November 30, 2013

Have We Polluted Yoga? ~ Tova Payne

Warning—some adult language.

Is yoga becoming too competitive?

I started heading to yoga classes regularly in 2005. They were the one thing that kept me grounded, connected, and helped me release a lot of physical and emotional tension.

I went to several studios, tried several different styles, and although I had some favorites, I still felt pretty darn good after every class I took. Well, except for the occasional class where the instructor sounded more like a drill sergeant. But even then, the actual movements felt good in my body, so the class was still pretty good.

Once I became a teacher my practice became more personal—I was practicing in my living room more than I ever went to studio classes. I’d take frequent trips to study with some of my favorite teachers in Los Angeles, and aside from a few classes here and there, usually taught by fellow teachers I knew, I kept most of my practice at home. Then, last month, I received a gift: a one-month yoga pass at one of the larger studios near where I live. I was excited to see how these teachers taught, as most of the names on the schedule were new to me.

Unfortunately, class after class I walked away thinking: What the hell has happened to yoga? These classes felt jagged, performance-based, and they just didn’t feel good in my physical body.

I wondered—is this the new trend?

Several years ago, no matter which class I went to there was something graceful, seamless, and integrative about the practice.

Now it feels like nearly every class and teacher is trying to outdo the last one, or make more intricate sequences, to the point where the sequences just don’t feel good. It feels like A.D.H.D yoga, or some kind of yoga on steroids. There were a handful of teachers whose classes maintained a really nice feeling and flow. Their classes felt less performance-based and more about taking care of the whole body.

The class wasn’t about how different it could be, or how funky the new moves could be. The classes were simple, basic with traditional yoga poses with a little pizzazz.

A little pizzazz is good.

I have nothing against adding little variations to the poses. I think it’s wonderful to add a little creativity to the traditional forms of yoga. But at what point do we cross the line? And is there even a line that’s crossed? Are studios just using the name yoga but teaching something completely different?

I feel that had I gone to break dance or step class and learned to breathe, it would not have been the same experience as yoga offers: poses integrated with breath.

The poses do matter. The physical sequence does matter. Yes, the crux of yoga is about mindfulness, but at the same time, the poses do matter.

The poses do have an innate intelligence in and of themselves. Therefore, when classes are being taught in a jagged fashion where it’s kinda impossible not to hurt yourself unless you know your body well enough to modify or opt out of the pose—this thing we’re calling yoga certainly doesn’t feel healing.

Actually, a lot of the sequences I’ve been in certainly don’t feel safe, cohesive, or even good.

There are still some great classes out there, and this is not a rant against all of yoga, but I can’t help but question: Have we royally polluted yoga? Are we turning our classes into acrobatics to the point where instead of taking the time to use the poses to take care of ourselves, the poses have been turned into dance moves where the look and performance of the flow takes priority over actually feeling good after the practice? Are we competing with whose class can be the most different? Or are we simply sharing something amazing?

All I can say is—I am confused with the state that yoga is heading towards. And I really just wanna say—can’t we just get back to basics? Isn’t it the simple and basic things in life that feed us best?

It seems like we’ve bleached, sugar coated, and fortified our yoga practice with all these fancy, glitzy new moves. I mean, really—can’t we just keep it simple and enjoy the simplicity yoga has to offer?

Isn’t our world complicated enough? Why bring that shit into yoga?


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Assistant Editor: Jaim Coddington / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Image: Barracuadz




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Tova Payne