Thursday, July 11, 2013

Celebrating Yoga in America

Saluting American Yoga! with thanks to YogaDawg (July 4, 2013)

[Note: This post was originally entitled "In Praise of American Yoga." I decided to change it in response to comments from several people who feel that the term "American yoga" is inherently offensive and objectionable. I see it as simply descriptive, and interchangeable with "yoga in America." However, titles form first impressions, which are important. So, I've changed that, but left the rest of the wording alone.]


I like to think of myself as a cultural critic. Flag-waving patriotism turns me off. Nonetheless, when it comes to the subject of American yoga, at the moment I’m feeling oddly cheerleader-prone. Why? Because while I’m all in favor of critiquing the commercialism, narcissism, and cultural shallowness that runs so rampant in American yoga culture, I’m also opposed to caricaturing the entire endeavor as the hopelessly corrupt offspring of an otherwise pristine yoga tradition.

Of course, it’s certainly true that the American yoga boom of the past 15 years has generated its own peculiar set of problems. Critical issues of commercialism, cultural appropriation, and cheapening a rich tradition absolutely need to be raised. From my perspective, the issue isn’t whether critiques of American yoga are warranted: they are. The question, rather, is how to levy those critiques constructively.

Trying to neatly separate “corrupt” American yoga from some supposedly “pure” alternative (whether Indian, Hindu, Tantric, traditional, countercultural, old school, 1990s, or whatever) is not constructive for two key reasons. First, it’s inaccurate and misleading. Real life is messy. This has always been true, both within the yoga tradition and beyond it. Second, splitting the complexities of life into all-good and all-bad categories is unnecessarily divisive, and generates unintended negativity.


Looking for Shangri-La?


Ironically, dichotomies of “pure” versus “corrupt” yoga encourage well meaning Westerners wishing to honor the yoga tradition to unwittingly reinscribe colonialist stereotypes of the “mystic East,” imagining India as a timeless, mystic land beyond the reach of modernity and even history itself. Even in the 21st century, the iconic image of Shangri-La continues to loom large in the American yoga imaginary. (A "mystical, harmonious valley, gently guided from a lamasery” featured in the 1933 novel, Lost Horizon, “Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise, and particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia — a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world.”)

For example, xoJane recently published an earnest article entitled "Like It Or Not, Western Yoga Is A Textbook Example Of Cultural Appropriation."  The author, s.e. smith (a self-described white atheist who rejects normal gender pronouns such as “she” in favor of the gender-neutral term “ou”) shares her (or rather, ous) reservations about practicing yoga, which ou describes as “an aspect of the Hindu faith with origins that are thousands of years past.”
until very recently . . . I did asanas and pranayama myself as a way of focusing, centering, and strengthening myself. I liked how these practices made my body and mind feel, but I also felt deeply troubled by my use of some of the eight limbs of yoga in a way that didn’t feel in accordance with the practice’s roots, and by my practice of yoga as an atheist.

If I wouldn’t dream of taking Communion at a Catholic Church if I was attending as a guest, why would I practice yoga? Aren’t there lots of explicitly fitness-oriented options for me to choose from that don’t require me to appropriate religious practices from former colonies?
This line of reasoning ignores the fact that the term “Hinduism” was a Western invention that lumped the disparate religious traditions of India into a single category modeled after our own monotheistic faiths. True, Indians quickly appropriated the term and used it means of building a unified national identity and fighting British colonialism. That shift, however, soon birthed a new, deliberately modernized variant of Hinduism – which, in turn, provided the cultural context for the development of modern yoga.

Given that modern yoga was intentionally crafted to speak to people of all faiths, nationalities, and cultures, ou’s feeling that ou should not practice it since ou is not Hindu is, in fact, a rejection of Indian tradition, not an affirmation of it! However, as long as India is implicitly assumed to be a land beyond history, it's impossible to imagine such a possibility, as it's based on a recognition that Indian spiritual practices (including yoga and Hinduism) evolve over time, just as they do in the West.

Image via Decolonizing Yoga (excerpt from Yoga PhD)

Similarly, in a recent Huff Post article, Yogi Cameron Alborzian denounces contemporary asana-based yoga on the grounds that “postures were never supposed to become the centerpiece of the entire practice, and it was only through the ego that people started to focus on them. As a result, more postures have been invented in the last few centuries.”

Again, while well intentioned, the assertion that the development of modern asana practice was solely driven by “ego” isn’t supported by historical fact. (The larger point of the article, that it’s good to move beyond a simple fixation on the body, is a good one, and particularly notable coming from an ex-supermodel who once worked with Madonna.) T.K.V. Desikachar, for example, once explained that his father, Sri T. Krishnamacharya (the most influential figure in the development of yoga as we know it today), “evolved very important principles in the practice of asana,” developing so many new postures and techniques so quickly that he was “unable to keep track of his new discoveries.”

Modern asana-based practice, in other words, was not a corruption of an otherwise pure yoga tradition produced by out-of-control modern egos. Rather, it was a deliberate reformulation of what has always been a vast and diverse tradition, re-crafting yoga in ways designed to meets the needs of the modern world.


The Pure and the Impure?


In "Stepping into the Yoga Time Machine: Before the Yogamagedon,” Chris Courtney attempts to cut the yogic wheat from the chaff in a new way. Rather than rejecting modern or even American yoga as a whole, he limits the corruption of yoga to what’s happened with it during the past 15 years in the U.S.:
Imagine a time before ex-cheerleader mean girls and lecherous douchebags had taken over yoga studios. Imagine a time when classes were harder to find, but were also less likely to suck . . . Imagine a time before yoga became an 'industry.' When there was a genuine sense of community and collaboration, rather than competition. The time you’re imagining is the late 1990s in America.

 . . . When I think of what we’ve allowed yoga in America to become, it seems that instead of holding steady in our practice to consciously navigate our way through the Kali Yuga, we’ve doubled down on its worst aspects. With every new yoga fad, gimmick, or distraction from the practice, we’re moving farther from the divine and speeding our own degeneration.
While I appreciate the desire to lambaste the slavish commercialism that’s become more and more present in American yoga culture, neatly dividing recent history into the “good” yoga of the 1990s versus the “bad” yoga of today is absurd. I’ve heard enough stories about L.A. yoga culture in the 1990s to believe that this idyllic time of “community and collaboration, rather than competition” didn’t exist. My best guess would be that then, like now, the yoga world contained pockets both of cut-throat competition and inspiring cooperation. In most cases, however, I suspect that people found themselves spending a lot of time in that big, grey area in between.

Similarly, the idea that we’re speeding away from “the divine” and toward “our own degeneration” is a bit much. It's worth noting that there have been some positive developments that didn’t exist in the 1990s: the yoga service movement, the expansion of yoga into prisons and other major social institutions, the explosion of the yoga blogosphere, the development modern yoga studies, the integration of yoga with somatic psychology, the development of trauma-sensitive yoga, and the expansion of female leadership, to name a few.

Back cover image: 21st Century Yoga c. Sarit Z. Rogers / Sarit Photography

Problems of Polarization

Since I'm sympathetic to the critical project, I wouldn’t be harping on the need to be more balanced if I wasn’t concerned that the public conversation about yoga has started to become overly polarized. Not long ago, we had the opposite problem: except for a few lone bloggers, yoga discourse seemed firmly sealed in a big, pastel-colored bubble, in which no negative observations were allowed. Now, the bubble has clearly burst – and that’s a good thing. The question, however, is how to build an inclusive conversation that balances honesty and critique with respect for diverse experiences, commitments, and points of view.

While it takes a variety of forms, there’s a recurring tendency to try and divide the sprawling, vast, diverse world of yoga into fixed camps with clear boundaries separating the good from the bad, the commercial from the authentic, and the pure from the corrupt. I believe that it’s important to resist these tendencies toward neat categorization, which present an inaccurately simplified view of reality, and promote interpersonal division.

Of course, it’s tempting to pit “commercial yoga” against “authentic yoga" (or whatever) to dramatize a valid critique. Yet setting up such hard-and-fast categories carries a cost. Dividing the yoga community into a good “us” versus a bad “them” encourages self-righteousness on the “us” side by creating a stereotyped “Other” to measure one’s superiority against. At the same time, it tends to generate hurt, anger, resentment, and/or alienation among “them.” Once such dynamics are in play, the negative blowback overshadows whatever good may have been intended by the critique.

For Americans in particular, there are also big problems with the social ethics of such “corrupt vs. pure” paradigms. Writing off contemporary American yoga as hopelessly tainted provides an excellent rationale for immersing oneself in a yoga subculture that’s uninterested, if not actively resistant to connecting with others in our society. At the same time, it undermines faith in our ability to confront with the enormous challenges of our particular time and place.

Given the sorry state of our country at this time, I personally feel that those of us lucky enough to have received the gifts of an effective yoga practice would be better off seeking ways to share this knowledge with others. Doing this, however, requires accepting the realities of American yoga and the society it’s part of in all of its maddening messiness and contradictory complexity. This doesn’t mean dropping critique or embracing the lazy apathy of “it’s all good." It does, however, require tempering criticism with concern for others who may not share our perspectives or commitments, yet still in their own way love yoga as much as we do.


112 comments:

  1. The problem here, as I see it, is the the focus on how the Americanization of yoga has diminished yoga rather than how it has reinvented, reinvigorated and restored it for a new generation of global citizens. At this point I will shamelessly promote my contribution to this process:L An American Yoga: The Kripalu Story. http://www.amazon.com/American-Yoga-Kripalu-Story/dp/1450786243/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1359728044&sr=1-1&keywords=james+abro

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    1. Thanks! Your book looks very interesting - I'd like to read it and am glad to know about it.

