Ever since the New York Times published “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body,” the yoga purists are waging war on the way America practices yoga. Not only do they accuse modern yoga participants of falling victim to taking exercise classes sprinkled with spiritual materialism, they are not happy about how yoga teachers teach yoga today.
Recently published in the Huffington Post, Ira Israel’s article “What is Yoga” discusses his disappointment with a “butterfly-stroke shouldered” yoga teacher who apparently berated two young men who were not following along properly in class. According to Israel, after the instructor asked them if it was their first class, she made sure they understood that someone new to yoga shouldn’t take a level 2/3 class. As with anyone, these men felt that maybe they should not be there, so they left.
Israel’s bone to pick with the instructor, who he refers to as the “young buck” and who he feels should be shamed, is that yoga, as practiced 5000 years ago, did not have ‘levels’ because it was more a spiritual endeavor than a physical practice. However, he doesn’t mention the classic theory that long ago, the student couldn’t practice the physical yoga postures until they earned approval from their guru. I wasn’t there 5000 years ago, so I can’t actually pretend to know what it was like, but I am confident in saying Yoga Alliance was definitely not there mulling about yoga safety and designating ability standards in classes.
As someone educated in kinesiology I admire teachers who give options for all levels. As a certified Sivananda Yoga teacher I don’t appreciate yoga fundamentalists needing to crucify instructors who don’t share every literal translation or esoteric concept. We know they are the foundation of the practice, and those who recognize how those concepts relate in today’s (sadly) materialistic and capitalistic society should be congratulated for the way they integrate the message without risking complete resistance. People still think yoga is voodoo or the work of the devil. If we truly want to share the benefits of yoga, we need to be intelligent in the way we present them, but I agree, that certainly does not mean denying the authentic and spiritual aspects of yoga as a whole.
In a quest to describe “authentic yoga classes” Israel mentions that yoga used to consist of “groups of naked men standing around a campfire screaming primordial sounds” (think college frat party). But now, he seems to be disappointed by the bendy, athletic women in Lululemon yoga pants who he feels have taken over and are making the men feel unwelcome.