As the 21st century unspooled, yoga has increasingly taken on the after look in a before and aftermath crime-scene photo. One hundred years ago it looked like a lot of class. Fifty years ago it got a makeover and looked better than ever. Today it looks like something dolled up to be better seen from a distance of a hundred years.
Yoga used to have something to do with simplicity and self-discipline, non-attachment, and the spiritual life. Hatha practice and karma in the world were means to an end, steps on the way to an expanding awareness. It had more to do with what went on off the mat, especially in your head, than the asana/ postures done on it.
“It’s been less than fifty years since the first group yoga class happened, but in that short time the content of those classes has veered so far off course that it falls well outside of even the most open and generous definitions of yoga practice,” wrote American Yoga School founder James Brown in ‘The Colossal Failure of Modern Yoga’.
In many respects, awareness isn’t what it is about anymore. It’s about exercise classes with folks all doing the same thing. It’s about a little bit of ad hoc spirituality and a lot of anatomical science. It’s about whatever works for me, never mind the past fifty centuries.
Sometimes it seems like modern yoga can’t get any respect, especially since it has gone the way of mass merchandising, of sticker shock sticky mats and neat-o clothes to match, the butter and egg man Bikram Choudhury, and the bigness of big events at big venues.
However, if you’re flying out to Burning Man, don’t bother bringing yoga attire, since loincloths and hot pants are more appropriate at the 70,000-man-and-woman festival.
There isn’t anything simple about organizing thousands of yogis to flip up on their heads at the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland or Times Square in New York City. It takes organizational skills and business smarts to assemble sound systems, food trucks, and port-a-potties.
Om’s and namaste’s are not going to get it done.
While the postmodern world streams, the shape of yoga tradition has shifted, so that a CGI-inspired vision of the practice has steadily morphed the once flesh-and-blood story to the pixels of flat screens. The new yoga body and yoga lifestyle have become the new Truman Show.
Once, people came to the practice looking like they had just climbed out of a wreck. They were hungry as schoolboys. Now they come in Lexus SUV’s. They’ve had their grass-fed beef brisket sandwich and kale salad and aren’t hungry, at least not in the same way.
Even meditation, which was once a quiet practice meant to make silence even more silent, has become a for-profit enterprise, sold as a balm for the wailings of the wealthy. They empty their heads for an hour-or-so, making like a church collection plate on a Wednesday morning, and once refreshed it’s back to business as usual.
There is even a branch of yoga, known as Padmini Vidya, which is devoted to one purpose, which is making money. It’s the yoga of pleasure and prosperity. “It is said that people who rapidly amass enormous wealth must have been yogis in previous lives who devoted themselves single-mindedly to Padmini Vidya,” Linda Johnsen wrote in ‘Be Wealthy, Be Wise: Yoga’s Guide to Prosperity’.
Although it’s true that there’s always a little good in everybody, there is sometimes only a very little in those who never have enough. There’s hardly ever any sympathy in their smiles, like they’ve never forgiven anyone for anything.
Photo Contribution by Melinda Juang http://yunyunportraits.wix.com
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