Last weekend I attended the Yoga Journal Conference in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The classes I signed up for were a blend of old-school and new-school as I like to both connect with the wisdom of the eexperienced teachers as well as to keep my finger on the pulse on what is going on in the yoga industry.
Indeed, yoga has become an industry. It is fast becoming more about the clothes, the props, the “body beautiful,” and complicated asanas. There are now bootcamps and competitive events in yoga. These instructors – because they are certainly not teachers in my opinion – argue that competition has been the norm in India for years and they are not violating yogic principles just celebrating the art..
That may be the case but I doubt if any of the yoga competitions in India were conducted by individuals who got “certified” by some organization over the weekend. If we are comparing ourselves to the teachers in India – as if that is enough of a criteria by itself – then let’s make it equal in all parts. In India before a student becomes a teacher, they must be a student for at least ten years. Go to your local fitness center and ask the yoga instructor how many years he/she practiced yoga as a student before becoming certified by only one of many organizations who make a lot of money churning out volumes of these people.
Classical yoga has first and foremost always been about self-knowing and includes the physical but also how you feel about yourself, what goes through your mind every day, what memories you have that are still bogging you down. It includes the examination of the roots of the perpetual anger, fear, anxiety, and frustration that we may feel that poison your day’s routines and every relationship you have.
Memories and emotions live in the body and as Patricia Walden states, “your issues are in your tissues.” Thus the reason for asana to begin with. At the very simplest, when you do your yoga class are you competitve? Are there poses you avoid because you’re not very good at them? Are you rigid in your practice?
After our physical practice, traditionally we practice pranayama and meditation. The issues that were released from our physical practice can now be examined and processed by the Self – the deep inner mind of wisdom. In case this sounds too New Age-y, think of it this way: the “self” is the guy who cut off the little old lady in traffic and the “Self” is the guy that knows better and suggests that in the future, you try a little more graciousness. We are both of these qualities but very few of us ever connect with our Self. Examining this Self is what can result in powerful and positive changes in the quality of our lives. Merely having your hamstrings stretched does not result in enlightenment.
Many of the elders in the yoga community teach that the world we live in is created out of the conciousness we now possess. So, if the world is becoming more angry, more violent and competitive to the point that we feel okay about hurting others, then what possible good can come out of teaching yoga classes designed to be more competitive?