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  2. Carol, thanks for the typically astute analysis. I love that the issue of corruption and distortion are lively in the yoga world today. It is very important that this be in the forefront of everyone's awareness, because the danger is real, and as Patanjali advised, we can avert the danger before it comes. That said, I agree wholeheartedly that it is equally dangerous to make glib assumptions about what is "pure" and what is not, or to polarize something as diverse and adaptable as the yoga tradition into Indian = good, American = bad, or old = good, new = bad, or hermetic/obscure = good, successful/popular = bad.
    The question is, and always has been, how to adapt the teachings to a new era, a new language, a new culture, new values, new technologies, etc. without diluting their effectiveness or distorting their purpose and profundity.
    It should also be said that the issue is not new. It is also not restricted to yoga as modern hatha yoga. All the gurus, swamis and acharyas who came to the West dealt with it, including those for whom asana practice was incidental to or left out of their teachings. Vivekananda adapted Vedanta to the modern world and took flak for it. Yogananda introduced Sunday morning services because that's when Americans got spiritual. He also dispensed some of his teachings via mail order. Things like that were unprecedented and could easily have been viewed as corruptions for commercial purposes. Same thing happened when TM got huge after the Beatles. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi trained young people like me to teach a traditional meditation form. He was lambasted for commercialization, and Hindus in India went nuts because only brahmins were supposed to teach such practices. And on and on.
    Same as it ever was. We need to be vigilant and protect the integrity of the teachings. But we also need to be flexible and adaptable -- that too is part of the integrity of the teachings.
    Keep up the good work,
    Phil Goldberg

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    1. Love this reply, Phil.

      Thanks.

      Bob

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    2. Phil, what are your thoughts on social responsibility to the traditions being sold? Does it remind you of colonialism too?

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  3. Thanks Phil for such an interesting and informed comment. It is great to have all those historical examples.

    I also think that you're quite right to point out that there is something to the idea of protecting the integrity of the teachings as well. Of course, it gets tricky fast when you consider that the tradition is rapidly changing, and that different people have different views on what that core integrity consists of.

    I think that we each can only do our best to suss out what integrity means in such a fluid and variegated situation. And of course like-minded people will naturally find each other and form communities, which is good.

    Personally, I think that integrity has multiple forms. By the same token, it tends to get lost quickly when we start assuming that ours is the best, and perhaps only way.

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  4. Beautifully written, Carol. Couldn't agree with you more.

    And how did you get the elusive YogaDawg to return, or has he been back and I just didn't know it? (I already linked to his archive website on my site.)

    Posting this to my new "virtual forum" Best of Yoga Philosophy.

    Bob W.

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  5. Krishnamacharya also said in 1934 (as quoted in Mark Singleton's book):

    "By falling prey to the advertisements of those same foreigners who stole so much of our indigenous knowledge, we have indeed paid a high price. Now they claim it was their own discovery! Perhaps in the future they will also sell back to us the science of yoga. The reason for this is that most of us have neither studied nor put into practice the texts of yoga. If we remain quiet, the foreigners will become our yoga gurus! It is nothing short of a tragedy that we have thrown away our golden cup and are drinking instead from this foul smelling leather flask brought from abroad. I sincerely hope that such ill fortune will not fall on future generations."

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  6. p.s. the Krishnamacharya quote taken from: http://lenscaprefractions.blogspot.com/2013/07/part-ii.html

    I think it's an excellent analysis regarding the Indian v. American yoga debate: "It is simply a question of honoring the yoga that has been shared and those who generously shared it, by not arbitrarily transforming it into an image of our own making, and then claiming it to be our own."

    amen.

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    1. I definitely agree with that. And would add that our own experience of yoga becomes richer to the extent that we're able to feel connected to that tradition.

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  7. There is much misunderstanding revealed by this piece. Fundamentally the problem we are facing is too many people believing themselves to be expert enough to comment (I'm aware of the irony), something that did not happen in the cultural values traditionally associated with yoga.
    Allow me to reflect on some misconceptions:
    Yoga is not a thing. By it's very nature it cannot be defined or evolve. People are actually only arguing over the name and forms. The practises may change over time but the end does not. It is just a waste of time to describe anything with a different end as Yoga - adopting the name or form of something does not make it that.
    The idea that modern yoga, or even most yoga practiced in the west, is decended from the Krishnamacharia lineage is just not statistically true. The Art of Living Foundation, the Shivananda lineage, and the Kriya yoga lineage are more numerous just not as visible or commercialised.
    There are 100's of millions of people (probably billions) of people world wide, but especially in Hindu cultures, that have daily yoga practices that have never heard of Desikachar, Jois, or Iyenga (at least not that one- Iyenga is a widely used brahmin name and is frequent amongst Yogi's. In the broader view of yoga they are an irrelevance as is this debate.
    I could go on an on - but let me finish with something for you to reflect on if you have any understanding of yoga at all - the projected motivation you give for "authentic" yogi's entering the debate is that they are frustrated at their relative lack of success...

    Anyone who is frustrated by anything at all has too far to go in their path to comment on Yoga at all. You are all just chasing shadows.

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  8. It's ironic that anonymous commentator would post a condescending comment and end it by proclaiming that "Anyone who is frustrated by anything at all has too far to go in their path to comment on Yoga at all." Why, then, are you commenting on this post?

    The Indian yoga tradition is full of rich commentary. While I'm certainly not comparing blogging to that, your assertion that the yoga tradition does not contain commentary is simply wrong. It's also incorrect to state that the ends of yoga have not been understood in different ways, in Indian history and elsewhere. Once you get past the vaguest terms and categories, they most certainly have been.

    As far as diverse lineages and practitioners go, I agree with your assessment - but so what? My interest is in writing about American yoga because that's what I know. I respect other traditions, lineages, and commitments as well.

    Those who have no interest in American yoga are wasting their time reading this blog.

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    1. I don't read anonymous' comment as "condescending." And, I would say this tendency to label something derisively when it fails to accord with our sentiments is a tendency I see all too often in the world today. Within many sectors of society, I guess it's understandable, however within the context of self-reflection, philosophy and yoga it is particularly unfortunate. So, critical yes, but not condescending.

      I also don't read anonymous as saying that there is no commentary in yoga, but something quite different. S/he seems to me to be making the claim that what we see in American yoga are people who lack the qualification, i.e., knowledge and experience, to adequately comment. So, we end up with a situation similar to a bunch of pre-schoolers trying to teach college calculus. This is something all to common in the modern world and is manifested in the multiple "yoga is everything" mindset that permeates American yoga.

      Also, expressing the idea that "Those who have no interest in American yoga are wasting their time reading this blog" seems to accomplish little more than drawing an insular boundary around oneself in order to clearly demarcate one's area of specialization into which one need not wonder unless s/he is prepared to accept the King, or in this case, Queen's definitions. I had a similar experience in grad school in my environmental philosophy department, such an environment does little to foster thought, exploration or learning. And again, within the context of old, white guy academia such attitudes and orientations are not surprising. Here, within the context of self-exploration, they seem more troubling.

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    2. Thad - Thanks for your comment. I would like to focus on your claim that "in American yoga are people who lack the qualification, i.e., knowledge and experience, to adequately comment" on yoga. (I don't think that the issue of whether the original comment was in fact condescending is particularly important.)

      If you are saying that every one of the 20 million plus people who live in the US and practice yoga have no capacity to "adequately comment" on their own experience, that is a big claim that I most strongly disagree with.

      Do you really want to dismiss the experience of all American yoga practitioners as something as only at the "preschool" level? And you know this is true because . . . they live on this part of the North American continent? Or am I missing something here?


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    3. Fair enough regarding the first part.

      First off, I was merely attempting to provide an alternative perspective on anonymous' comment. One which I feel more accurately reflects his/her point of view. I don't think it's fair to characterize his/her comment as rejecting all commentary in yoga.

      Secondly, everyone is of course entitled to comment on their experience. The privilege to comment is the foundation of the Facebook/blog generation. Accompanying this privilege is the weird idea that everything "I" think has value. However, I don't think this necessarily follows. To continue with the analogy (recognizing that analogies are inherently weak forms of argumentation), if a preschooler attends a college calculus class, he will probably say it was really hard and not understandable. This is reflective of his experience, but this in no way is indicative of calculus.

      So, the question then becomes regarding "American Yoga," what kind of commentary are you, I, we offering? Are we sufficiently schooled to offer commentary beyond, "I think it's hard," "I think it sucks?" Have we done our homework? Have we read the yogic texts, along with the recognized commentaries, or are we just offering our two cents because someone down at our local shala sold us on the idea that "Yoga is whatever you want it to be?"

      I would venture that more often than not, the answer is that we have not done the work necessary to be considered anywhere near qualified. In true American fashion, we are trying to run before we can walk and then take offense when we're told by others, who have in fact done the necessary work, that our shit stinks.

      I "know" this because 200 hours isn't enough to certify someone to program a computer, let alone deal the subject of self-realization. I "know" this because I've spent too much time reading yoga drivel on the internet which amounts to nothing more than speculation and personal opinion ungrounded in yogic epistemology. I "know" this because almost no one I know in the "American Yoga" scene gives a crap about the tradition of knowledge in yoga. I mean, even by your own admission, you never realized that sun salutations were a form of worshipping the Sun god and I consider you to be a fairly well-versed and educated individual. So, how does someone practice yoga for 15 years and not stumble upon this basic information? The answer, my answer, is that something is broken, which leads me to think that anonymous might be onto something.

