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Yoga’s Survival Guide: Does it Need to Grow Up? Does it Need Saving?

in Business of Yoga, YD News

Controversies, scandals, tv shows and festivals abound, yoga sure is popular these days. It’s been counted as one of the Top 10 Growing Industries. So why are people saying it’s dying?

Steadfast journalist and regular HuffPo yoga columnist, Stewart J. Lawrence takes an interesting perspective on the current state of yoga post Anusarapocalypse and William J. Broadgate, in which he pleads for everyone to chill out and ponder the question of whether or not it may be in yoga’s longterm interest to play by the rules, and grow up.

Broad suggests that this defensive posture is a dead-end for yoga. Defending an esoteric sub-culture prevents yoga from fully embracing the American mainstream, and sets the interests of the yoga studios and their teachers against the needs of their students and the broader public. In his Epilogue, Broad envisions a time when yoga has moved beyond its traditional know-nothing attitude toward science while the mainstream health and medical establishment has also become increasingly open to “non-traditional” medicine. Government authorities would agree to fund large-scale clinical trials to more thoroughly document yoga’s manifold contributions to “disease prevention and treatment”. And yoga, with the help of professional accreditation, and a more sober and mature attitude toward its own corporate and social responsibility, could become more accepted as a modern, time-tested “wellness” practice, accessible to the broad masses, not just to a relatively privileged few.

A convergence of science and spirituality? That sounds like a powerful “yoking of opposites,” the very essence of yogic philosophy. But that convergence won’t happen, Broad suggests, as long as the industry clings to its worst eccentricities, and refuses to subject itself to public scrutiny and oversight. If yoga really wants to grow — and to “serve,” one of its cherished ambitions — it can’t, like a rebellious infant, stay in “Child’s Pose” forever. It needs to embrace the world like a trusted friend, rather than indulging its penchant for hollow consumerism and seduction. Only then, he suggests, can yoga truly “soar.”

Certainly some points to ponder. Does yoga need to grow up? Does it need saving?

We found this comment in response worth a view as well.

Naren K writes:

“Grow Up”? That’s quite a Eurocentric statement, considering that Yoga is over 5,000 years old. Americans need to grow up; scandal-ridden politics (including Secret Service) need to grow up; millions of American’s who sit on their fannies living out their suppressed dreams through a talent show on TV–they need to grow up. The corruption in the so-called yoga industry is nothing near as bad as the corruption in the medical, insurance and pharma industries. Let’s define “healing” before we invoke the word “science”. In ancient India, science and religion were not in conflict. True yogis know the scientific aspects of their practices. In this Age of Insecurity, Americans take yoga and twist it to meet their needs–be it for a better looking body or for a new category to fit into. But let us not throw out the baby with the bath water. True and authentic Yoga cannot be tainted by these trends. And I will applaud any scientists from America who go to INDIA for research. They would surely find enough scientific proof to send Christian fundamentalists and the Health Care Empire into a panic, and hopefully into growing up.

It’s exciting that yoga’s growing and more people are catching onto the many benefits, but does it come at a cost? We don’t expect this discussion to die down any time soon.




26 comments… add one
  • Janet

    It might, if only to avoid further scandal and cliches…. Funny enough Yogadork was cited in a blog article which got picked up by David Icke’s website today:

  • Nunya Beeswax

    We can all ponder and wonder what “yoga” “needs to do” but the fact is the only meaningful question is “what you need to do yogi?” I can only act in good conscience and do my best every day to honor my responsibilities to myself and my community, to my family, to the planet, to all that I touch, with all that I do. When I fall short of that, I stand up and try again.

    What I want you to know is, that when I do fall down, I will have enough to do to get back to myself and clean up the mess I’ve made without having to rep for “yoga” as well. I am not, nor do I have any desire to be, “the face of yoga”. I think when one steps in front of the camera it could be said that one accepts a greater responsibility to behave, but in my view we all have responsibility for the impact of our personal behavior, in yoga and in the world.

    Try. Do your best. I will too. It’s all we can do.

    • ryan

      This person just does life right.

