September 10, 2008

Is the Lineage of Yoga Endangered? Will Fad Overtake Tradition? [CorePower, Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop]

Via Dave Rogers, from the Winter 07/08 issue.

This is a confession: I’ve been cheating. For 15 years I’ve practiced yoga with the justly-famous Richard Freeman at his Yoga Workshop, or wherever his disciples teach around town. Initially I took classes from his people at my health club, where people walked in and out and 1/2 the class left before savasana. But at least I wasn’t intimidated. Eventually I wanted to step beyond the intro classes. At first I couldn’t stand how serious everyone was, how reverent they were to “the practice.” But as I stuck with it I realized there was something more to yoga -something I’d only suspected in my health club yoga days. My understanding of alignment, my dedication, focus, breathing and overall happiness improved. I may have become a bit of a yoga snob myself. What could be better?

Well, I got a bit bored…and frustrated…and I strayed. One day I saw the cute girls going into a yoga studio behind Wild Oats. A year later I find myself going to what I call “disco yoga”—there’s mirrors, outfits, music and a scene. I’m not proud of my behavior-I often fi d myself not wanting to tell people where I’ve been practicing yoga when they ask why I’ve been M.I.A. from my old “pure” yoga haunts.

It’s not that I fi nd anything wrong with the yoga I studied for 15 years. It’s that I enjoy sweating in a warmer environment, in a clean studio where I can shower, where there’s always a class that fi ts my schedule. So I put up with the crap soundtracks (Ultra-Chilled Collection Vol. Whatever). It’s a guilty pleasure (even at $17/hour drop-in). But, like all affairs, I see that this isn’t “growing” me.

I haven’t learned anything. They rarely pause to break down the details…I get more of an ab workout than a sense of calm. But still I go when I need a fix.

Do I suck? Yeah. But it’s not totally my fault. Yoga Workshop and friends, wake up. You can’t ignore that your public has a need for more classes, a cleaner studio. People enjoy sweating; they just need a way to clean up so they can go back to work or wherever. Why is this new brand of “yoga” wildly succeeding, while your more righteous experience isn’t attracting the hordes? Everyone has something to learn from McDonald’s: reliability. Consistency. Quality experience as interpreted by the user. The representatives of traditional yoga need to help people like myself connect. If I were 15 years younger, I would have gone to McYoga at the get-go. I wouldn’t have known better. I’d be one of the 40 people in class rolling into shoulderstand with virtually no instruction or props, having no clue that I was f*cking my neck, or having my hip a foot in the air in pigeon for years before someone told me I’d trash my knee doing so.

It is detrimental to the long-term health of yoga in the United States to have yoga factories pumping out yoga instructors who adjust their students three times a year, largely ignoring fundamental alignment issues that result in long-term injury but are hidden, short-term, by the heat. CorePeople please raise your bar and know that your many fans will appreciate quality instruction, not just reliability.

McYoga and Richard’s home cooking can learn from one another. If the popular McYoga continues as is, yoga in the U.S. will, in one generation, be far from what the Pattabhi Jois and Iyengars of the world brought to our shores-yet it’ll be doing far more business than either of them ever imagined. Traditionalists: if the market is speaking up for more convenience, I implore you to listen. If the market doesn’t know what they are eating, I implore you to serve them good food anyway-new school.

Read responses to Dave’s article here.

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