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    4. When you refer to "the" tradition of knowledge in yoga, specifically what are you referring to? Do you have a list of epistemological points in mind that one must master? A method that one is supposed to study? Or guru that one is supposed to study with? What, specifically is the one fount of yogic knowledge that you are pointing towards? Because I have no idea what you concretely have in mind when you make these claims. You seem to have a very fixed definition of yoga, yet you don't provide enough detail for me to understand what it is.

      As far as Sun Salutations go, I wonder if you saw the recent image macro posted on Decolonizing Yoga on "The Origin of Suryanamaskar"? If not, it is a quote from "Yoga Body" saying that the "traditional" Sun Salutation was in fact developed in the early 20th century and rooted in the Indian body building tradition.

      Perhaps what is "broken" is our lack of faith in our own experience and need to place it in some vision of perfect truth that only exists wholly outside of our own culture, history, and lived experience.

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    5. I'm not speaking about "yoga" at all really, as such a thing I would venture is best understood in terms of Wittgenstein's family resemblances. What I'm referring to is how one comes to "know" and "learn" within the context of yoga, i.e., yogic epistemology for lack of a better term.

      And here I would argue that no matter what yoga we approach we find the same thing: the necessity of submitting oneself to the lessons transmitted via the parampara. This lies at the core of most eastern forms of knowledge and the need to figure it out otherwise is a wholly Western trait, indicative of intellectual imperialism.

      And so, while I've seen Singleton's interpretation, I'm not interested in it. I wouldn't any sooner go to a therapist who had not been properly trained and certified than I would to someone looking to find answers to the history and tradition of yoga outside of that context and who's interested in placing his/her name on the front cover in order to make a buck and/or become well-known. Why should I privilege Singleton's "research" over Pattabhi Jois or Krishnamacharya? These men spent their entire lives steeped in the method, practice and knowledge of yoga. They followed parampara. Why not use them as examples of how we should approach the study and practice of yoga? Because in our western arrogance, we think we know better and have the market cornered on truth?

      So no, I don't think what's broken is our "lack of faith." As per the norm, what's broken is our lack of humility.

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    6. I would suggest a paradigm shift in terms of the frame of this discussion. By clarifying that what you most value is "the necessity of submitting oneself the the lessons transmitted via the parampara," you provide enough information to make it clear that we have a fundamental disagreement in terms of what we care about and why.

      I am interested in any sort of practice that increases wisdom and compassion in everyday life. To me, yoga is simply one of many possible practices that can help. It helps me. But, I also draw freely from other traditions, most notably including contemporary Vipassana and the social justice tradition of Christianity.

      By extension, I am interested in sharing yoga (as I understand it) with other people in my immediate community (which most concretely means the South Side of Chicago) because I see that there is so much ill health and suffering here, and believe that people can benefit from learning yoga. And, based on the reception that I and others get when we teach yoga (again, as we know it - which doesn't fit your criteria), this is true.

      As far as Mark Singleton goes, I have enormous respect for him as a person and as a scholar. I don't want to bother with getting into an argument about him and him work, but just want to have that publicly noted as I feel strongly about it.

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  9. Hi Carol,

    Thanks for a well written and informative article. Not sure I understand why people choose to use blog comments to be critical of other peoples writings. It seems that if they hold an opinion so different that they should simply go write their own blog. I digress, as one who has come to American Yoga in the last few years I have found it both enjoyable and enlightening. Elitist tendencies within Yoga will only push people away from what can be an enourmously beneficial change in their lives. I basically use my form of Yoga for exercise, relaxation, stretching and well being (stress management). I am not looking for a religion but simply enjoy my Yoga time as my own. That to me is American Yoga.
    May I reproduce some of the article with a link back to the blog on my Yoga facebook page?
    http://www.facebook.com/DownDogBoutique

    Let me know
    Thanks
    Tony

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    1. Hi Tony - You are welcome to reproduce some of the article with a link, for sure. Thanks for asking.

      Re yoga for "exercise, relaxation, stretching, and well being" . . . I also started practicing yoga over 15 years ago for stretching only. Slowly, over time, I found it came to mean much more to me than that. The beautiful thing about yoga is that's it's so multi-dimensional, and that we can keep going deeper with it throughout the entire lifespan. So, if I may suggest, stay open and see what comes with sustained practice over time.

      If you are interested, I talk about all these issues in depth, as well as the history presented briefly here, in my recent book, "Yoga PhD: Integrating the Life of the Mind and the Wisdom of the Body."

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  10. Did we leave out social responsibility altogether? Why Americans can enjoy peddling their ideas to each other, when the rightful custodians of traditions we are glib to ponder on have been undernourished, under paid, disrespected, and ignored by Americans. Indian people have the victims of a capitalist and institutionally racist society for long enough, is it almost time to stop pouring salt on untreated wounds? Or does neo-imperialism reign supreme?

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    1. Malika: I am actually very interested in social responsibility as well. I am a big supporter of what's called the "yoga service movement" in the U.S., which is dedicated to bringing yoga into settings where people in this country normally don't have the opportunity to learn it, like prisons and low-income schools. I personally teach yoga in the Cook County Jail, and have also taught in a homeless center and foster care facility. In all cases, the teachings have been very well received. This is not to give credit to me personally - on the contrary, I am simply sharing some of what's benefited me with others in ways that help me learn and grow as a person as well.

      American is full of suffering and yoga is helping many people heal and strengthen themselves, and learn to lead healthier and more meaningful lives. In the process, there is almost always at least some serious interest developed in learning about the yoga tradition as it originally developed in India. The average person doesn't have the time to become deeply knowledgeable, but I think there is some knowledge and certainly respect that gets transmitted in the process of learning yoga in these sorts of settings.

      I think that incidence of people suffering from institutional racism is very high in this country too, and fail to see how keeping yoga from being taught here helps people in India and supports any sort of progressive political position.

      Finally, I believe that the founders of modern yoga, who were all Indian, saw that a newly multicultural, globalized society was rapidly becoming a reality. Their efforts to make yoga accessible to all throughout the world were intended to be a great gift. Seeing yoga flourish in the US can be seen as a vindication of their vision, foresight, and commitment. I see it that way.

      I realize, of course, that there is much crap peddled in this country in the name of yoga as well. However, if you are involved on the ground and see the many good things that are flourishing, I think that it's very hard to make the case that American yoga is 100% bad. It's not.

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    2. I'm definitely involved and on the ground, what I object to is separating 'American' Yoga as if it is something different than 'Indian' yoga. I also don't like being spoken down to on the subject, which is not only close to my heart but in my genes, by people new to the tradition, being a South Asian American. Before an ancient tradition can be co-opted and perverted, some sensitivity and respect for the culture's people is of the essence, but if not that's okay, I am not the only one who will cite this as yet another example of typical 'American' arrogance then.

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    3. Not against sharing yoga, just against micro-aggressions in the name of yoga.

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    4. I think that yoga adapts to different times, cultures, and contexts. Even at the individual level, there is a lot of variation in terms of how people practice, what works for them and why. Yoga is no different from any other tradition in that respect.

      Please understand that I am not saying American yoga is somehow better than other forms of yoga - I'm not.

      I also think that Americans should learn about yoga's roots in India, and respect and honor those.

      What, if anything, would make you feel OK about Americans practicing yoga?




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  11. Malika Burman, MDJuly 14, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    Thankyou for your time. I hope Americans do learn the roots, honor and respect them, as you've said. But I fail to see that happening on any front. Honestly, 'American' yoga is imperialism and racism straight up, from where I stand. Claiming to know the history of yoga according to texts in English or as translated to English in the past 100 years or so does not an informed yogi make. But there are enough white people, for the time being, who think that mysticism, ancestry, and divine knowledge are a farce and a figment of an imagined 'history', and if anything I see it as a challenge to bring what only and Indian, replete with past life memories and experience, can bring.

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    1. Malika: If you are saying that only Indians should teach yoga because they bring past life memories into the process that others cannot, then I would agree with you that most Americans would probably not accept that definition of what allows for authentic yoga. I don't accept it myself. That is a clear disagreement and I'm not sure what can be done about it other than to recognize it as such.

      As far as all American yoga being "imperialism and racism straight up," I just don't see it. I wonder if you might be willing to take the time to look through a recent American yoga event that I was very positive about; that is, the Yoga Service Council conference. I am truly curious to know how something like this could be seen as racist and imperialist. If you are willing, here is the link: http://yogaservicecouncil.org/2013-conference-schedule/

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    2. Malika Burman, MDJuly 14, 2013 at 9:23 PM

      No, that isn't what I'm saying at all. Anyone can do and teach yoga. No one has to accept any beliefs in order to do so either. What I am saying is the tone that these white people are taking (see above and below) comes across as arrogant and racist. I'm not asking for you to accept my point of view either, I am giving you a heart felt reaction from the only South Asian person so far to speak up.

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  12. Malika Burman, MDJuly 14, 2013 at 12:01 PM

    From the article above, "Ironically, dichotomies of “pure” versus “corrupt” yoga encourage well meaning Westerners wishing to honor the yoga tradition to unwittingly reinscribe colonialist stereotypes of the “mystic East,” imagining India as a timeless, mystic land beyond the reach of modernity and even history itself."

    I assure you , this is not the colonialist stereotype used to rationalize the rape and pillage of Hindu cultures by the British. We are to this day described by whites as backwards, primitive (as if that's a bad thing,) and unworthy to be called or treated as human. I wish we were assumed to be a mystic people and land, had this been the case, colonialism would never have occurred.

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    1. I am aware of the history you are referring to and not questioning that. My comment about romanticizing India was in reference to contemporary American yoga practitioners (not all, obviously, but enough to make it a strong cultural trend).