    • JJTwister


    • Agreed!!

    • David D

      Thank goodness someone said it right. Please keep telling this message, so that it does not get lost in the blizzard of mushy-headed, feel-goodism that infests yoga.

  • Additionally though, I think some of the yogis who DO put themselves out there as the face of yoga in the press etc, might need to grow up. There will always be people who are in it for fame & money, regardless of the industry – the religions of the world have seen plenty who pretend to speak for their faith and dishonour the teachings they propound.

    I think what we need are more people who stand up and tell the whole story about yoga, stop encouraging this disassociation of physical practice from the spiritual background. By this, I don’t mean that we should cram yogic philosophy into every class until it becomes a lecture (new students will undoubtedly be put off!) but we should try to discuss how yoga has truly helped us and others – in ways that transcend physical wellness.

    As usual, by striving to attain perfection in poses (because the ‘ancient’ yogis clearly did their shoulder stand pose in exactly this way so you must even though it hurts) we lose sight of the powerful quality of mind that a conscious practice can bring. Connecting with our breath, nurturing this intimate connection and allowing this to bring us into the present moment, this is what truly matters, in my humble opinion.

    If more teachers kept it simple, kept it true, kept it nurturing and less like a competitive sport, yet another achievement for the over-worked mind to work towards, perhaps this would be a maturing of sorts.

  • Growing but how?

    The yoga celebs who sell themselves and their yoga as “products” claim that they do so because they want to reach as many people as possible. Yet far more effective would be to change the culture of yoga from one that mostly involves white, nubile, young women into a culture that includes ALL bodies, ALL ages, and ALL varieties of ability.
    That would mean changing image, for one: seeing a middle-aged, overweight person on the cover of Yoga Journal.
    More importantly, it would mean practice. It would mean more teachers trained to approach issues of aging, injury, illness, and so on in their classes.
    It would mean change of subject: more articles on extending yoga into activism and fewer on personal-growth-and-development navel-gazing.
    It would mean growing up about sex. The sensibility about sexuality on a lot of yoga blogs and sites is very adolescent. In American, sex sells, and sex is used to sell yoga just like sex is used to sex beer, car, and any other product. So, less tit and ass in the illustrations. And more room for a variety of responses. If the rest of us dare to roll our eyes at the narcissism of young white kids behaving as if they think they invented sex, there would be fewer snotty white kid accusations of our being “afraid of sex.”
    In short, the best way to extend yoga is to make it LESS, not more, mainstream in its sensibilities. Less youth-oriented, lesss white, less upper middle class, less self-absorbed.
    If yoga is going to grow up, the culture of yoga has to grow up.

    • Color blind yogi

      Typical “let’s over intellectualize diversity in yoga response.” Yoga is a practice, not a club. People of color practice yoga. Men practice yoga. In fact, yoga originated in India by nonwhites and was usually (perhaps, at times, exclusively) practiced by men! True story!

      Now, it has been imported into the West (gasp, white people?). For historical reasons, in the West, it has been adopted as a predominately female practice. And this is a problem how?

      It’s not a problem. In my experience, yoga is not an exclusive white, young, female practice. At every studio I have been to, I have seen all types embraced. In the South (where I have some experience), studios routinely have blacks, Mexicans, Guatemalens, El Salvadorians, Chinese, Thais, Israelis, Caucasians, etc. And they have men and women. And they have older people and younger people. In short, anyone who believes that yoga might be for him or her is embraced. For whatever reason, there seem to be high numbers of younger, white, women attracted to the practice. (I’m not sure whether whites are overrepresented, but perhaps they are.) In contrast, many men I know seem to prefer weightlifting to yoga. Does that make yoga discriminatory against men or does that mean that many men have preferences to engage in non-yogic activities?

      Focusing on and obsessing about such trivialities as gender and race are *not* a way forward for yoga. That is a way backwards, one in which we are all categorized and separated by little boxes that you want to put around pratitioners. In this worldview, other races are different than whites, fundamentally different, and therefore we must take specific efforts to encourage “those people” to enter into yoga. I’m not a big fan of such thinking and think it shares far too much intellectual space with racist idealogies. Think that way if you want, but don’t wait for me to follow you.

