by J. Brown
Adepts have told us that yoga can be found in anything. But does that mean that anything can be yoga? With all the mixing and combining of yoga with other activities going on these days, the line between what constitutes a yoga practice and what does not has certainly become blurred and invites us to wonder why so many people find yoga insufficient on its own.
A quick google search reveals an array of hybrids and pairings: yoga and pilates, yoga and fitness, yoga and martial arts, yoga and capoeira, yoga and wine, yoga and chocolate, yoga and weight-loss, yoga and writing, yoga and whatever someone can think of to try and create a niche for themselves. The trend is understandable. Niche marketing in today’s economy is often essential to survival.
However, there comes a point where being all-inclusive and marketing anything under the sun as enhancing a “yoga lifestyle” ends up sacrificing the real benefit of yoga practice. Of course, there is the supposed silver lining that even if yoga is being exploited, these ploys are still exposing people to yoga; but this is really nothing more than a red herring.
As many of these potentially yoga-related pursuits are becoming more popular, they are also becoming an obstacle to people actually learning yoga and understanding the role of yoga as a true wellness profession. Anyone who is able to see past all the noise, including a growing number of doctors and scientists, will attest to the healing capabilities of authentic yoga practice. But if there are only hybrids and gimmicks available then where will actual yoga practice be found?
A particular example of where the dilution of yoga can be misleading and even detrimental is the newer phenomenon of grafting yogic ideas onto interpretive dance and remnants of the 90′s rave scene. “Trance yoga dance” is becoming common at yoga centers and even caused a bit of controversy at the last international yoga conference.
Some studios are now offering “yoga raves” where after everyone is feeling good from a rigorous physical practice they put on some loud techno music and dance into blissful ecstasy. Certainly nothing altogether harmful about that, probably better to be blissed-out on yoga than on MDMA; the only issue is conflating this yoga trance dancing with learning Hatha Yoga.
When I was thirteen years old, I was notorious for being the only boy who would dance at a party. Consequently, I think I may have attended more Bar Mitzfa’s that year then any other boy previously in the history of the San Fernando Valley of California. I’ve never been ashamed to admit that I love to dance. I took college level courses in experimental movement, attended contact improv jams and undulated myself into primordial trance states. As 1992 rang new, I shared in ecstasy-induced communal bliss with thousands of youths in a giant warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. And I can say definitively that getting out of my head on the dance floor, whether my dance moves consist of yoga poses or not, is not even close to the same thing as learning to employ the tools of yoga practice as a genuine form of self-care and personal inquiry.
Overcoming the profound obstacles that life inevitably presents and discovering a sense of harmony through an inner vision and outer display of actions and attitudes requires more than the sweaty zeal of techno music and the slogan “follow your bliss” can ever offer. When the senses are overloaded, the essential attention to experience is missing. It is like trying to have a nuanced conversation with a friend in a loud bar when you have to scream to be heard. Or, as if there were a doting lover sitting across from you at a romantic candle-lit dinner but you’re on your iphone checking email out of habit.
As yoga classes more and more resemble yoga raves, fewer people are learning yoga in them.
When yoga practice is left sparse, without other distractions, it challenges us to be more intimate with ourselves and honest in what we discover. Of course, this is the very thing that many us would much rather avoid. When something is amiss in ourselves or our environment, clarity is not always desirable. Intense physical challenge and a bombardment of the senses are appealing because they gets us “out of our heads” in the same way that trance dancing might.
An actual practice of yoga will naturally find its way into everything else, maybe even trance dancing. But in order to have yoga in all things, we must first learn yoga. No one is going to learn yoga if we don’t, at least, turn down the music a bit and pay closer attention to what we are doing. And we must not confuse what it means to learn yoga as a healing modality with what it means to celebrate yoga in other activities. Having dance parties is fine, but attempting to multitask and advertise yoga into everything causes us to miss the point. And it debases the profession.
In this last of the series video blog, I discuss what yoga is to me and the role my practice played in arriving at that determination:
J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy in Practice, Yoga Therapy Today and the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. Visit his website at yogijbrown.com