December 4, 2014

In Defense of American Yoga.

American yoga

The Yoga scene in America is changing.

Recently Quartz published an article by Michelle Garcia titled, Americans Ruined Yoga for the Rest of the World. The article poses some very important questions that many in the Yoga community have been asking recently.

Issues of body image, sexism, classism, racism and injury have now made their way into a conversation about this seemingly peaceful practice. And I do agree that the conversation is necessary for the future of our industry.

But Americans ruined Yoga?



Now, I’m not typically one of those rootin’-tootin’ flag wavin’ “America-can-do-no-wrong” patriots.

I enjoy questioning the status quo and although I love my country and my industry, I have written quite a bit on the problems I see with the current state of Yoga in this country. I, like Ms. Garcia, have commented on how this may be doing a disservice to those who seek to practice yoga.

But Americans ruined Yoga? Saying that Americans have ruined Yoga is like saying that American bloggers have ruined journalism because of their love of click-bait titles.

Controversial, hard statements like the title of this article cause people to click, share, and comment. And let’s be honest. It’s the same driving force that the Ms. Garcia states is all that is wrong with American Yoga. Okay, if you want to find blame for the lack of authenticity and humility from Yoga or journalism, that’s fair.

Capitalism, commercialism, corporate gain and the modern human’s lack of attention span can all be blamed for “sweaty” Yoga as well as click-bait journalism. I think we can agree that those attributes are not strictly American.

If they are, can we also add revolutionary, inventive and charitable to the list?

Because with 20 million and growing, Americans growing currently practicing Yoga, I think it’s safe to say that for every “blonde waif with a face scrubbed free of character” there is at least one inventive, revolutionary American changing the face of Yoga as we speak.

Take J. Brown and Giaconda Parker, both Yoga teachers that the Ms. Garcia uses to emphasize her argument.

These are thoughtful, deliberate, independently talented Yoga teachers.

J. Brown is especially thoughtful when it comes to questioning the modern world of Yoga.

He’s been a major contributor to the conversation of authenticity in Yoga today. And what’s better? He’s an American.

So is Giaconda Parker.

Both are making the world a better place with their Yoga teaching. They have different styles.

Ms. Parker teaches Vinyasa Flow here in my hometown of Austin, Texas. While Mr. Brown teaches more in line with my own passion; slow, accessible, anatomy-conscious Yoga.

Most likely, both are responsible for new students falling in love with Yoga everyday. Both are active in the American Yoga scene. They aren’t the only ones.

Some of the Ms. Garcia’s main issues with Yoga today in America are being talked about in meetings, on blogs, in studios by people she didn’t mention. People like Leslie Kaminoff, Amy Matthews, Jill Miller, Ariana Rabinovitch, Katy Bowman, Carol Horton and Brooke Thomas. These are just a few people having this conversation about Yoga and as far as my Google search would have me believe, they are American.

Let’s address the question about the roots of Yoga being lost in today’s American culture.


That’s valid.

Yes, Americans have adapted Yoga to fit their Christian/secular/skeptic needs. And yes, you could argue that the roots of Yoga and Yoga culture have been white-washed by the West. This is a common argument and I won’t refute it.

I will say, that there are Americans teaching today who are very devoted to keeping the sacred aspects of the practice intact. I know less of those people because that’s less my teaching style.

But they are out there. Boy, are they out there. David Life and Sharon Gannon of Jivamukti Yoga are legit. As is my one of my first teachers, Will Duprey of Hathavidya Yoga. These are teachers who emphasize a meditation and Sadhana practice, and living the eight limbs of Yoga in daily life. They are also American.

Here’s why this article is wrong: Coke, McDonalds, Ford, Apple are all worldwide brands that started in America.

Yoga is not a brand (although some are trying to make it so) and it is not rooted in the American tradition.

But it is quickly becoming a huge part of it. Future generations of Americans will have a clear understanding of the benefits of Yoga from their own parents, schools and popular culture. And if you’re a person who endorses Yoga, you can see why this is exciting.

Because what Americans are great at is making a good thing catch.

Is it in need of reform?

Some say yes.

Should it return to it’s roots?

Some others say yes.

Should it be less commercial?

Eh, where there is something to be gained, you will be hard-pressed to find someone who is not looking to capitalize on their skills, even if it’s only to pay rent on their studio.

Money, body image, classism, these are all a part of the human experience, not just the American one.

It would be narrow to state otherwise.

The great thing about Yoga is it addresses the negative aspects of the human experience.

All types of Yoga: sweaty, restorative, power, traditional Hatha, gym Yoga, share a common core. What is central to all Yoga practices is breath, movement, and spiritual peace or transcendence. It matters not the degree of each of these employed by the teacher, or their country of origin. What matters is what the practitioner seeks.

What matters is the intention.

And when all else fails, Yoga still has a transformative effect.

Each individual comes to the practice and exits with a more clear idea of what they do or don’t want for themselves.

The amazing thing about Yoga in America is the many choices you have as a consumer. You don’t have to patronize a studio that does not align with your beliefs or one that does not promote the peace you seek. You do not have to chant, you do not have to wear Lululemon, you do not have to be thin. As a consumer, you have a choice where your money goes. The market is flooded and you, the consumer, are left with the luxury of choice.

You identify your destination. You choose your path. Anything else would be un-American.



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Author: Sara Kleinsmith

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: flickr


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