It’s our annual YogaDork’s State of the Yoga Union. We’ve asked a few select leaders and thinkers to share their reflections, predictions and perspectives on the year of yoga that was, 2015, the year of yoga that will be in 2016, and the state of the (yoga) union.
by Neal Pollack
My dear friend YogaDork has once again asked me to assess the State Of The Yoga Union for you all. Six years ago, when I was writing for Yoga Journal, attending every yoga festival in existence, and gunning for my Ashtanga teacher’s certification, I would have been well positioned for such a task. These days, I mostly practice at home, unspectacularly, far from any hint of limelight. I’m as unconnected with mainstream yoga culture as possible. And I want to keep it that way.
My feed is full of people who are striving, pushing, straining to reshape their bodies and minds through yoga. I envy them, a bit. For a decade, I did the heavy lifting. It was fun, transformative, even mind-blowing. Now, I’ve moved on to the maintenance stage of my yoga practice. I’m not trying to sweat out my samskara. Mostly, I’m dealing with chronic tendonitis in multiple body parts. It’s hard to practice dropbacks when your physical therapist has warned you to stay off your feet as much as possible.
Yet I roll out my mat every day, even if it’s only for 20 minutes. When I get stressed, I watch my breathing. I try to be as nice to people as possible, at least offline. Even if I’m not putting my body through a 90-minute vinyasa grind, I’m still practicing yoga as best I can.
According to the needlessly perky promotional video from Yoga Journal and the Yoga Alliance that I just watched, I’m not alone. Apparently 36 million Americans now identify as yoga practitioners. That is a lot. As to what kind of yoga instruction those 36 million Americans are actually receiving, I can’t exactly say. There are yoga teachers floating around who were 10 years old when I started practicing. The knowledge has passed through a lot of filters by this point.
This yoga world is very different than the one in which I came up. When I started, yoga rested on four pillars: Anusara, Bikram, Iyengar, and Ashtanga. Now John Friend and Bikram have been thoroughly discredited and disgraced through sex scandal, and Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar are dead. Even minor empires, like Los Angeles’ Golden Bridge Kundalini kingdom, have fallen.
They’ve been replaced by an odd patchwork of junior gurus and hustling corporations, but no one individual figure has seized hold of the yoga world. Hopefully, that’s how it will be from now on. Yoga is too vast and diverse in America for us to invest in one guru, or even a handful of them. It has become the go-to therapy option for post-traumatic stress disorder, the linchpin for many a corporate wellness program, and part of school curricula from coast to coast, but not just on the coasts. You can do it, like I do, at home, with the help of excellent professional videos from several different services. You can do it here or there. You can do it anywhere.
To be sure, our yoga could be better. Many studios have an elitist or cheesy vibe. The music remains execrable, nasty flutes and stupid rapping. Also, it’s still too easy to walk into a bad class taught by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, or someone who has an odd agenda, or both. I’ve run into some real dog classes over the last couple of years, have gotten pinned with less-than-adequate substitutes, and have often emerged injured or otherwise unsatisfied. Not all yoga is created equal.
But overall, yoga looks good to me, or at least good enough. It will certainly never go away in our lifetime, and it will continue to blossom. Even if growth means rising prices, pretentious festivals, and the occasional bout of needless celebrity worship, yoga’s permanence still warms my heart. It’s a tremendous victory for the culture. Though my body is a barely-functional used car at this point, the practice has given me so much, and it continues to pay benefits, like some sort of weird amorphous mystical annuity. I’ll continue to do yoga for the rest of my life, and I hope you will too.
Neal Pollack is the author of the yoga memoir Stretch and the Matt Bolster yoga detective series, which includes the legendary Downward-Facing Death. His latest book is Keep Mars Weird, a science-fiction satire about space gentrification. He lives in Austin, Texas, seemingly against his will. Catch him twitter and instagram at @nealpollack.
The Year Yoga Came Home To Roost - State Of The Yoga Union by J. Brown