by Darren Iammarino | September 17, 2018 1:31 am
1. Millennial age yogis and yoginis often value: social activism, the right to choose one’s identity, and they denounce marginalizing or discriminatory actions/speech. Yet, they still may not have transcended the charge of cultural appropriation when it comes to yoga.
In ancient India, many forms of yoga often included: strict asceticism, deer skin or tiger pelt mats, mandatory initiation to a guru, pranayama meant holding one’s breath, almost exclusively male practitioners, numerous “end goals” depending upon one’s school/affiliation. Today, yoga sometimes includes: cliché catch phrases, yoga pants, designer malas, Instagram yoga celebrities, largely female practitioners and teachers (with minimal racial diversity) and often, physical goals. Despite these massive differences, today’s yoga works for a growing number of people, but yoga is different now…WAY different. Can we or should we haphazardly take some aspects of a variety of philosophical and religious viewpoints from ancient India and reduce them to one thing/practice and call it “yoga”?
Many have claimed that this is cultural appropriation and it probably is, but various forms of yoga over millennia, even within India itself, have “appropriated” ideas from Buddhism or Jainism in order to create the great systems of yoga philosophy, so this is nothing new. We are humans; we blend; that is what makes us great. However, millennial yoginis today need to make it clear that what they are doing is something that is mainly new, but with borrowed and modified elements of older traditions—plural—spanning back 2,600 years…not really 5,000 years, as is sometimes spuriously claimed.
This disconnect with the past is fine though because today’s yoga meets some of the needs of contemporary society. Nevertheless, if you value the items listed in the above bullet point—as many millennials do—then you expose yourself to the valid charge of appropriation or at the very least, hypocrisy, which undermines one’s long term goals of fairness and inclusivity.
2. Asana is not enough, and for some, yoga equals asana only.
Few people seem to be aware that non-seated postures or asanas never even existed until around the 10th century C.E. Asana used to be about seated positions to maintain an erect spine and stay comfortable so one could meditate longer. There were not standing poses per se, nor were there sequences being linked together. The Buddha did not go from crescent pose, to warrior 1, to warrior 2, all while under the Bodhi tree! Yet, today, asana comprises the vast bulk of people’s practice.
It is true that more and more people are deepening their practice and incorporating pranayama breathing techniques and even bandhas or locks, but few are engaging in prolonged meditation or retreats in isolation or strict celibacy, just to name a few things. As stated in the first point, this is okay and is more realistic for the modern world, but if yoga is to evolve, there will need to be an expansion beyond the practices and the system outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Infrared Yoga, Doga, Aerial Yoga or Acroyoga are all interesting tweaks to the more contemporary structure of people’s practice, but they do not represent substantial novelty or creativity on the part of a new generation.
3. Yoga Evolves…Vinyasa Yoga and Yin Yoga, although powerful, still cannot heal us from the full scope of the damaging effects of 21st century life.
Yin Yoga is without doubt the most intriguing development in the overall corpus of modern techniques and lets many people go beyond vinyasa flows and tap into their deeper emotions and to more prolonged meditation, but once again, it piecemeal takes ideas and concepts from an Asian philosophy that flourished in a very different soil from today’s situation.
All of the above issues can at least move in the direction of being remedied through a truly novel, not merely “gimmicky” form of yoga. I would argue that vinyasa classes plus Yin Yoga make for a powerful and well-rounded practice that works for a lot of people; nevertheless, they are two extreme ends of a swinging pendulum between intense action and deep rest. There is plenty of room in the middle for a liminal, a transitional form of yoga that unites us with the depths, boundaries, and the margins of our psyches, all while fostering a unique therapy in tune with the rigors of modern life.
In my next post, I will outline one possible way that yoga can evolve in the 21st century. I call this new style—Yoga Bhavadhara—or Yoga Dhara for short. Yoga Bhavadhara literally has a wide range of possible meanings, which is intentional, as it leaves open the possibility for it to be customized in numerous ways. One possible way to translate it would be…to unite (yoga) with the spirit (bhava) of adventure by transitioning into (bhava) psychological, physical and environmental edges (dhara) or marginal spaces. This new style of yoga thrives in the in-between and in the mysterious, all while reviving our sense of wonder and hope. Yoga Dhara pays homage to yoga’s ancient Indian roots, but it does not pretend to be a perfect replica of some past system. On the contrary, although classically conscious, Yoga Dhara is future focused and only presents itself as a new practice originating in the West in the 21st century…after all, yoga always evolves!
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