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    2. Malika Burman, MDJuly 14, 2013 at 9:25 PM

      Cultural trend to some, religious belief for many, many more. Perhaps Americans are envious of having culture that does not involve racism and genocide, I'm leaning to believe this is the case.

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    3. My take on it is that there is a desire to escape the messiness of real life by imagining that you can tap directly into some perfectly pure and true tradition embedded in a community that remains untouched by the problems that have always bedeviled the rest of humanity.

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    4. Right on Malika !

      Are exemplars of liberal, democratic, secular yoga blind to their racism?
      http://dharmacology.net/dharmacologists/mat_witts/faith-politics-philosophy

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  13. People's viewpoints come from their particular templates or fields of vision.

    Carol Horton is a social scientist and is interested in the use and effects of the science of yoga on the culture. Her long view is the use of yoga to better the conditions of society.

    While there is an opportunity for self promotion and also for unending analysis of the yoga discussion in the blogosphere, which has become part of our yoga culture, the bottom line is that this author knows her purpose in life, has followed that dharma and is attempting to use her penchance for communication to further the cause of humanity's social condition with yoga as a tool.

    Yes yoga is this and yoga was that and modern yoga is full of douchebags and so was ancient yoga if people have any consistency but here the author is taking the stance that despite all this it is useful to go forward with a positive view so that we might use our best resources to improve our lot rather than waste energy on derision.

    I have had much to deride observing the shift of yoga in the last 15 years. However, once it was clear that yoga is as suspect as anything else depending on who is using it, the yoga bashing discussion got quickly boring.

    If someone wants to put energy into yoga I hear that actually doing yoga can be quite a satisfying use of time. :) Meanwhile I applaud the author for following her path of love for humanity.

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    1. Thanks, Hilary. It's funny to hear myself as someone described as having a "love for humanity," as I felt incredibly alienated and self-identified as essentially misanthropic for most of my life. The two key things that have changed that for me and allowed me to feel love for humanity despite how unbelievably fucked up we are as a specifies is 1) having children, and 2) practicing yoga.

      It's been a good shift; I am happier now :)

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  14. thanks for the great article carol, and to bob for directing me over here...

    yes, right there with you on this.

    seems to me part of the contemporary american spiritual zeitgeist is a romanticization of the ancient and exotic... ancientness and easterness = spiritual, deep, meaningful, mysterious, while modernity, westerness etc = crass, materialist, and superficial.

    part of this is a new age preoccupation with there being a hidden magical reality somewhere in our idealized past. science, reason, democracy and capitalism all get tarred then with the brush of somehow having lost touch with an ancient connection to the divine.

    in a recent movie "the sound of my voice" a beautiful blonde cult leader has a group of acolytes sitting in a circle and biting into an apple they are each holding. as soon as they swallow the first bite she says. "it's so easy to eat the apple, isn't it? but do you know what's in there? logic, education, all that bullshit intellectualism... you have to get it out, throw it up, if you really want to know what i have to show you.

    this meme is so popular in the well-marbelled worlds of spirituality and con artistry, and i think the anti-intellectual, anti-science, fetish for the ancient mysterious exotic "knowledge" plays into it.

    yoga, then, needs to be held up as an example of pure, ancient, mysterious knowledge that cannot be reduced to mere (horrors) physical postures; it is so much deeper and about something so profoundly mysterious it can't be put into words, let alone taught by flashy westerners etc..

    now, i am all for depth, but too often this false dichotomy confuses the depth/superficiality distinction with a fervent belief in mind/body (or spirit/flesh) dualism: depth = not of this world, certainly not of the body, while focus on the body or even the psyche, focus on (what i am told i naively call) the real world is superficial or mundane.

    as long as we perpetuate myths about an ancient tradition that somehow allows us to know god or develop supernatural powers or become identified with an immortal essence, we also will perpetuate this shining fantasy of a shangri la, of a pure lineage, and conversely of a corrupted modern yoga, which of course will be all yoga, because there is nothing that will give us access to that wich does not exist. so, we just keep moving the goalposts in a quixotian quest for enlightenment.

    i am with you: critique specific details of commercialism, genuine superficiality, new age magical thinking, equating advanced inner work with inaccesible acrobatics, but not on the grounds that it bastardizes an idealized ancient tradition that probably never existed in the form we (ironically) positively stereotype out of a misguided longing to transcend our bodies and the world around us..

    viva yoga as a form of inquiry that transcends mythic literalist beliefs, fetishized cultural context, and unreasonable expectations, and finds it 's home in natural embodied awareness!

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    1. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, Julian.

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    2. well thanks for your lukewarm response carol! :P i am enjoying your articles these days.

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    3. Touche. Sorry, I just couldn't think of anything inspiring to say. I am too preoccupied with the people who seem dead set opposed to seeing anything positive in American yoga (whoops, I mean "yoga in America".) Not all those voices are here; some I've encountered on Facebook.

      It is interesting to see the resistance - if they are presented with something not commercial, not flaky, not trivial, etc., there is simply no interest. If it can't be denounced substantively, it is denounced by fiat - it is by definition inferior from the get-go. It seems clear that for some, seeing something positive in yoga in America would detract too heavily from their vision of the "authentic."

      So, I am still musing over that, but don't yet have anything new to add to what you or I or others have already said . . . maybe next week :)

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    4. ugh you know what i was just being a snark.... ignore it. on further reading through your comments section i see the time and effort you are putting into dealing with various critiques. good job!

      i think i am just missing being an active blogger and commenter.

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    5. No problem, Julian. What's keeping you away?

      Bob

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    6. sheer frustration. going from thousands of readers on EJ to barely breaking a couple hundred. realizing that i am in in way way more of a minority view than i had ever imagined, and that the vast majority of folks in the yoga world are either basically theists or magical thinkers, and extreme relativists to boot. :(

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    7. Uh oh. But that doesn't explain the decline . . . perhaps it's that the EJ readership has shifted, and is no longer such a good fit with your work.

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    8. Hi, Julian.

      We have all been spoiled by the elephant heyday, when all of us were posting on elephant and discussing and promoting each other's articles, and elephant was actively promoting all great yoga philosophy articles.

      With Best of Yoga Philosophy I'd like to foster the same atmosphere virtually by creating a dedicated crowd and bringing the crowd to individual blogs instead of bringing the articles to the crowd, just like we've done here and we did at Matthew's last article.

      But it may never be in the 1000s again. To that I say, how would you feel if you had 200 people show up to hear you speak at an event at the local bookstore? Just because we once had 1000s doesn't mean 100 or 200 is insignificant, especially if the mix of readers is stronger.

      I'm not going for quantity in this project, but rather very high quality in both writing and readership, and only yoga philosophy.

      Make sense? This is only 1 month old. Just getting started. Preliminary results promising. Suggestions welcome. If you like the idea, spread the word that this is where we're all going to hang out now.

      (I got so excited by this idea that I quite suddenly and unexpectedly jumped back in from a very happy retirement studying Italian, playing with grandkids, and listening to Mozart operas.)

      Bob

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    9. Re: EJ

      While many excellent articles have been published at EJ (inclusive of authors in this very thread), I can't help but notice many of the most popular articles there are the ones with the "Vogue-like" titles that have numbers in them to attract readers. To wit from a perusual of EJ from today: "The 10 Things You'll Do Once You Start Yoga", "10 Healthy Ways To Lose Weight And Feel Your Best", "5 Ways To Get Intimate That Don't Involve Having Sex", "10 Easy Steps to Becoming A Yoga Celebrity", "5 Excuses Not To Practice At Home", "10 Tips For When Your Brain Has Melted"...etc.

      Julian - "Yoga and the 3 Principles of Transformational Neuroplasticity" - far too intellectual for the website's target audience. EJ (IMHO) is primarily fluff with a smattering of thoughtful articles thrown in to achieve a veneer of credibility. Even Carol hasn't published an article there since January (for whatever reason!)

      I say time to move on - let Waylon reap whatever commercial success he gets out of it and the smart kids can take their marbles and go play elsewhere...

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    10. "even" Carol? Hm.

      Then again, maybe I don't want to know . . . :)

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    11. Hi, \mb. Thanks for writing.

      elephant is a sprawling publication with 15-25 articles published everyday and over 2 million views per month. So elephant is many things to many people all at once. (I retired from elephant last year as Assoc. Publisher and previouly Yoga Editor.)

      elephant still has by far the richest selection of yoga philosophy articles of anyplace on the Internet, in addition to the lighter articles like you cite above and many other things as well.

      I know this because even though I follow over 50 yoga blogs each day in my RSS feed, I still get about 1/3 of my Best of Yoga Philosophy selections from elephant, even though I'm not giving elephant any special preference. Nothing else even comes close.

      You can see what I mean by browsing at Best of Yoga Philosophy.

      It's true that many people don't know this because there are so many other things going on at elephant. It's easy to not like one thing or another and just move on, as I know many readers have done.

      Thanks again for your thoughts.

      Bob W. Editor
      Best of Yoga Philosophy

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    12. Carol - sorry! Didn't mean to put you on the spot or assign a motive. The parenthetical "(for whatever reason!)" was an admission of ignorance on my part and just me speculating that you've decided there are more important places to publish your thoughts than EJ (like here (!) or your Facebook page)...

      Bob - yes one does have to dig through the "lite" articles to find the better stuff. I will check out your new website as well...

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    13. No prob. Was just wondering.

      In all honesty, I enjoyed EJ most when Bob was heavily involved. Since he and the people he recruited have left, the editorial tone has shifted. It is what it is, and that's fine, but on the whole it's much less interesting to me now.

      Happily, Bob's back to cull the best yoga philosophy articles for us - thanks Bob!