      Regardless, at least philosophically, a yogic view of people is that, beneath all the impermanence, we are all one and the same. Gender and race are distractions based on avidya. This overt emphasis on diversity for diversity’s sake emphasizes the transient at the expense of the permanent. You cannot “advance” (whatever that would mean) yoga by actively working against some of its deeper philosophical underpinnings. To do so is to betray some of the deeper teaching that we seek to live out in the world.

      Yoga is a bottom up process: the world becomes better because you make yourself a better person in it. The imprint you make by being a better person ripples throughout the world, making it a better place because you changed yourself.

      As such, the way forward is the same as it has always been. Do your practice. Try to make yourself a better person. Make yourself accountable for your decisions. Try to raise your kids to be good people. Be good to your family and friends (Seventh Series FTW!). And do good things for other people without expecting recognition or returned favors. That is where the magic is, not in counting skin colors or comparing the number of penises and vaginas. If you become enlightened along the way, bonus!

      Yoga will “grow up” when we, as individual practitioners, take the work it asks us to do seriously, allowing it to change us so that we realize that we are not truly individuals at all. Unfortunately, you trivialize this as navel gazing and personal grown and development. I think we need far *less* activism and far *more* navel gazing. We should focus less on the deficiencies we identify in others and focus more on solving our own deficiencies. That’s the work we have to do. And it’s the work that yoga asks us to do.

      • Uh-uh

        Race and gender are certainly not trivialities. The race and gender cultures of the dominant number of practioners will indeedinevitably make up the culture and sensibilities of yoga at the broader, public level, which is what was addressed — zines, blogs, marketing.
        Yoga itself may work on the principle that you start with the self, but it is narcissistic and stupid to assume that making the self better will automatically make the world better — that social improvement will happen by fiat. The world does not revolve around anyone’s personal growth and development trajectory.
        Our institutions — the SOCIAL ground from which people work up — have historically favored white upper middle class people in America. Yogis use institutions — the market, yoga schools ,conference centers, image-makers — to discuss and market yoga. If those institutions do not change, they will default to the sensibilities of white, upper middle class people, because they are the original owner class, and white upper middle class women are the primary consumers within that owner class.
        It’s a sensibility issue. It’s culture produced by a dominant class of people. And it’s a mono-culture.
        Diversity is indeed a value unto itself. It is a SOCIAL and moral value. Part of yoga growing up must entail yogis themselves getting over their self-absorption enough to learn some social history, to practice humility enough to accept that histories of exclusion and oppression do in fact still affect us today, that our media cultures and institutions have been set up to favor a certain kind of person and therefore to be exclusionary by default, and that part of the work of growing yoga will be in fact to commit to changing those instituions and those cultures.
        Get curious about something outside the self — that is also “seva.”

      • Not trivial

        It’s certainly not a trivial thing to ME that I am the only black woman in my yoga class. It’s alienating. I’ve had two kids, I have a normal forty-year-old woman’s body, and it’s tiresome, sometimes, be be surrounded only by skinny little white girls under thirty who are obsessed with Lululemon outfits and their latest boyfriends and going to the next chant festival.
        Same thing with the yoga centers — Kripalu always makes a big deal out of their One Token Black Female yoga teacher, but come on, folks. Taking care of the “one black rule” is not terribily impressive.
        Nice does not make up for homogenous.

        • Nunya Beeswax

          I am curious, seriously, about what you would suggest your studio DO to bring more black women into yoga? I have made a point to make sure that there are NO young white women in my advertising. My models are black, men, gay, and some are middle aged. I had to work with my models for weeks beforehand because most of them had never done yoga before. I will let you know how that works for me, and, I know there has to be more. I look at the audiences for the marketing that I know works for studios and many of the recipients are white. White women for example make up the majority market for GroupOn which brings hundreds of people into a yoga studio. Where do I reach middle aged black women with normal bodies, because I want them in my yoga studio? Our 3:30 class will be very brown, because it will be our Karma Yoga program for inner city youth. Paying clients though, are not as easy to reach if they aren’t looking at the stuff we’re putting out there. Marketing has to be affordable and effective, and I’m willing to spend money on this market, because I believe they will offer rich experiences and world views to the mix. I want my studio to be colorful and to have variety of age, size, color, sex and perspective.

