Don’t lose the roots.
We live in a crazy time for Yoga. It’s caught on and spread like wildfire through North America and across the globe. Teacher Trainings can be found by the dozens in most cities, teachers are being trained and turned out by the thousands every year, studios are found on every corner. Like all things, there are two sides to this very valuable coin. Before the 1960’s-70’s, practicing Yoga was not for the average person. Taking on the practice probably meant you were all in: Philosophy, Ayurveda, Sanskrit grammar, diet, poses…Yoga, as it was intended to be, was lived as a complete lifestyle.
Similar to a point in time when, before the innovation of fast travelling vehicles of any sort, travelling from city to city in your very own country was an incredibly daunting task… so was the endeavor of committing to the practice of Yoga.
So what is the benefit of this “Yoga Explosion”? WHOA! Obvious. Yoga is reaching insane amounts of people. People everywhere are getting stronger in the mind, the body, and gaining a unique perspective on life and how to eliminate ‘suffering’ that breaks down the minds of millions of people. A practice that about 100 years ago was known by very few in one small corner of the world, is now found in every nook and cranny of planet earth. There are massive companies like lululemon advocating it as their #1 reason for manufacturing clothing, while simultaneously offering free classes and festivals year round.
Yoga is everywhere. Everyone is asking about it. Most people are doing it. But what kind of Yoga are we doing? How does Yoga today resemble the Yoga of the teachers and masters who brought it back to the light in the 1920’s, and still continue that same mission today? In many ways it looks very much the same. There are thousands upon thousands still devoting their lives to the Ashtanga method of Pattabhi Jois, the restorative method of B.K.S. Iyengar and Vinyasa Krama of Srivatsa Ramaswami. These methods of Yoga stem from one source: Sri. Tirumulai Krishnamacharya.
Krishnamacharya taught yoga to the individual. On the cover of his 1934 book The Yoga Makaranda, (Re-Published in English for the first time in 2010) arguably the most important text on modern yoga, it reads, “Teach what is within you, not as it applies to you, but as it applies to the one in front of you.” He gave Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Vinyasa because it was what Pattabhi Jois needed; he gave the restorative method to Iyengar because of his trials with ill health. It is a very recent phenomenon to see classes being taught to large groups of people. Krishnamacharya would certainly raise an eyebrow at us if he saw how we teach a single sequence of poses to groups of sometimes 100 people at the same time, because it is impossible for 100 people to need the same Yoga.
Teaching groups of people has become necessity as a result of the amount of people Yoga has reached, and that is a good problem to have. We have since adapted to this necessity. Teachers, or Yogacharya’s, sequence poses that cover multiple areas of the body, with variations and different posture options that allow a Yoga class to be accessible to all.
I am writing this for a very specific reason. Not because there is something wrong with this massive expansion of Yoga, but because there can be if we are not diligent and aware. Yoga is growing at a very fast rate. If we are not careful, it can become just like the game of telephone you played in 3rd grade. Sometimes telephone starts out great, and at the end, it is unchanged, and how boring is that? Sometimes it starts out as something nice, and turns into something negative and twisted. In the best of circumstances, it adapts exactly as it needs.
We live in a society that is often afraid of religious and spiritual comments. Yoga stems deeply from religion and spirituality, there’s no hiding it. Some of the things that yoga prescribes from the Old Books don’t apply anymore, and as with all things, we need to be critical and objective of everything we take in. There are also mountains of treasure in the Old Books as well. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras stems from Vedic culture but is such a wealth of life knowledge and speaks in such a non-denominational context that can make it applicable to absolutely anybody, whether they have done a thousand downward dogs or none. Hatha Yoga Pradipika builds so wonderfully on Patanjali’s work and provides amazing insight into poses and yogic practices of the early 2nd millennium. Krishnamacharya is the staple of discipline and non-egotistical lifestyle. Adapt this practice as it applies to you, as it applies within you, but don’t lose the roots. These texts aren’t law. They are guardrails to help keep you from going off the road. Use them as you need them, just don’t neglect them. Keep the game alive and fresh with respect of where it came from. It has travelled space and time to get to our front door, our sub-divisions, and our downtown cores. Don’t let it slip through our fingers now at arguably its most crucial hour.
Do the practice that is within you, but don’t lose the roots.
Krishnamacharya, Sri T., Yoga Makaranda, Chennai, India, Media Garuda, 2011 (Originally published in 1934)
Patanjali, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Present day India, Multiple commentaries and translations, Est. date of publication 5th Century BCE – 1st Century BCE
Swami Swatmarama, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Present day India, Multiple commentaries and translations, 15th Century CE