Yoga Is Not One Thing

Being a yoga teacher and with many friends involved with yoga as a practice, business, and philosophical system, I often encounter rants about the dumbing down of yoga within our culture. “This McYoga is not real yoga!” they seem to say. The implied message is that we should round up a posse and ride them out of town. While they make some good points and I admire their earnestness, I shudder to think that there would be some sort of yoga police running around enforcing a yogic orthodoxy. Whose orthodoxy should be enforced?

If there is one thing that has become clear in my yoga philosophy studies, it’s that yoga is not one thing. It is perhaps the longest running philosophical conversation on the planet, and spans thousands of years from at least the Vedic period into current times. Within it there is monotheism, dualism, pantheism, panentheism, and atheism, and perhaps other ism’s as well (Fanaticism? Narcissism? Perish the thought!). As I understand it, Buddhism was formed in part as a reaction to yogic thought, so one could argue that it’s part of the conversation as well.

Yet most of those I know, including most yoga teachers, seem to regard yoga as some type of monolith, like it’s one thing and we should all agree on what that one thing is. Any serious academic study will reveal that it is simply not the case.

Do we really need to decide between McYoga and the Yoga Police? If we choose either, we end the conversation. Now that yoga has become so popular in the western world, it behooves us to educate ourselves about the conversation so far, and then engage deeply with our own educated minds and experienced hearts to further the conversation. The first step in my view is to subvert the idea that yoga is one thing. It’s not, and if it ever is one thing, the conversation is over.

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2 Responses to Yoga Is Not One Thing

  1. michelle says:

    How far can it be stretched and still considered “yoga” ?…..The roots of the word yoga seem to point to some form of practice ( sadhana) and ideas that, although all may not apply to the modern man today, still had a certain “category” they fell under. Meaning it wasn’t sky diving.
    I have no interest what so ever in policing..nor saying it is only one thing..nor will I say it is ANYTHING and EVERYTHING we feel like making it. It’s a quandary.

  2. alrishi says:

    I agree it’s a quandary. I’d rather leave it be than create a yoga police. We don’t police music with “That’s not music! Let’s shut them down.” Instead we trust that their musical talent (or lack thereof) will bring them to the popularity they deserve. It’s not a perfect analogy since yoga asana can injure you while music can only hurt your ears for a short time. But consider what would happen if the biggest most popular form of yoga (whatever form that happens to be now) was the one to define what yoga is? As painful as it is to see yoga being anything someone wants to make it, that’s the price for it’s viral popularity in the west. Yoga engages with the world how the world is, rather than how the world “should be” according to some standard.

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