      • You're kidding

        @ “colorblind” :
        What a rotten, sicked-out entry to discover on a Sunday morning. Self-absorption is part of the privilege of whiteness. Spiritual/physical practices that elevate self-absorption are of course going to appeal to white people.
        The idea that “we will work on ourselves first, and the world will improve with us” is typical white solipsism.
        I wouldn’t look to yoga to diversify, though. White people run it, white people patronize it. White people run these sites, white people decide the “issues” worth connecting to yoga –green politics, say, instead of working to improve schools or protest the prison industrial system.
        American Buddhism has been trying to diversify — there have been some good articles in the Buddhism mags about that in the last year — but again, instead a cultural thing.

  • Susan Cooper

    I have been studying with an Anusara inspired yoga teacher for a little over a year. I am white; some of my buddies (i.e., people I relate to as friends in the same class) include a black woman, two East Indian women and two white women. We all enjoy our teacher’s class for our own reasons and also because we find our teacher to be inspiring in her sincerity and willingness to share “Anusara” philosophy in terms of how it weaves through her own life in a constructive way. Occasionally I have heard people refer to John Friend in what I considered more worshipful than perhaps warranted tones (in my personal estimation). That is one thing that has put me off from pursuing formalized Anusara training (others having to do with personal limitations). We all have different blinders which we have become accustomed to. As life unfolds we are challenged to remove them when the time is right, so that our clarity and integrity increase. I think it’s possible to see things for what they are without blaming someone else for the position in which we find ourselves. Certainly the issues referenced above present such an opportunity. I don’t think blame and judgment work towards healing, but I do think discernment about where others are really coming from can be constructive, as well as refusing to participate in something one’s own conscience cannot accept as ethical or responsible. Ethics and responsibility really aren’t that complex. Common sense will take you far. In the dance of abuse, victim and perpetrator trade places all the time. The thing is to step out of the dance completely. It’s a big challenge sometimes, and a process…

  • Emily

    This is such an interesting and cool discussion! I think a huge step forward would be for Yoga Journal to exercise some more thought and caution in the body types and demographics represented on their pages and in their ads. I am key demographic young white chick and I haaaate seeing the same skinny, super-flexible, serene-looking ladies staring at me on every page. That doesn’t represent me or my students in the least!

  • Cathy

    Hear Hear, Not Trivial!
    I’m of East Indian descent and I too experience exactly what you’re describing at the studios. Western yoga IS Classist, it is run by affluent white people, with the token African American, Indian, Asian or Latino. The yoga media and this includes the magazines, blogs, YouTube channels etc. is white and predominantly upper-middle class, the yoga apparel industry caters to the affluent, even the membership fees are sometimes so prohibitively high that those persons from upper middle class to upper class can afford it on a regular basis. While the intention might be there to offer yoga to disadvantaged groups and populations, most of the studios I see who offer “karma classes” do so during a slow time slot, say like Sunday late afternoon, once a week.
    And it IS alienating to be the only memeber of a visible minority in a class and have some of these other giggly lululemon girls look at you with this attitude of “How dare you come here?” and I’ve had this happen to me many times.
    It’s particularly annoying when you have these affluent , suburban kids, who have just moved out and trying to play grown-up become yoga instructors and then pass themselves off as “Indian” when they know nothing about the culture, the history, the religion, etc. yet insist on coming up with Sanskrit-derived moniker names like “Blissananda” or “Joyananda”, brag about reading the Gita and eating curried vegetables with their hands and the trips they took to India.
    I’m sorry to say this but white North Americans are neurotically hung up on money and sex and that is what they have infused the yoga culture here with. Most of the guys I see there are scoping out the girls. And the girls are there to get thinner to attract a boyfriend. There’s nothing spiritual about it, it’s become another meat market which has shifted from the bars to the yoga studio and is being sold under a veneer of “spirituality” and positive New Age gobbely-gook. Even in the locker rooms, you here the girls gossiping and that this girl was went over to the male instructor ‘s place for drinks on Tuesday and that girl went over on Wednesday. Yoga is trendy right now and as a result it’s attracting the most super-ficial and vapid types of personalities.
    So yes, yoga needs to mature, be more inclusive, more transparent and more reflective of the diversity of the population at large or else it risks closing itself off into a niche-market with cult-like tendencies and being massively misunderstood by everyone else.

