the future of yoga (according to the huffington post)

Imagining a safe, accessible, ethical world for the future of yoga (image via metrolpolismag.com)

What does the future of yoga hold? Flying yoga mats? Hologram instructors? Geodesic dome studio/community spaces? Yoga vacations to the moon?

A little post on the Huffington Post last week looked into the crystal ball and asked about “The Future of Yoga in America” (I just have to say that nothing irritates me more than references to “yoga in America” – yoga happens in countries besides the USA and at a similar rate).

After sketching “a brief outline of the evolution of yoga” (in three paragraphs!), yoga teacher and therapist Ira Israel looks at the divide that has emerged between “spiritual” and “non-spiritual” yoga, and credits increased property values and rent with the proliferation of yoga teacher trainings. He also uses examples from his experience in becoming a licensed therapist, offering a possible model to ensure that yoga teachers go through the proper channels and can “do no harm.”

… the problem is that high rents have caused yoga studios to pump out a plethora of under-experienced teachers. Many of these are the same teachers — who are all in competition for a limited number of jobs and students — are the ones “wrecking the bodies” of students — according to the New York Times — because they don’t understand that yoga is primarily a spiritual tool, not a physical exercise practice to make you look better. Unfortunately, aside from a little “spiritual stuff at the end,” those exercise regimes have nothing to do with yoga, uniting with the divine.

Of course it’s wonderful that anyone comes for exercise and leaves with a little spiritual stuff. It’s equally awesome that there’s such a smorgasbord of classes available to people of all shapes and sizes. The problem is that 90 percent of what’s being called yoga in America has nothing to do with the original purpose of yoga. What’s the solution? I don’t know. Some people wish to “Take Back Yoga” to the spiritual practice it was, but I fear that it is way too late to separate it from the physical asana practice. I do know that psychotherapists have a union that supports us. I know that many yoga teachers earn $25 and $35 for a class where students are paying $22 each and the teachers don’t have health insurance, are required to have liability insurance and be certified by Yoga Alliance, and do not feel supported by the studios or Yoga Alliance.

Ira finishes up with a resonant question: “At what point will yoga teachers organize and decide what is yoga and what is not, or will we just wait and let the government define it for us?”

He has a point, and the question is applicable to yogis of all nationalities. Are we willing to co-create a future for yoga that is safe, accessible and ethical? Is it possible? I think so.

4 Comments

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  1. Absolutely! I think studios that offer teacher trainings must have the integrity to turn away (or fail) students with too little experience or skill. I recently met a woman who enrolled in teacher training after only practicing for one month! Fortunately she recognized upon graduation that she was not ready to teach.

    I understand that yoga studios need income sources but it’s getting ridiculous! I really don’t know if the industry can effectively self-regulate, but the alternative is no good either!

    The “asana” portion of yoga is what can get people injured, so obviously that’s where teachers need the most education and study to acquire the skill needed to teach.

  2. Hello, just want to add my 2 cents: I agree, the “in America” is a little annoying, although the USA does have a much larger yoga community than anywhere else except for perhaps India. As for the conflict between “spiritual” vs. “physical”: this dichotomy in the yoga community has been going on for quite a while now. The fact is, the community is very diverse, and yoga is a term that can mean different things, depending on who is asked. I don’t think yoga teachers can or even should organize to define what yoga is – the result would just be another splinter group, resulting in more division. Personally, I think it’s fine that there are a variety of yoga styles. The important thing is being able to find and practice the kind of yoga that suits you.

  3. I agree with Yogatrail to a certain extent. I think it’s great that there are so many diverse styles of Yoga and reasons for practicing; not everyone practices for the same reason, and that’s the way it should be. However, I definitely see what Ira Israel is getting at: asanas are only one part of the whole practice that constitutes Yoga.

    After practicing in Montreal for several months, I drove back to South Carolina and took a couple classes at some studios along the way. In one class I took in Portland, Maine, the instructor led the class like a fitness video, complete with constant joking, counting aloud how long we held our poses, and having us do ‘reps’ of certain poses. There was no talk of centering, breathing, or not pushing your body beyond its limits. And this was at a yoga studio, not a gym offering a yoga class. This guy was certified with the Yoga Alliance.

    To be fair, if that’s what you want to get out of yoga, that’s your business not mine, but what frustrates me is that it is presented as “YOGA”. The students in the class certainly got a good workout, but they left with no more understanding of the basic practices and true meaning behind yogic living than if they’d taken a cycling class at Gold’s Gym.

  4. I’ve seen a lot of gyms in the UK adding teachers on their cover lists without ever having looked at them – a phone call or email is sufficient. But on the other hand, should not students be more aware of the risks when choosing a teacher? Even if he/she waves a certain certificate as “proof” doesn’t mean they’re a good teacher. In the old days, none of the Indian gurus could have presented any kind of “certificate”.