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  15. Fascinating discussion. Just by chance, I happened to post this very relevant post on facebook today:

    *****

    The Bhagavad Gita is so rich and versatile that it tends to take on the character of the translator or analyst:

    Give it to an historian and you get history. (Feuerstein)

    Give it to a social activist and you get social activism. (Gandhi)

    Give it to a bhakti and you get love. (Schwieg)

    Give it to a believer and you get religion. (Prabhupada)

    Give it to a poet and you get poetry. (Mitchell)

    Give it to a literature professor, and you get literature. (Easwaran)

    Give it to a psychologist and you get psychology. (Dass)

    Give it to a dharma (life purpose) writer and you get dharma. (Cope, Stryker)

    Give it to a leadership teacher and you get leadership. (Chatterjee)

    This is a far as I've personally gotten. Others?

    *****

    This is a very incomplete list, of course. But I'd like to ask Malika, which of these approaches to the Gita do you consider legitimate, by your standards, and which are illegitimate? And of course, please add the Gita versions you like best, so I can round out my list.

    The interesting thing is that on the list I have so far some of the more traditional, historically and religiously informed versions (Feuerstein, Schweig) come from non-Indians, and some of the more radical modern interpretations come from Indians (Gandhi, Easwaran, Chatterjee).

    But then, for all I know you don't accept any of these versions as being useful or valid. It would help clarify your comments in my mind if you would tell us how you feel about this particular group of serious Yoga scholars.

    This list also addresses Thad's comments above. As usual, I come down on the side of variety and flexibility. Thad seems to be pushing something more like required orthodoxy or even doctrine. My guess is that none of us come close to meeting his standard, and if followed, the American Yoga Community would shrink to a tiny number of scholars and serious practitioners.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Demystified


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    1. Yes, I'd be interested in hearing Malika and Thad's take on this as well. Whose interpretations are understood as valid? Why those and not others? What are the explicit criteria?

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    2. From a yogic perspective, the translations are valid if they are follow parampara. I would imagine that history, psychology and poetry have their own criteria as do most pursuits.

      And I agree with Bob...this list goes great lengths towards supporting my point. What you see when you give the Bhavagad-gita to Mitchell is Mitchell. I'm not interested in what Mitchell has to say. I'm interested in what Krsna has to say.

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    3. Sorry, misspelled Graham Schweig's name above.

      Bob

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    4. So - I take it then that you believe that you have a teacher who has a direct line into Krsna . . . ?? Are you willing to divulge who this might be?

      If there is no such person, how precisely do you propose to get to this presumably accurate and true understanding?

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    5. Thad. Please define "Krsna".

      In my reading, Krsna is nothing more or less than the entire universe itself, speaking to us through an avatar.

      No one has a monopoly on the universe.

      Bob W.
      Yoga Demystified


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    6. To Carol: Yes, I associate with many such people. I don't think blogs are necessarily the appropriate venue to divulge this personal level of information, but if you remain interested, please feel free to inquire via personal message.

      To Bob: We've done this before. If you're reading works for you, great. You've already read Prabupada's Gita and rejected it. What more is there to say?

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    7. Thanks, yes, I will do so if I can find your contact info.

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    8. Hi, Thad. Not "rejected it", exactly. I read it slowly three times, taking notes in the margins. It was the first Gita I had read.

      As I read other versions, I found I preferred them over Prabupada's. Interestingly enough though, one of my two favorite Gitas is more traditional--reportedly closer to the original Sanskrit (Graham Schweig) and one is less traditional (Mitchell).

      My question about how you define Krsna was a sincere one, but I understand you may not want to continue the conversation.

      I have deep respect for your chosen tradition. My only confusion is why you wouldn't accept other paths as well. But maybe that that's part of your tradition itself.

      Bob

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    9. I'm glad you appreciate Schweig's translation. It is very, very good and very approachable and very much grounded in tradition.

      Please don't misunderstand, Bob. I wholeheartedly accept the multitude of paths to the degree that they are composed of substance. Substance, from my perspective, can take any number of forms and is probably a conversation onto itself. In situations/practices lacking substance, I'm still liberal enough to say, if it floats your boat then great.

      Where I find myself bothered, and this stems primarily from my academic philosophy days, are when things such as words, concepts, and terms are treated with complete disregard for the context, history, and tradition in which they originate. I'm also deeply, deeply suspicious and critical regarding the forms of knowledge acquisition and how some are privileged over others.

      So no, I wouldn't say that there is anything inherent within the traditions I practice which preclude the acceptance of other paths. If anything, this is a fault that lies with me and me alone. Also, I've never seen being critical as anything other than a process of attempting to illuminate and clarify issues.

      I appreciate your inquiry regarding Krsna and as I offered to Carol, I would be happy to have such a conversation via personal messages.

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    10. I have always enjoyed our conversations, Thad, whatever differences we have.

      Bob

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    11. ah yes, "what krsna has to say" - when you find that out i have a bridge in brooklyn to sell you ;)

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    12. Hi, Julian. Krsna is an extended metaphor, that's all, as in your metaphor about selling the Brooklyn bridge here. (You don't mean you'd really sell me a bridge in Brooklyn, do you?)

      Bob

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    13. In all fairness, I don't think that Thad was in fact referring to Krsna as an extended metaphor . . . although only he can say (and certainly, there's no need for him to do so unless he's so moved). But, that wasn't my understanding.

      I think that it's important to recognize that if people are moved to share something that's centrally important to their lives and close to their hearts, we need to respect that, even if we don't agree with them or even understand what they're saying.

      The exception to this would be those who aggressively want to silence others and attack those who don't agree . . . but I don't see that happening on this thread. Even those who were most critical, like Malika, have been willing to dialog. Even though it never got us to a place where we in fact agree on much, that's still valuable in and of itself - very valuable in fact, when you consider how how refusing to do so and just angrily denouncing everyone who disagrees with you plays out in the real world.

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    14. I won't speak for Thad, either. But if his thinking follows Bhakti orthodoxy, Krsna is indeed an elaborated extended metaphor, an avatar, in fact, for Brahman. But how is Brahman defined? As the "Ultimate Reality & Truth".

      Do even extreme rationalists think anyone has yet discovered the "Ultimate Reality & Truth"? Of course not. Krsna just one way to imagine how "Ultimate Reality & Truth" might speak to us if it could speak. It is not an actual person or being.

      Bob W. Editor
      Best of Yoga Philosophy

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    15. I see. I was thinking of "extended metaphor" in more literary terms. Thanks for clarifying.

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    16. brahman is a metaphor too baby - it's metaphors all the way down!

      there is also no such thing as an "extreme rationalist!" being rational/reasonable or deferring to evidence is the antidote to extremism, dogma, fundamentalism etc it is also a stance that is by definition open to changing in the face of evidence or well-reasoned argument.... let's not perpetuate a cynically fallacious meme! :)

      i also think we do no-one any favors when we assume that literalist assertions must be metaphorical just because, we have realized they are nonsensical in their literal form. it's well-meaning and charitable but perhaps a little dishonest?

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    17. This is a re-post of a reply that I put in the wrong thread last night; evidence that I was up too late.

      I can’t speak for Thad, either, but I think I can clarify some conceptions of Krsna as he is understood in the orthodox Bhakti tradition, of which Prabhupada is the foremost spokesperson.

      Prabhupada coined a remarkably descriptive term for Krsna in his translation and commentary of the Bhagavad Gita: The Supreme Personality of Godhead. This clearly indicates that, as far as Prabhupada is concerned, Krsna is, first and foremost, a person, not a metaphor, extended or otherwise. But he is not understood to be a person like you and I: he is the one person who is uniquely qualified to hold his position.

      And Prabhupada references numerous Vedic texts to indicate that it is not just the opinion of one believer. Even when one steps outside of the bhakti tradition that Prabhupada represents, we find that Patanjali describes Isvara – The Lord – in his Yoga Sutra as ‘purusa visesa’: a categorically different kind of person from all other persons. This characterization is also in keeping with the notion of one eternal conscious being who is the shelter of all other eternal conscious beings (Katha Upanishad), and one supreme person (isvara parama) who is the self-causing cause of all other causes (Brahma Samhita). In his translation of the Sutras and other related essays, Edwin Bryant has done a very comprehensive job of making the connection between Isvara in the Yoga Sutras and Krsna in the Bhagavad Gita.

      In using the phrase “the Supreme Personality of Godhead”, Prabhupada is indicating that the Absolute Truth, or Ultimate Reality itself is a person – a mind-blowing concept – who is uniquely in possession of unlimited energies and innumerable qualities in unending quantity and absolute perfection. The quality of person-ness must be present in the Absolute Truth in order for the Absolute Truth to be complete (Isa Upanisad) and for qualities like intention (such as the intention to transmit transcendental knowledge to those in need of it), and feelings (such as Krsna’s love for his devotee) to be expressed through a mechanism, namely, a form.

      Of course, when we say ‘form’ we assume that what is meant is a ‘material form’, as if there were no possibility of any other kind of form. But the Upanishads speak of the Supreme Being as being both formless and possessing a form. In the Bhakti tradition from which Prabhupada is writing this is understood to indicate that Krsna has no material form (like our forms), an impersonal attribute (Brahman; the ground of being), a localized aspect (Paramatma; the one Supreme Soul in the heart of all individual souls), and a spiritual form. It is the spiritual form of Krsna to whom the appellation Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is directed.