  • You're kidding

    Particularly galling to me is having any of these little girls (or boys) presume to moralize and preach, hypocritically spout yoga-speak about “non-judgment” and “healing,” while participating in a vapid, greed-and-status-focused yoga consumer culture drenched with puerile sexuality. They seem to want to create a subculture in which they have total perogative to act like assholes with no one “judging” them. Ahem. Talk about entitled. I’m old enough to be their mother, most of them, and no, kids, you didn’t invent sex.

    • Snowflake city

      Welcome to snowflake city, babe!
      Same bunch of spoiled white kids who got A’s for breathing in school, same bunch of precious princes and princesses who got gold stars by their names for “participating,” who got prizes just for showing up. Same helicopter-mommy-and-daddied, medicated, overscheduled kids labeled as “gifted” for nothing whatsoever.
      They just can’t quite believe that whole world doesn’t see everything they do as Just Wonderful. How dare we “judge” them? How dare we fail to recognize their innate specialness and uniqueness?
      Etc, etc.

    • Janet

      You’re kidding, you are so spot-on.
      I know exactly what you’re describing as I’ve witnessed it myself where there have been yoga instructors who do act like complete jerks, yet when you either stand up to them or point out their jerkiness to them, they start pointing the finger back at you for being “so judgmental” and “negative” and “holding ugly energy” . Yet they continue to get away with it, either because the client base is there to enable such attitudes or some of these instructors are convincing enough to deflect attention away from themselves and make people look the other way. Many of these kids (and immature instructors) not only have an over-exaggerated sense of entitlement, they are able to morph it into some kind of moralistic crime if they don’t get what (or who) they want.
      Your phrase “while participating in a vapid, greed-and-status-focused yoga consumer culture drenched with puerile sexuality” summed it up the best. Now there are Yoga raves, Chocolate Yoga, Trance Dance Yoga. Again, a shifting of the value and social system of the nightclub, bar, cafe etc into yoga under the guise of “Healing”, “Peace” and “Good Karma” (if someone can explain to me the direct correlation between how attending a yoga rave and achieving “World Peace” will stop the American occupation in Iraq, stop Monsanto from distributing GMO seeds to the world’s poor and force the Japanese government to stop using nuclear energy , I’d be happy to hear it)

  • Yoga Mama

    Many thanks to the growing number of people who are saying let’s walk yoga back a little bit and get back to the roots. Here is an opportunity for those who have gotten caught up in their own fabulousness to step back and self-reflect though I doubt many have the insight or the courage.
    Therefore, there will continue be those who use looks, a club scene atmosphere, “all bliss” group- think, and other gimmicks to, basically, make money and there are plenty of people who will buy it. But that’s OK. There is some great yoga being taught so let’s shun the posers and go to teachers who truly walk their talk.

  • Dayita Angelis

    so we had an interesting discussion in relation to this at YTT this weekend. according to teacher, hatha yoga has traditionally 3 applications: therapeutic, wellness, and spiritual. only the first two could be reasonably regulated – but how can the law distinguish between them? this is actually a very thorny problem, and one i would really rather not see solved by a blanket assumption of yoga as a health-and-wellness practice (which, apparently is what some large percentage of western practice is).

  • Stewart J. Lawrence

    Dayita –

    I agree with your point that there are real issues related to spiritual “freedom” that cannot be addressed under the same regulatory

    However, there is more than one kind of regulatory framework. There is public or government-mandated regulation, on the other hand, and there is voluntary SELF-regulation, on the other. And there are “hybrid” systems of bounded voluntary public-private cooperation, too.

