A periodical blog from Rebecca at Apsara Yoga Shala

Don’t Believe the Hype: “yoga” ain’t Yoga 

15 May 2019

These days it seems like there is a yoga studio on every corner. Drop-in and casual classes are the norm. Anyone – literally, anyone – can be a yoga teacher just by signing up to one of the many ‘teacher training’ courses available to the general public. I have friends who have attended such courses and report that there were people enrolled who had never before done yoga themselves.

This should give us pause for thought. 

What is yoga? To address this question, my teachers have often encouraged reflection on what yoga is not. First and foremost, yoga is not a simple exercise system. It is not a fitness regime. It is not synonymous to gymnastics or about mastering acrobatic feats. It cannot be done with beer (“beer yoga”), goats (“goat yoga”), paddle boards (“SUP yoga”), hammocks (“aerial yoga”), or music (“hip-hop yoga”). It is not about the body beautiful. The profundity of the system does not lend itself to catch phrases or one-liners.

A studio is not the same as a school. Instructing is not the same as teaching. Learning – deep, transformational learning – is not the same as being able to remember elaborate sequences or follow the leader.

There is nothing wrong with any of the present-day activities that are referred to as some kind of “yoga” if one is looking for a bit of fun and, in many cases, physical exercise with good health benefits. The problem is that the word “yoga” has been widely misappropriated, misused, and abused. This has led to a state of confusion in the community about the nature of the system, and worse, delusion about supposed benefits to be gained. 

Yoga is a systematic process of self-inquiry, and thus, an inquiry into the nature of reality itself. The system has its roots in spiritual texts and technical treatises that date back thousands of years.

“Yoga is a spiritual system that deals practically with the process of enlightenment…[which is] is a dynamic evolving activity, and not a fixed state of attachment, as many conceive it to be.” (Shandor Remete, Shadow Yoga, Chaya Yoga: The Principles of Hatha Yoga 2010).

Yoga is an art form. It is exacting and methodical. Like other traditions such as martial arts and classical dance, yoga requires patience, determination, and dedication. There is no place for nonchalance. It can only be learnt in a sustained and progressive way with a teacher who has a sincere love of, and dedication to, the system and understands that the body is nothing more than a tool.  Only if approached in this way does the possibility remain open that people will gain insight into the revolutionary nature of yoga in its deepest sense.