      Of course, when we talk about Krsna’s spiritual form we are talking about a categorically different form than material forms: Krsna’s form is inconceivably unlimited and contains within it all other forms. To put it another way, the school of thought Prabhupada is speaking from proposes that form of Krsna and Krsna himself are not different, that everything is Krsna yet nothing is Krsna save and ecpept for Krsna himself. Although interpreted differently by followers of Sankara who subscribe to a philosophy of absolute non-dualism, Prabhupada presents Krsna as clearly indicating that he does not hold those who think that his form is material or that his form appears from a void in particularly high regard: the word he uses to describe them is mudha: an ass (BG 7.24-25 and 9.11).

      I’m not sure what word Krsna would use to describe someone who would reduce him to a metaphor.

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    18. A re-post of my reply to Hari-kirtana das:

      Thank you for writing, Hari-kirtana.

      I agree it was a poor choice of words to say "Bhakti orthodoxy". I would like to withdraw that and say instead: "Some of my serious Bhakti friends tell me that Krsna is a metaphor..." Then I stand by what I wrote. But I'll let them speak up if they wish.

      I have to say that everything you wrote above still seems like rich metaphorical language to me, too, even just as it stands. Otherwise, what is one to make of ideas like "everything is Krsna yet nothing is Krsna"? That still sounds to me like Krsna is a symbol for the entire universe itself.

      Perhaps we're just having trouble with the word metphor.

      Anyway, I can't take it any further than that myself. Thanks again for being here.

      Bob W.

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    19. I'm reposting this from below the time being to keep this thread more coherent! Reply to Bob from Hari-Kirtana Das:

      ----------------------------------------------

      Hari-kirtana das July 18, 2013 at 12:58 PM

      Hi Bob:

      Thanks for your comments and welcoming mood. I accept your withdrawal: different Bhakti yogis have different conceptions of what Bhakti is and where it takes one so it's not surprising that some serious Bhakti yogis would say that.

      I'll shift from metaphor to analogy: The Beatles are greater than the sum of their parts and they symbolize the sixties but they are also real people; metaphor does not negate being. Similarly, Krsna is greater than the sum of his parts and simultaneously symbolizes the sum total of creation and yet is a real person with whom we can have a relationship. Without the possibility of a real relationship with a real person the whole idea of Bhakti is meaningless. Some bhakti yogis are actually advaita vedantists who think of bhakti as a means to an end, namely, merging into the oneness of being, on the assumption that formlessness is higher than form or that ultimately we are all Krsna. Orthodox bhaktas, of course, reject this as a kind of pseudo devotion wherein a selfish motive, namely taking Krsna's place, is the motivating factor rather than love for the sake of love. As St Augustine put it, love means wanting the other to be.

      A pleasure to be here - I hope I'm contributing something of value to the conversation.

      - Hkd

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    20. "love means wanting the other to be" - never heard that before, it is quite lovely and I believe quite profound.

      thanks both of you for an informed and informative exchange that also exemplifies the ability to simultaneously go deeply into one's own tradition and/or beliefs yet still hold that open, positive (dare I say Bhakti-filled? I'm not sure . . .) space for others who think differently.

      I believe that this is what we need, and that it's fully in line with the values of yoga (at least modern yoga).

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    21. Yes, Hkd. That's my exact impression of Bhakti. Like any other major spiritual movement, it is rich with variety and internal movements and debate. It's wonderful to have you here, and your contributions are most appreciated.

      Carol--"Love is when you care as much for another person's happiness as your own." --Scott Peck in "The Road Less Traveled".

      Bob W.

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  16. Re-cognizing that India is “not a land beyond history” requires a subtle and sensitive understanding of that history rather than a dismissal of it. If one is fortunate enough to spend time in India, that understanding can become rooted in an immediate experience of both the changing and the more ‘timeless’ aspects of Indian culture. Such an experience usually dissolves rather than strengthens the idealization you speak off.

    But as already outlined by some of your readers the phrase “American Yoga” inherently excludes Indian origins, therefore may not be conducive to the kind of ‘inclusive’ discussion you are attempting to initiate.

    Being able to acknowledge both the developments within the 20th century and the evolution of the hatha yoga tradition prior to that period (from the 12th to the 19th century), will help ground the discussion in a way that does not inadvertently re-enforce the polarities in question. This need not imply a dismissal of what you see as ‘the positive developments’ of yoga within contemporary America.

    However, re-enforcing these divisions: historical (modern/pre-modern), geographical (‘distinctly American’), philosophical (mythical/reasonable), psychological (corrupt/pure) can inadvertently exclude those who find meaning and connection to pre-modern textual and oral yoga traditions, and who therefore seek to honor the teachers, gurus and cultures who shared them.

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    1. It hadn't occurred to me that the phrase "American yoga" would be taken as a wholly exclusive category, completely cut off from every other form of yoga in every other time and place - particularly as I wrote a whole book, as well as this post and others, explicitly arguing against those sort of air-tight categories.

      In my mind, "American yoga" is simply a much less clunky way to say something more like: " . . . the particular forms that modern yoga has taken on the ground in the United States and is generally understood and practiced here today."

      Personally, it seems unhelpful to get overly hung up on one phrase and ignore the context in which it's being presented. There is only so much that can be said in one blog post. But perhaps I simply don't have a good enough grasp of why this would push such strong buttons.

      As usual, I think we are presented with a both/and situation here - to say anything about yoga as it's practiced in the US today (or at any other particular place and time), we have to make some categorical generalizations - as there are substantive differences that are meaningful. On the other hand, making the divisions too strong or categories overly rigid is problematic, as you point out.

      There are excerpts from the historical section of my book published on this blog and on Decolonizing Yoga that give a fuller sense of my take on modern yoga history in particular:

      http://www.decolonizingyoga.com/in-praise-of-modern-yoga/

      http://www.thinkbodyelectric.com/2013/02/in-praise-of-modern-yoga.html

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    2. Thanks for your reply Carol.

      The phrase “American Yoga” feels problematic to me because of what it indicates, or perhaps because of what it does not. I am sure you were not meaning for it be an airtight category, as your work and previous articles demonstrate, but when presented as such, it could easily take on meanings beyond your intention, as indicated by some of your comments. I think Malika’s perspective on this was invaluable, as was the honesty in which she delivered it.

      I do think the language we use is important, as it sets in place the ideas that very quickly and easily become cultural memes. I find it curious that I have never heard the phrase ‘Indian Yoga’, Czech Yoga, French Yoga, New Zealand Yoga, etc etc… Perhaps if there is something distinctly American about the yoga that is being practiced here, it might be the willingness to identify with it in a way in which many of the teachings on yoga and a hint of cultural sensitivity (perhaps some of the humility Thad was speaking of), might prevent…Needless to say, this might not be a defining characteristic to aspire to.

      Myself, I actually feel the phrase “American yoga” has within it the potential for far more ‘clunkiness’ than your specific and well-articulated description of what you actually mean by it. It’s worth noting the irony that these practices, many of which were designed to confront, explore and dismantle the identity-forming-mechanism, are now being used to praise and celebrate that very identity! This irony might go some way to explaining the sensitivity of the issue.

      I am sorry if I gave the impression that I was ignoring the context in which you presented the phrase. I actually think the present context, on the back of a court case where a judge used very similar words to describe yoga (which was broadcast throughout the world), is indeed a very loaded and relevant one with implications far beyond yoga itself. Given that many readers may come to this article from all around the world, with no knowledge of that context, or your previous work, and just may be curious as to how America sees itself in relation to other cultures, I do think the title, and many of the sentiments you are expressing, could be misleading.

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    3. Thanks, that's helpful in terms of my getting a better understanding of why the term "American yoga" is a problem for some. I will be more careful about my terminology in the future.

      In terms of the actual point of the post, however, I think that the discussion indicates that there is in fact profound disagreement over whether there is any real value in yoga as it's currently understood and practiced in the U.S. today. I think that there is; others do not.

      So, perhaps the more interesting part of the resistance to the term "American yoga" is not only semantic. That is, even if I phrased things differently, the underlying belief that what's being done here is essentially immature, racist, colonialist, vain, deluded etc. would persist.

      Do you agree?

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    4. When I co-edited a book of articles by American yoga teachers back in 2009, we used "Yoga in America", which, although it sounds similar, solves most of the problems one might have with "American Yoga".

      (It's still a good chronicle of the surprising diversity of what's actually going on here, and available free online at Yoga in America: In the Words of Some of Its Most Ardent Teachers)

      Bob W.

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    5. OK, so, to rephrase my earlier question: if I changed the title of this post to "In Praise of Yoga in America," would that solve all problems?

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    6. Browsing "Yoga in America", it struck me that some of least spiritually connected forms of Yoga are being headed by Indians (like Bikram, for example) and some of the yoga with the very highest traditional Indian spiritual content, even lineage, are being run by Americans (like Rich McCord at Ananda Yoga).

      I don't what to make of this, exactly, but it seems interesting and relevant to some of the comments here. After editing this book, I had trouble accepting any characterization about Yoga in America except startling depth and diversity, which just reinforces Carol's original point in her article.

      Bob W.

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    7. I can not speak for others. But as far as I have understood your article and the following comment stream the objection seems to be in relation to “American Yoga” rather than to ‘yoga in America’. The former is possessive, the latter is not. Quite a significant distinction, though it may appear harmless at first. I take it many of us practice yoga in America, so I doubt whether practicing here or what form that practice takes, is the objection. For me it’s the ownership the term implies, and what is potentially denied, and therefore inadvertently promoted, through that attitude of possessiveness.

      In answer to your question I would say that the belief you mention will only persist if the notions that underlie it (or oppose it) are tacitly or actively enforced. For me personally it won’t persist, quite simply because I find my practice meaningful, no matter what is said about it.

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    8. Thank you for the clarification. It would not have occurred to me that such a huge difference of meaning is read into "American yoga" versus "yoga in America." Good to know.

