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Ask The Yogacist: How Do I Know It’s REAL Yoga?

in The Yogacist, YD News

yogacist-logoDear Yogacist:

I just started practicing yoga on the advice of a friend. Admittedly I’m more a gym rat and treadmill fiend so I was hesitant at first but it’s grown on me. The thing is, I take the yoga classes at my gym and they’re basically all taught by the personal trainers there. I’m loving it but people are telling me it’s not “real yoga” and that I should go off and find a “real” yoga studio. But if I like it and I’m feeling good why should I leave for what others are telling me is the real thing? Yoga’s pretty popular now so I don’t feel so much like a dirty hippie (no offense) taking classes in the comfort zone of my gym. Should I tell the purists to buzz off? Should I listen to them and try a yoga studio even if it means costing me more money? What am I missing? What’s “real yoga” mean anyway? — Sincerely, Gym Yoga Rat

Dear Gym Yoga Rat

We’ve heard this “real yoga” beeswax before. You want to know what real yoga is? The first place to look is in a book. No really. Sure yoga class will teach you some fancy moves to whip out at a party, but knowing yoga’s history and lineage will give you perspective on the practice, which will then allow you to deliberate and make your own decision of what real yoga is, to you. Follow? Stay with me. Yoga in America is BIG business and there are plenty of yogapreneurs out there to tell you their yoga is the ultimate absolute best: find enlightenment! heal your sickness! solve all your problems, money back guaranteed! There’s yoga everywhere – gym yoga, yoga franchises, video games, the Yoga ‘Don’, yoga offered to “real people” with the tagline “No Chanting, No Granola, No Sanskrit” – but does that mean it’s not real? Eh. Summoning our inner LeVar Burton – take a look, it’s in a book*. And just a tip, anyone marketing it as “real yoga” is doing just that, marketing.

The sanskrit word “Yoga” literally translates to something close to “union.” The traditional practice is a uniting of the mind and body. Ask yourself why you’re practicing. If you really want to dig deep, pull a Gilbert and flee to India (or Scotland, I guess) for your own Eat, Pray, Love journey. If you’re yoga-ing for feelgood exercise, typically an asana-focused practice (physical poses), then yes perhaps you should check out the dirty hippie joints in your area. There are so many different types, spinoffs and specialized offerings these days that trying out a tasting menu of as many as possible is to your benefit. I hear they even clean the mats now!

What is real yoga? Is it asana; meditation; pranayama; devout piousness; pretzel competitions; prehabilitation; rehabilitation; butt-hugging status symbol profit? You decide. After all, while some love to wear it on their rumps, you could say the “real yoga” happens on the inside.

the more you knowNeed more help? *Books and Internets:

  • Linda’s got a great list of books to start your yoga journey
  • yoga.about.com is a good neutral place to start some digging
  • Yoga Journal a solid resource for articles
  • and of course any of the blogs you see on the right column under “What YogaDorks are Reading” are all especially great resources

YD readers if you have more to add please contribute in the comments!

Have a question or quandry? email The Yogacist at yogacist@yogadork.com

The Yogacist will be a recurring weekly column featured every Tuesday on YogaDork.com – to entertain, to educate, to let you know you’re not alone!

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16 comments… add one
  • Kath

    You did a splendid job of explaining that with a brilliant economy of words! My students have asked me that question many times. I tell them I chose my tradition because it fits me. I tell them they likely stay with me because of how they, in turn, feel it fits them.
    I hear many people criticizing other traditions. I do not feel this is *yoga*. I applaud your gentle answer.

  • Haha. Lovely counterpoint to all the yoga-ish chest beating that’s been going on in the blogosphere of late… 😉

  • and thanks for mentioning my book list!

  • Great answer, Yogacyst. For anyone interested in exploring the spiritual/ philosophy side of Yoga , allow me to suggest my own website http://YogaDemystified.com and the “Recommended Reading” there.


  • admin

    Bob, you have a great point. Please notice Yoga Demystified added to the YD reading list.

    Also, for the record, I eat oatmeal AND granola. and hummus! 😮

  • Hey, if we’re talking about hummus, then I really should promote my very fabulous hummus recipe 😉

  • Svasti, finally we’re getting down to the ultimate truth of Yoga–great healthy eating!

    Bob W.

  • Yeah, like totally. It’s y’know, the Yoga of Food(tm). I’ll be running a workshop next year…

  • Love the answer – in a book. Can’t tell you how much I’ve learned about my own practice from my local library. Also, its so much about applying ‘off the mat’ what you learn ‘on the mat.’ Your mat can be anywhere you chose that fits you now. The time you spend on that piece of squishy rubber; the sweat, creaks, techniques, modifications, adjustments, om’s, minutes of nothingness, all add up to REAL yoga. Then you roll that puppy up and return to REAL life, hopefully as a better (physically, mentally, spiritually) person – who, of course, LOVES the perfect hummus recipe!

  • My book to recommend would be Bringing Yoga to Life by Donna Farhi…it’s really wonderful and helped a lot of pieces fall into place with understanding my physical practice.
    I started out with yoga classes at the gym. I discovered how much I loved it, how great it made me feel, and from there I went to India. After i came back I started going to “proper” yoga places & quit the gym, only to go back to my old class there last week (7 months on) and realise what an amazing teacher I had there and how lucky I was to find him. So while I agree that some yoga classes are probably set up as a populist marketing thing, sometimes you can find a real diamond in the rough too!

  • You know, I can understand the xenophobia towards chanting and Sanskrit, but what’s the beef (or seitan) towards granola? It’s just… granola, good for breakfast, good for camping, pretty regular Joe American to me.

    (But then again, I’m from the Pacific Northwest, we do love our crunchy granola here :))

  • sangos

    Real Yoga = Optimized energy to annihilate the ego (before Yoga went American; Optimized energy to indulge the ego (after ……..)

    Bottom line: Yoga’s a powerful tool which suits everyone’s reality! Take your choice.

  • Whether something is “real” or “authentic” is all in the eyes of the beholder. The yogi standing up there teaching probably thinks their practice is authentic, whereas someone else might not! But yes, having a historical grounding will help someone a lot and help take the practice from mere exercise (which is why most people start) to understanding the spiritual depths.

    I think you’ve given excellent advice, and I guess to this I would add that it does one good to take classes from various teachers and studios to find a good fit.

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