The Future Of Yoga… Or Lack Thereof
By Waylon Lewis, Elephant Journal
Up until the 1940s or so, food was food—and had been food for, say, farrrrr longer than 5,000 years.
We cultivated varieties of apples, etc.—so that they’d be delicious and healthy and hardy (and, hearty). After Dubyadubya Two, however, chemical warfare companies needed to find a way to make money in peacetime…remarkably, companies (cough: Monsanto!) dedicated to killing and poison transitioned into fertilizer and, since, 2000 or so, genetically-modified foods.
Where only 50 years ago there were, say, 100 varieties of easily-accessible tomatoes at your friendly local market stand, now we have, say, just three in your average grocery store.
The Irish Potato Famine happened ’cause the crop was vulnerable, it all got killed all at once by one damn blight. We’re setting ourselves up for this again on an epic scale: this time, all food, everywhere, in its newly homogenized form, is vulnerable to virus or disease.
And food, of course, is the basis of all life, health, happiness, business, mortgages, jobs. You know: everything.
Getting to the point at hand.
I’m sharing that little concern because, in my view, Yoga is—right now—in an analogous situation.
We wouldn’t know it, however, not yet—we have amazing teachers like Richard Freeman, Tias Little, Georg Feuerstein who know their stuff—who know enough that, as Richard said last month—to know that they “don’t know that much, still” (he said this in a pranayama and lecture class I attended and dragged a colleague to, who would have much preferred a “real” yoga class—you know, physical—at the Yoga Journal Conference in Estes Park, Colorado).
And if Richard Freeman’s vast knowledge of yoga doesn’t, in his estimation, amount to “that much, still”…well, imagine the knowledge of our average-to-wonderful yoga teacher at your average-to-wonderful local yoga studio who graduated from your average-to-wonderful two-week yoga teacher training that accepts all applicants, provided they can cut a check.
Now, I’m not saying yoga teachers of my generation aren’t good people. Some of them are. Many are charming, charismatic, caring, sweet. But many don’t know or care much about alignment. Yoga, without alignment, is dangerous. Many play music in class, which is horrible/fine (depending on our pov). Many are ambassadors for lululemon, or other marketing-happy clothing companies that don’t bother to make eco or fair labor fashion but do bother to spend millions in R&D to make sure your tush looks fit. Many teachers have great twitter/facebook/blog and general new media/social media presence. Some have agents and iPhone apps and books.
All of that is good—we’re doing an incredible amount to get yoga out to the masses who might otherwise note give a care. The other day I went on a hike with a yoga teacher who, in college, was a bit lost in the world of partying and fancy jeans and shallow relationships (her words)…and for whom yoga (with music, I’m sure) was her one outlet, her one connection to the sweet Catholicism of her youth, her one connection in those crazy/hazy years to relaxation, to living more healthfully…and now she’s as happy and sweet and genuine a person as you’ve ever met. So the yoga celebs—Tara Stiles, Elena Browers, Sadie Nardinis, Baron Baptistes, Bikram Choudhurys, Kathryn Budigs, Seane Corns, John Friends…and random local yoga teachers of the world? I namaste and ommmmmmmmmm to you in gratitude. I mean it. No, seriously. I mean it: our speedy, materialistic, silly, wonderful society needs an hour or two of peace and breath a day or week, and yoga-for-the-masses provides that.
Yoga is tonic for the world’s ills.
But who among us is studying yoga in the depth that the last generation did? Not me. Who is stewarding the roots of yoga, which are about “stilling the waves of the mind,” as Patanjali puts it? Is meditation a part of your typical yoga class? No: but Thievery Corporation or Michael Franti or Govinda or Jack Johnson or Gotan Project is.
Sites like Yogaglo give me hope. If we can dig up and/or archive the teachings of Richard and Patricia Walden and Judith Hanson Lasater and Tim Miller and John Friend, let alone BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois and others…future generations will have a wealth of real, “live” teachings to learn from. I talked with Yogaglo at Yoga Journal conference—and asked if they’d begin offering more lectures and study sessions, not just asana classes.
Because yoga isn’t what we picture when we hear the word “yoga.” It’s not yoga pants. It’s not young models exercising with pastel backgrounds before they get back into their SUV and pop by Whole Foods to grab some quinoa for their 1.8 children.
What is yoga?
1. Yoga is a spiritual path. Yoga is about becoming a more fully present, genuine, compassionate person.
2. And, yoga is—for those who don’t want to become happy holy spiritual types—a physical exercise that will—as a pleasant side effect—open up your mind and heart so that you, yes you—are a better businessperson, saner lover, better parent, more focused athlete, relaxed child.
Both are yoga. But we must take care of the less marketable, less salable form of yoga…lest in ignoring the roots we lose the flower.
Richard and the last generation of yoga greats are still teaching, so this little question might not seem urgent.
But in just 10 years…who will present yoga in depth? And who will learn it? Not the legions of new yoga teachers that pass through the doors of Corepower and Yogaworks, each month (again, god bless ‘em—larger, more accessible studios are creating genuine, peaceful armies of good people in this crazy world).
So: will you or your favorite local yoga teacher accept this important challenge and responsibility—and study, practice and teach yoga’s true and full intent?
Waylon Lewis, founder of elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show, is a 1st generation American Buddhist, or “Dharma Brat.” Awards: #1 on twitter in US for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green & Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, Green Entrepreneur of ’07, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi & 365-day bicycle commuter. His aim is to bring the good news beyond the choir and to the masses through media and politics. elephantjournal.com | facebook.com/elephantjournal | twitter.com/elephantjournal