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    10. Hi Bob:

      Thanks for your comments and welcoming mood. I accept your withdrawal: different Bhakti yogis have different conceptions of what Bhakti is and where it takes one so it's not surprising that some serious Bhakti yogis would say that.

      I'll shift from metaphor to analogy: The Beatles are greater than the sum of their parts and they symbolize the sixties but they are also real people; metaphor does not negate being. Similarly, Krsna is greater than the sum of his parts and simultaneously symbolizes the sum total of creation and yet is a real person with whom we can have a relationship. Without the possibility of a real relationship with a real person the whole idea of Bhakti is meaningless. Some bhakti yogis are actually advaita vedantists who think of bhakti as a means to an end, namely, merging into the oneness of being, on the assumption that formlessness is higher than form or that ultimately we are all Krsna. Orthodox bhaktas, of course, reject this as a kind of pseudo devotion wherein a selfish motive, namely taking Krsna's place, is the motivating factor rather than love for the sake of love. As St Augustine put it, love means wanting the other to be.

      A pleasure to be here - I hope I'm contributing something of value to the conversation.

      - Hkd

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  17. "your goal may not be the goal of yoga" The moment i heard the Bhagavad Gita's, Yoga Sutras's invitation, "to study my self" then my place expanded beyond any boundaries that have been written about or imagined.

    Peace and Love

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    1. Thanks for your comment. If you care to elaborate, I'd be interested to know why you chose to highlight that first quote and what it means to you.

      Probably the most intriguing thing I've seen in the yoga world is that it's true that for certain individuals, it seems to take only a little spark to enable them to make a really meaningful, and positive shift in their lives. Other individuals seem to study for years and years, develop advanced this and that, and end up in not very good places. And every other mix and match and variation in between.

      This is why I simply don't buy into formulaic prescriptions of what one must do and not do in order to experience authentic yoga - I don't see that the real world evidence correlates to such an approach at all.

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    2. Hear, hear, Carol. (Or at least that's what I would shout if we were in the British Parliament.)

      Bob

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  18. How interesting it is to notice and converse about the fusion and dichotomy of "eastern" teachings and "western" behavior. Here in the West, we've been taught to question and to innovate. Even the modern conception of Buddhism is "to question everything." Conversely, Vedic texts, like The Gita, were written with the exact opposite intention, to be received without question or interpretation, but as the "most perfect presentation of sources" and the words of "Lord" himself.

    How scary! (We think.)

    Whether yoga should or shouldn't be accepted into or adapted into the modern world is then obviously a big and controversial question, then. What yoga is based upon, the unparalleled trust and belief in something out of our realm of individual memory or rational, may not be something that can be successfully transplanted into our western ways. That doesn't mean, though that the wisdom of it does not exist or grow organically. We in the West may actually be wiser than we know.

    Carol, I happen to agree with you that there are plenty of things to appreciate about yoga in America. It has certainly stirred things up, and brought many things positive. I also believe that neither criticism or praise will affect this in any profound way, but how interesting it is to notice and ride the wave of!

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    1. Hi Madison - Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

      I think your contrasting of the cultures of questioning versus believing are very instructive. However, I would contend that modern yoga (as developed by Swami Vivekananda and others) was intended to dissolve that traditional dichotomy by reinterpreting yoga in the framework of modern science. Just as in Buddhism, there were repeated claims that yoga and meditation do not requires any sort of unquestioning belief system. Rather, they are techniques that can be taught to anyone; and that once taught, those who are interested should see whether they find them effective or not.

      Also, because modern yoga techniques were designed to increase physical, psychological, and spiritual health, as well as to be accessible to all and adaptable to every individual, the question of "effective for what?" is going to have a variety of answers. I believe that we can see the controversy this often causes playing on in this very comment thread :)

      If you are interested in reading more of my thoughts on this, you can check out the posts I linked to above, or, better yet, read my recent book, "Yoga PhD"! (to add a bit of a marketing plug, in keeping with the spirit of "yoga in America" :)

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  19. Here is an interesting blog from India about how a real guru never identifies himself as such: http://www.speakingtree.in/spiritual-blogs/seekers/philosophy/a-gnani-never-identifies-himself-as-guru

    I'm starting to follow some Indian sites, just for my own understanding, and to look for possible articles for Best of Yoga Philosophy. Speaking Tree is one of the most interesting I've found so far. Other recommendations would be appreciated.

    Bob W. Editor
    Best of Yoga Philosophy

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    1. I don't have time to research it, Bob, but look forward to hearing what you find!

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  20. One think I noticed so far in reading spiritual blogs in India is that a lot of the folks in India seem a lot less severe than some of their representatives here. My favorite example so far:

    "A Gnani cannot be serious; there is nothing to be serious about. The whole of life is fun; it is a play, a play of soul, which is present in the form of consciousness. Moreover, that is what deeper self-search reveals - that the whole of life is a beautiful play of the soul.

    The same soul is in the trees, in the stars, in the rivers, in the mountains, in everyone, in animals. It is the same soul dancing in different forms. Life means soul's play."

    Bob W.

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  21. Hi Carol, I enjoyed your article. I am wondering if you have a reference for the quote by T.K.V. Desikachar above? (i.e., T.K.V. Desikachar once explained that his father, Sri T. Krishnamacharya (the most influential figure in the development of yoga as we know it today), “evolved very important principles in the practice of asana,” developing so many new postures and techniques so quickly that he was “unable to keep track of his new discoveries.”)

    Jason

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    1. Of course! T.K.V. Desikachar, The Yoga of T. Krishnamacharya (Madras: Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, 1982), p. 32.

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    2. Thank you!

      Jason

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  22. As usual, a wonderful and thoughtful read Carol. I don't feel informed enough to comment, or energetic enough to cope with the responses to my comment as I don't want to be called a racist, or a colonist, or unyogic, for God knows, I'm called all those things enough. However, I do want to say that the line between the Americanization of yoga, and "true" yoga is blurred at best. There is a story about B.K.S. Iyengar upon visiting the Yoga Journal conference in Colorado several years ago when he saw his first Power Yoga class set to music. The story goes that he clapped his hands together, laughed and pronounced it as "marvelous fun." That said, he didn't proclaim it as "marvelous yoga," just fun. BUT, that fun has saved yoga as an industry. Or, it might have damned it as a practice. Again, I'm probably not informed enough to make the determination. I'll just leave it that the line is blurred.

    Michelle Marchildon, The Yogi Muse

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    1. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, Michelle.

      BTW, nice finesse, but as you well know, saying that the "line is blurred" IS making a determination . . . one that I personally agree with, however, as this very interesting discussion has already indicated, not everyone does :)

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    2. Hi, Michelle.

      Re: Iyengar and "fun", in a previous comment just above I quoted this from an Indian spirituality site I'm following (Speaking Tree):

      "A Gnani cannot be serious; there is nothing to be serious about. The whole of life is fun; it is a play, a play of soul, which is present in the form of consciousness. Moreover, that is what deeper self-search reveals - that the whole of life is a beautiful play of the soul.

      The same soul is in the trees, in the stars, in the rivers, in the mountains, in everyone, in animals. It is the same soul dancing in different forms. Life means soul's play."

      Bob W.

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  23. Bob, nice quote. However, the person quoted has perhaps not been in one of Mr. Iyengar's yoga classes, because "fun" was not often how they are described. Grueling, precise, demanding, exacting and daunting perhaps, but I think the element of "playfulness" came into the practice with the Americanization of yoga. Or specifically, the "Friend-liness" of Anusara.

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    1. Not true, playfulness came into the practice with Americanization of Yoga. Oh, wait, you're talking about ansana classes. Maybe there.

      But that's why I went to the Indian yoga sites, to see what they are actually talking about over there. And that's where I got that quote from (and it's not untypical, although there is a very great variety of material on Speaking Tree. I'm just getting started.)

      Bob

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    2. I agree with you, Unknown. I've practiced Iyengar for a long time. Bob is obviously talking out of his assana.

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    3. Apples and oranges, Hilda. I have no disagreement about the rigor of Iyengar class. I understand how hard they are.

      I was merely quoting from an Indian yoga and spirituality website in response to Unknown's Iyenga quote about "fun".

      But there is very little mention of asana at all on this Indian site, so I agree with you, it has nothing to do with an Iyengar class.


      Bob

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  24. Thanks for this interesting and eloquent piece Carol. I don't have much to add to be honest, as I tend to agree with you! I always enjoy reading your blog, and the comments only add to the experience, as strange as some of them may be...

    I think the discussion of what yoga practice means today, across the world, has the potential to reveal so much about us as a generation. Commercialisation, faux spirituality, real connection and deep transformation all mixed up and thrown under the one umbrella term. When I tell people I teach yoga, I get a different reaction every time depending on an individual's assumptions - I'm a personal trainer/spiritual guru/crazy new age hippy/hindu/something closer to a counsellor/complete unknown. I think it's important that we yogis recognise this, discuss it, tease it out, question and debate.

    Thanks for continuing the conversation. :-)

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    1. Thanks for sharing that, Emily. You must live in a nicely diverse community to get so many different reactions to being a yoga teacher - very interesting! Makes total sense, but I would suspect that many people live in more homogenous environments where they generally get only one response. And, in fact, I suspect that there's a good number of yoga people out that who deliberately corral themselves off from such experiences, staying in a subculture where they won't have to bump up against so much potential identity confusion. But that's only speculation on my part . . . sparked by some recent dialog I've been having here and elsewhere about American yoga, with serious practitioners who seem hell bent on completely disassociating themselves from the rest of their society. Which is fine - even admirable and interesting in some cases - but I like your report of mixing it up a lot as well :)

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  25. I'm enjoying the conversation, also, I really appreciate Carol's ability to get this all down on paper.

