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Western "Yoga"

When we think about how yoga was traditionally taught and learned, passed down from Guru to sadhaka, there was a sincere desire on the part of the student to learn – and when the student was earnest and proved themselves worthy of the teachings, only then were the teachings shared. A great love and respect developed between the student and the guru.

The deeper I study this living tradition, I don’t think this translates at all in Western group classes. Yoga in the West is based on capitalism and consumerism. And while there is also “group study” in Eastern culture, it is typically in an Ashram environment where Yoga is lived and practiced all day long and for an extended period of time, so there is a much deeper connection to the tradition.

Without honoring the roots – the lineage of yoga – those who first discovered and experienced and taught and refined this practice, how can we call this “Yoga”?

In modern Western cultures, people go to a class, usually for some physical benefit whether its stretching, strengthening, improving balance and flexibility, increasing range of motion, and so on….Students might also come to yoga now for mental health reasons, as they learn that yoga is good for calming anxiety, for PTSD and depression.

They pay their money and demand a result. They might even go to teacher trainings to learn more – deeper teachings, and pay more money and demand to get their certificate whether or not they have actually completed the course (and we could go into what is included in that course that makes them now “experts on Yoga”, but that’s a story for another day). I have heard teachers say that they have to pass all students whether or not they complete the coursework, because they are afraid of being sued. How is this yoga?

Yoga has so little to do with asana. Yes, the asana is there – it is good to move the body – to release energy blockages and to be healthy, b/c if the body is full of crap, it will be difficult to ever transcend where you are. But, you must first start with the ethical practices. There must first be a sincere desire to change. To let go of false belief systems. To let go of violence – violent thoughts, emotions and behaviors. A sincere desire to learn and practice the higher teachings, which are mostly left out of Western yoga.

Yoga is a living tradition, and when putting these teachings into practice, you may indeed have your own amazing experiences – It may open doors you never realized were possible – it may be life transforming. And, your experiences are completely valid and may be unique to you – but that does not make you the inventer of a new yoga. Yoga is yoga is yoga is yoga. The determined seeker will find it. All else is nothing but exercise.

*Photo by outsidethccn dsgn on Unsplash

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