Yoga came to the West from India, in bits and pieces from the 1920’s to the 1960’s. From the 1960’s to about ten years ago, the only people teaching yoga were more or less hippies. Teachers who emphasized the spiritual aspect of the practice and taught small classes made up of a ragtag assortment of humans beings. Grandmas, new moms, pregnant moms, college students and athletes getting over injuries, wearing loose fitting clothing that resembles nothing like the yoga bras and tight, wedgie-inducing Yoga Tart pants on offer today. Somewhere along the way over the past twenty years the fitness industry and corporations got ahold of yoga (I won’t even go into the whole Pilates fad) and turned it into just another way to get fit. Oh, and look HOT.
Yoga is supposed to be much more than that. In 1997-98 the most sought after yoga teachers were from Golden Bridge in L.A. They were Western Sikh followers of Yogi Bhajan, wore extremely modest clothing and their long hair was tucked up in a white turban. The stars of this yoga school were Gurmukh, who taught prenatal yoga and also helped more than a few people stay sober through yoga, and Gurutej Kaur. Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers was one of Gurmukh’s students. A punk singer and music producer from the Midwest reinvented himself as a yogi named Mahan. They didn’t preach Sikhism, but there was a definite spiritual emphasis, with talk of meditation, chakras, energy, auric fields, and the like. It was cheerful and comforting.
Then came power yoga, Bikram yoga (hot yoga), and provocative yoga, complete with porn soundtrack. Now the women demonstrating yoga positions in magazines (even Yoga Journal) or videos look like (usually white) gymnists. Or like lingerie models. There isn’t anything about your soul, centering, meditation, union of body, mind and spirit, or communion with the divine. But they make damn sure to use the impressively long original Indian names for every single pose in a stab of authenticity, which gets lost among all the accessories you’re suddenly supposed to have, like “yoga bricks” and special “Toesox” socks.
Kate Potter’s soothing yoga show, Namaste Yoga, once shown on Canadian televison and the cable channel FitTV, used to feature women from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, but all pretty much at the same level of ultra-fitness. I’m not asking for robe-wearing sadhus exclusively, but it would have been nice to see a few bigger ladies included as well. Or Chris Grosso wrote for yoganonymous.com, “Unless I missed the memo, spirituality is not just for pretty, clean cut, white folks who have more money than they know what to do with”
There are authentic sanghas who teach “old school” yoga, but they might not be as easy to find if their message and ads are lost among the flashier teachers. Which leads to the fact that teacher training in some states is laughable. Just because someone has a yoga teaching certification doesn’t mean that they are actually qualified to teach.
Julie J.C. Peters righteously ranted about the sexy Equinox Yoga video in Elephant Journal:
“Yoga advertising has been trying for a while now to make me feel bad about my body so that I get insecure enough to buy whatever they are selling.” You mean not everyone works out in Agent Provocateur underwear?
Although Susan “Stop the Insanity!” Powter produced her own down-to-earth yoga video for all fitness levels, Trailer Park Yoga. This DVD did not receive the advertising push that a video like Equinox Yoga or Provocative Yoga received, and so is therefore an obscure resource for women looking for alternatives.
In her article “Tits and Ass in a Mala,” Portland, Oregon yoga teacher Maya Devi Georg asks, “How about featuring non-sexualized images of young women, or celebrating images of older women, women of color, or men at any age?”:
“This is a call to practitioners and teachers to take responsibility for the practice—not just for themselves but those who will follow us. What does the future of yoga hold in the West? Will it be reduced to corporate ownership, making bad classes better, but making great classes extinct? Will it be ruled by greed, glamour, fads and gimmicks? Or will the word yoga become so overused that the inherent meaning is lost?”
Namaste to that!