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They’ve been replaced by an odd patchwork of junior gurus and hustling corporations, but no one individual figure has seized hold of the yoga world.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
This is the most beautiful thing I’ve read in a long time…and I read a lot!
Yoga has arrived to where it should be. I, for one, am happy that the focus of practice is slowly moving toward nurturing, rather challenging. I think that pulling away from the culture of doing, having and excelling, will do us all good.
Thank you Neal. I needed the reminder of what yoga truly is, being present with whatever life and our body offers.
Maybe this is the year that Sally Kempton (formerly “Swami Durganada”) is finally placed in the same company of disgraced gurus she has spent her lifetime promoting. The Hall of Fame includes in chronological order: Swami Muktananda, John Friend and Marc Gafni, all of which have had allegations of sexual misconduct. Most recently she has been focused on resurrecting the career of Gafni who was the subject of a recent NYT article. The article recounted his sordid misdeeds that included “a woman said he repeatedly sexually assaulted her, over a nine-month period, beginning in 1980, when she was 13.” In his defense, he claimed: “She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her.” It is apparent to me that her lifetime of meditation has taught her nothing about ethics in the worldly realm.
You can pay attention to the hype, or you can choose to pay attention to what is really making an impact on people’s lives.. There are also a lot of people in the trenches doing the work, teaching non-glamorous yoga in schools, rehabs, psych hospitals, YMCAs, nursing homes, and wellness centers. John Kepner and the IAYT membership, which is comprised of some pretty stellar people who are putting a lot of energy into developing practice and thinking about how yoga can be integrated into healthcare, deserve some recognition in your annual State of the Yoga Union address. Also, the true rockstars of the yoga world are the researchers – like Catherine Bushnell at the NIH who puts out impressive studies about the neurobiologic benefits of yoga, Tim Gard and his Kripalu research consortium who published a great article on the neurobiologic mechanisms of yoga for self regulation, and of course Shirley Telles who seems to come out with a new study pretty much every day. What’s needed now? A concerted effort to demand that Yoga Alliance improves it’s rather frightening standards, audit schools, and helps consumers who are interested in healing yoga get beyond the hype of yoga. I also think partnering with organizations like the American Interprofessional Health Collaborative and training healthcare providers not only in how to find a qualified professional but also in how to use yoga techniques as brief interventions in their work is a next step.
36 million people. Meh. Lots more people need yoga – the issue at hand is how to find the right yoga for them.
This is beautiful and uplifting. Thank you very much for sharing!
Yoga, at its core, is a practice that will continue to resonate with individuals and communities around the world. It will take on different forms and enter and exist the mainstream, but it will always be there for us to come back to. Quiet, on our mat.
Thanks for the window from a guy from my generation who sees a view I see myself and describes it so aptly. I too am a wounded yoga warrior in my physical body who does not throw in the towel completely but recognizes there is a third chapter rhythm that is more than acceptable. Serenity now my friend. 🙂
There a lot things to learn from this article.I am happy to read such wonderful article .Perfect and wonderful to read .A big thanks for sharing this article with us .
Nice article. But the question comes to mind (not meaning to be an a**hole, honest):
Is the author’s “chronic tendonitis in multiple body parts” possibly attributable to his decade of yogic “heavy lifting”?
Thank you! Sometimes less is more – it’s been my motto for some time now.