel good physically after asana practice, but it’s always a dance between forms and formlessness. As Gary Kraftsow said, “…yoga isn’t about getting to know the postures. It’s about getting to know yourself.” In the past month I have a felt a new spaciousness inside me that was not there before and I know that what I do now will culminate on February 12, 2010. I know this in my bones as well as I know my name.

All I can do is surrender.


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a reader’s view


I get emails from people who comment on my posts, and the one below is from a friend in the yoga-rich San Francisco area who gave me permission to quote her (the emphasis is added.)

it does this old gal’s heart good to know that people read my yoga musings and are inspired to respond with such depth, and that I am not the lone voice in this modern yoga wilderness. plus she loves YogaDawg…:)

food for thought, talk amongst yourselves…..

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“I am with you totally. I tell myself its just the Kali Yuga, our current era, which is known for shit being passed out as the truth. Now of course, my own beloved Siddha Yoga is the truth for me, but clearly born out of traditional Indian style yoga. When you mentioned the teacher in Chennai telling you its all about the relationship between teacher and student: that is my understanding of yoga as well.

So here I am, a physically “plus” sized gal, practicing Siddha Yoga for 25+ years. Love it when the physical, young folks taking their first yoga classes tell me how buff and happy they are now since taking ashtanga yoga classes. I tell them I also do yoga, practiced for all those years, lived in an ashram in India….and just look at their crazed reaction. Then I add that yoga, as practiced in India, is not just about how your body looks, but HOW YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE: its all about love, baby. Not hearts and flowers love. The love you feel before you take actions. And that DOES NOT always mean to speak in a soft, spiritual voice, or to never feel anger, or to remove yourself from the world and live in a cave.

I liked your bit about the “price of yoga”. People will pay more to have their dog shit picked up than shuck out some do-re-me for individual instruction. Dakshina — it’s one of the practices of Siddha Yoga, I’m happy to say. Pay nothing, get nothing. Personal transformation? What’s that???

Once you get the taste of real homestyle cook’n, a MacDonald’s salad will never be the same. Its very difficult to articulate this concept to people coming to you to get their butts tight. How can I tell them about the personal yoga lessons was with my guru: one of the most transformative things that ever happened to me was when she hit me on the head with a marble. another time she hit me over the head with a wand of peacock feathers. What happened inside of me changed my headspace, my approach to life, everything, all in one small, silent and seemingly insignificant moment. Changed me for life. Saw life differently, and I must say, for the better, from then on.

IMHO, you’ve been turned onto homestyle cooking by your teachers in Chennai. once that door is open, you can’t go back. and you want your students to see it too: you are a teacher, you care for your students, you have integrity, and you don’t want them to settle for less. but they’re not asking for what you have to give. frustrating, isn’t it!

Got to say, I just love that Yogadawg’s perspective. here’s someone, online, who is putting it out there, confronting the US mass consumption style ideas about yoga. he’s a real “satsang” type. in Siddha Yoga, one of the practices, just like in Buddhist tradition, is to “keep the company (of others) who are seeking the truth”.

I do hope you’ll be able to do a 6 month stay in Chennai, being a student at the place you’ve been going to. now that “yoga” has become just a work-out for the trendy, with so many looking for their physical fix…to me, you have found a real gem in Chennai. Once you experience the true power of Homestyle Yoga, there is only one way to go: return and learn more.”

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