    American yoga, in its organizational and emotional immaturity, refuses to broach ANY kind of regulation, even the kind that might be generated from within to create greater transparency and accountability among individual yoga groups on behalf of yoga as a whole.

    Look at the recent Buddhist nightmare in Arizona, or the Anusara and Dahn Yoga scandals. These are self-appointed cult-style movements with their own governing boards chosen by the same cult leaders running the organization – it’s a real recipe for abuse. And without some kind of voluntary regulation, there will be more.

    Even mainline religious organizations try to band together into larger “Baptist” or “Presbyterian” or “Lutheran” assemblies and boards that try to set standards for theology, priest credentialing, lay pastoral programs, the delivery of social services — what have you.

    I won’t go into the specific modalities for yoga here. However, if, for example, Dahn Yoga had been a member of a larger national yoga association, major sanctions could have been imposed on the group after it bilked so many members out of their savings, and after its founder abused and probably raped one of his young followers.

    What happened instead? The victims turned to the courts that by their very nature are unfriendly to their claims, and the victims either lost or settled their cases, with a gag order in place, so we’re unlikely now to even know what actually happened. And the group and its founder, claiming vindication, have made a comeback. It’s like it never happened.

    We could go through the same problems and issues with Anusara and with Roach’s Buddhist group. Having a regulatory body in place would protect people who have outstanding teacher certification training programs underway, just as state regulators suggested when they proposed their vocational training guidelines. No one in government, or in a national yoga association with teeth (not the ineffectual Yoga Alliance) needs to micro-manage every one’s teaching efforts, or to create a single yoga teaching model. You could still have variations, but the standard licensure for yoga teachers could require a real degree program. not just a quick and dirty 200 hour mini-course.

    And remember, the main thing ab out having this kind of oversight is that it deters abuses before they even happen. People know they can be brought up on charges before internal boards, so it’s not just a matter of being charged with a criminal offense or beating the rap in court. You can still lose your license or your credibility.

    Broad has said it and I will say it: Women (especially) in yoga really need to GROW UP. Yoga is not, in fact, a feminist movement, and not every concern about protecting yoga members and consumers is an attempt to “control women’s bodies.” That’s a dodge from building a truly democratic and accountable yoga movement – indeed, one that protects its mostly female members and practitioners, too.

    The ones crying “Leggo my Eggo” the loudest are actually apologists for a movement that is free to engage in exploitative empire building endeavors under the cover of religious “freedom” and an unregulated “free market” for business.

    Funny, that sounds just like the Tea Party to me.

    • Amused

      I don’t see regulation happening b/c there seems no legal language regarding yoga. Do even personal trainers have to be certfied? I can’t remember. But then so so many of them are STILL idiots…
      As long as yogis keep saying, “Yeah, but there’s a SPIRITUAL side to yoga,” it opens the doors to abuse. It invites every little kid just out of a little 200-hr cert program (which, as some one else has pointed out, has no TESTING or EXAMS, only “show up, do the hours, get the cert”) to think of her/himself as a “spiritual leader” or teacher. Oh, really? Whatever you think of organized religion, think of comparable spiritual “leaders” — all the schooling, training, internships, supervised chaplainships, etc that priests, ministers, rabbis etc have to go through. I’ve known Unitarian ministers with degrees from Harvard Divinity school and Starr Kingseminary and 25 years experience who still struggled mightily with their responsibilities. So how the hell does it come so easily and quickly to yoga teachers? Get off it, girls and boys.
      American yoga is a culture of arrogance, carelessness and a sense of entitlement. The little girls and boys “teaching” and patronizing it are part of generations marked by those traits. Shouting at them to grow up will probably have little fecct; they’re too busy with their gadgets and posing for their next money shots for EJ. I don’t know what regulatory laws can be passed, but I do know that more pressure can be brought within yoga “communities” for peoplein general to be more smart and more skpetical.

      • Amused

        ps sorry about the typos. Augh!

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