    I first took yoga classes in 1971 at my high school at night. I studied on and off until the early 90's when my practice became more steady and serious. I started teaching in 99, and ran a studio for 4 years. It has all changed so fast. And even after a few 200 hour trainings, and so many workshops, I still question what it takes to bring what I get from practice to students. What I question the most is the words we use and the things we say while teaching. That is where I'm most critical of other teachers, and where I find the best teachers, for me, excel.

    This doesn't address the questions here, but it's what I end up thinking about.

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    1. It's lovely and inspiring to hear that after more than 40 years of practice and almost 15 years of teaching, you are still seriously thinking into how best to communicate what's important to your students. I think when we start taking it for granted that they'll learn no matter what we do because we're so experienced and wonderful, we lose our effectiveness as teachers (not only in yoga, but any field that isn't completely cut-and-dried, but requires creativity).

      I know that certain things my early teachers said really stuck with me and were most definitely seeds planted that grew over time. I talk about this in my recent book, "Yoga PhD."

      I also wonder if my own trajectory might have unfolded differently if they had been talking about "fat burning" or some other mainstream fitness trope rather than "stepping into the space between thoughts" (one example I give in the book). Back when I started classes in the mid-90s, yoga was too marginal to be mixed up with body sculpting and weight loss . . . now that that's no longer true in many cases, I wonder to what extent new students will get the guidance they need if they start out in such classes.

      All the more reason for experienced teachers like you to stick with it and train new teachers to communicate deeply and effectively . . . thanks for reading.

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  26. I got tired out trying to read all the comments- so much negativity!

    From what I did read, and from the article itself, what I see missing is a serious discussion on the commercialization of yoga and the expensive/prohibitive "certification" process. Although there is the service yoga movement, yoga remains elitist in North America. Unfortunately, I see that being transferred down here to South America, too, as the super rich are co-opting it and keeping the unwashed masses out. No service yoga here, except my community sangha.

    Just yesterday I had a run-in with an American trained person (not sure what title to give her, as she has a list as long as my arm of certifications in various fields). I think it is interesting to note that her organization has the word 'corporation' in the title. I had written to ask if there were any scholarships or at least easy payment options for her upcoming Laughter Yoga certification course. She called and told me that yes, there are payment options: $100 down plus 2 post dated cheques for $100 each or $100 down and 2 deferred credit card payments of $100 each. I was so amazed at this response that I just said "I don't have those options" and she ended the call. I later wrote to her and reminded her that a very small percentage of the population of this country have chequing accounts, credit cards, or the means to pay $100 a month when the average wage here is around $600 a month, and suggested she had forgotten that given that she operates in the richest enclave of the country. I said that she could of course choose to run her business as she wishes, and only serve the 1 - 10%, but that yoga is for everyone, not just the rich, and perhaps in the future she could consider offering scholarships to those of us who serve the lower levels of the community. (This is not unheard of here- I attended a yoga conference for less than 25% of the regular price last year, based on my income.) Her answer? That my critisism was received with love, that she would pass my name onto authorities in India - the cradle of yoga (obviously implying that I am ignorant of the fact and therefore illegitimate)- so I could be advised of any scholarships being offered anywhere else in the world. So I can't afford her certifications here at home, but I should pay to travel internationally to get a free class, and poor people are NOT welcome in her courses because she is unwilling to do a sliding scale or longer payment option. Good job she hasn't met me in person so doesn't know that I'm a fat yogi, too! This, I think, also brings up the problem of people with the resources to travel to India and/or take expensive courses believing that those of us who study here in our own area, and don't have all the fancy 'certifications' are illegitimate, along with the obvious class issues. To me, these are the most pressing issues with North American yoga today.

    On another note, brought to mind by my last sentence, I agree now, although I didn't see the problem at first, with the label American yoga being problematic. Yoga is just as big in Canada as it is in the US. People from the US have a nasty habit of forgetting that they are not the only country in North America, some even believing that Canada is part of the US, yet don't understand why they are seen as arrogant. North American yoga would be even more appropriate than Yoga in America.

    Bueno, that's my ramble. Thanks for inviting me to the discussion, Bob!

    Namaste

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    1. Janice - you are quite right about problems of commercialization and access - not to mention, the "North American" issue. The point of this post was not to analyze everything that's positive versus problematic with yoga in North America, but rather simply to say that there is much of both (a very simple point, really, so it's remarkable that it's generated this much discussion and controversy).

      As far as leaving out Canada goes . . . I AM sensitive to this issue, but sometimes let it slide for literary reasons. Also, this post is really focused on the US more specifically, as that's where the controversy really lies (and for good reason. Canadians tend to be less crassly commercial - with some major exceptions, such as Lululemon). But, "In Praise of Yoga in the U.S." or "Celebrating Yoga in the U.S." sounds clunky to my ear.

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    2. Hi, Janice. How great to see you here. Thanks for the insightful comments.

      (For those who don't know Janice, she is a Canadian artist and yoga teacher who has been living in Ecuador since 2006. So she knows of what she speaks. See her "La Sirena Yoga Adventures" website at http://lasirenayoga.org/.)

      Bob W.



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    3. Hi Carol, thanks for responding. I have to say, I think you are being too kind to Canadians! My experiences in studios in Toronto and Brampton, although not all bad, were mostly coloured by the elitism and commercialization. The looks I got for a) being fat and b) wearing non-logo clothes, were enough to make someone less, shall we say, fiesty than I run away in tears. A friend who attended a few classes with me loved glaring back at such people and making a statement about yoga being for everyone, not just rich, skinny chicks in lululemon.

      Also, my experiences with a few instructors and studio owners with whom I tried to run retreats were both eye-opening and disillusioning. Big egos abound, and it's all about money and fashion.

      Bob, thanks for the welcome and the plug! La Sirena has morphed into La Sirena Retreats + Centro Holistico. The facebook page is bilingual: https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Sirena-Retreats-and-Centro-Holistico-Yoga-Reiki-Aromatherapy/110418545673515

      Namaste
      Janice

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  27. Uprooting the poor public image foisted on the yoga community by the media's obsession with the ridiculously white, composure class peddling yoga as a health, beauty and active wellness pursuit finds me sympathizing with the more extreme dilemma faced by of Arjuna – an allegory for the sophisticated mind control tactics of both secular corporations and charismatic, quasi-religious teachers whilst we tussle with tacit goading to over-extend, lose weight, be nice, do my best to learn the Sanskrit names of postures and avoid breaking necks - and the final insult? To achieve all of this within the confines of an oblong piece of plastic vinyl.
    The best answer fo me so far is yoga – but then I feel I must immediately qualify that word to mean 'supreme knowledge' – not the yoga of doubt about the claims that yoga can provide a sufficiently stable psychological and metaphysical foundation for life and living.
    From the simple rendering, 'union' to the dozens of secondary meanings and commercially driven brands and clichés, yoga as a 'triumphant understanding of reality' is clearly not the agenda any of the teacher training providers have for the mass market, and consumers are being given no choice other than to bend and stretch their way between the quasi-connectedness of Facebook groups to inevitable physical demise in the anti-intellectual pogrom of a contemporary yoga studio where 'yoga' is, by and large is a mixture of keep-fit and New-Agey philosophies.
    Yoga is now nothing but an auto-antonym, and anthropomorphisized deus ex machina, painted into a corner with whatever alleged properties the yoga community wants to suppress from 'it' (these tend to be religious and cultural) and displaying characteristics it prefers to pin onto 'it' (which tend to be positive, feel-good therapies). Adapting to a model of yoga, not as dogma but as a variety of that tranistional functioning does not suggest that the provision of even more multiples of genres or adjectives like "American Yoga" represents an optimal outcome, on either an individual or a societal level.
    The undeniable fact is that the analysis of our thought-feeling has different connotations in the religious concepts of the east and the scholastic constructs of the west, which has been glossed over by those that should probably know better, the contrast between east and west has tended to be treated superficially.
    What if anything, do these different forks, the Indian and the Western have in common?
    The historical interplay is a complicated and convoluted pattern of doctrinal development and my own inquiry has led me to resigned acknowledgement that the ultimate origin of the various ideas and methods is obscure, (at best).
    If there is a goal in yoga, and the attainment of supreme knowledge is our preference then my question is: How can we better orientate ourselves so we reach that goal?
    And Is Anyone Still Listening?
    The jury is still out on the best way to 'teach', some will say the most critical thing is to devote oneself to religious practice whilst others prefer to avoid them.
    Maybe we will get to the position where we will just be able to drop a pill and get enlightened, but until then, we must bear in mind yoga might not be the exemplary indicator of human flourishing we hope for - after all not all such stories don't always have happy endings, from the Pali Canon the Buddha was laughed out of town by his peers and died eating a dodgy pork roll, Angulimala had to endure a lifetime of abuse, more up-to-date we have Krishnamurti J increasingly frustrated with his followers whilst so many cult leaders have had their names dragged through the mud, and even through the courts.
    But despite the dangers, for better or worse, we are not those guys, and for me understanding the metamorphosis of suffering into peace, social equity and individual liberty is as every bit as interesting today as it must have been thousands of years ago, whatever you want to call it?

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    1. Personally, I'm fine with letting go of any claims to "supreme knowledge" and focusing on the "metamorphosis of suffering into peace, social equity, and individual liberty" - I mean, if that's really happening (and I believe that it often is), isn't that enough?

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    2. I don't think you get to choose between the two, I think it's a sort of strange feedback loop: to be peaceful, sensitive to the needs of others and at liberty to feel, think and act autonomously IS 'supreme knowledge', and the reverse is also true?

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