Last year, I was telling a friend about a yoga workshop I had taken with an instructor from the west coast. He was a 40-year-old guy who had been practicing for 10 or so years, studied with somebody in Hawaii, and had gone on to create his own style of yoga (which includes, of course, international workshops, DVDs and teacher trainings). “What gives him the right?” she asked, not so much judgmental but inquisitive.
And she had a point. What did give him the right? Sure, he was passionate, enthusiastic and knew his yoga, but he was a 40-year-old Canadian guy with an indeterminate background and training, who after less than 10 years of teaching professionally, was offering trainings and instructing others in his method.
However, according to this Huffington Post article, he does have a right to be doing what he’s doing. In the article, “rising yoga star” Sadie Nardini breaks down the common misconception that yoga poses are ancient, sacred and should not be tampered with by modern yogis. Her argument is pretty good and factual, although it seems that the purpose of putting it forward is to explain why she thinks “it’s perfectly fine to do with [the postures] as I wish.”
This includes adding “dancelike, wavelike or martial-arts-based movements to (and between) poses” and teaching “poses and sequences that I created and named, ranging from Charlie’s Angel’s Mudra to Fists of Fire Lunges, Shakti Kicks to Fierce Lion.”
I’m not sure what to make of all this. Her other Huff Post pieces have an irreverence and creative spirit that intrigues me; but there’s also a pop-self-help (and self-promotional – check out her bio, which lists her numerous products and media appearances, then briefly mentions her vague yoga training and background) language that turns me off.
I think this reflects my conflicted view of yoga in general, in which I don’t believe there is such thing as a “pure” yoga, but I also resist modern yoga that doesn’t adhere to any kind of tradition (whatever that is). In my practice, I’m somewhere in between, as I’m trained in and teach a fairly classical basic hatha yoga, but am intensively studying Anusara.
While Sadie may consider herself a visionary, she’s not the first teacher to fuse a little dance or martial arts (or acrobatics or pilates or pole dancing or dogs) into her teaching. It’s happening here and here and here and here. It’s happening all over the place.
In the post, Sadie seems to be speaking to a tribe of “evangelical yogis” who “are strangling the life out of what should be a shared, and beloved practice,” and who are “under the illusion of an ‘ancient’ practice, they have forgotten to question, to re-create…” I think that these people are the minority, since it seems like everyone is recreating, innovating, fusing, branding, and then going on to teach their new method to others.
Like everything, yoga is in a constant state of evolution. And of course, yoga and its teachers are going to respond to the language of contemporary culture. This has to happen so the practice is relevant to our lives in the modern world. But this constant renaming, rebranding, repackaging ~ is it evolution or is it dissolution?
And I have to wonder if all this innovation is even necessary. Will it really push yoga forward? Does yoga even need to be pushed forward? Especially if the asanas system isn’t even that old. A recently released study indicated the benefits of yoga on back pain and depression. Participants in the study practiced Iyengar Yoga, which is known as a classical style, even though it’s hardly ancient having been developed less than 100 years ago. But still, it’s pretty old school, and it was enough to help people cope with ubiquitous problems of the modern world such as back pain and depression.
I know that this blog is called “it’s all yoga, baby,” but by this I mean that everything (knitting, hanging out with my cats, enjoying roller derby and burlesque and Beyonce) is part of my practice (and not the asana practice, but the yoga practice). And that everything has the potential for union with the divine, everything is animated with spirit. While I do believe that it’s all yoga, there’s a lot of stuff out there – most of it for sale on DVD – which I’m not sure is yoga. It’s more like yogasana-inspired-fitness, and it depresses me.
Anyway, I’m going to end here before I sound like more of a curmudgeon who should just crawl back under my rock. What do y’all think? Is yoga evolving or dissolving? Do we have the right to do whatever we want with the asanas because they aren’t that ancient or sacred? Do you trust a system of yoga created by someone after 5 or 10 years of practice?
Read some of Sadie Nardini’s other Huffington Post articles. And be sure to check out her upcoming meat vs vegetarianism debate with Sharon Gannon on October 8th at 12 noon (EDT) on the Huffington Post. The Huff Post generally has really fascinating and relevant yoga coverage, check it out.