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Western Yoga

Disconnected from the source


Yogacharya BKS Iyengar

For some time now yoga has been promoted as one of the most refined or sophisticated forms of physical and mental exercise for human well-being. But during this process it has become corporatised and is losing its connection with the source.

Let's remember that yoga was introduced to the world some 15,000 years ago and after their training at the time, seven adepts were sent to the corners of the earth to share this knowledge and practice so that human life would be meaningful, wonderful and enduring.

14,000 years later after many yogic cultures had been destroyed by colonialism, yoga was introduced to the USA by Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Paramahamsa Yogananda and others from the late 1800s. Europeans of the time were travelling to India to learn this technology and began taking it back to Europe.

But yoga in the West was the domain of the wealthy and privileged classes. Many of the first teachers were inspired by lectures and books, and they set up their own classes based more on goodwill than any real knowledge.

In New Zealand, the first teachers were the wives of corporate executives who went on to establish a local branch of the International yoga teachers Association. These wealthy women did their practice and because they didn't need money, they charged students just enough to cover the cost of the venue. Through until the 1970s the price of a yoga class was rarely more than $.50.

By then many people were turning to yoga and becoming far more serious about it, people were journeying to India, coming back and setting up classes. In order to survive they had to ask students for more money and so the price of yoga classes rapidly escalated.

In the late 70s people in Wellington were paying between three and five dollars per class, but today in major cities around the world people are paying upwards of $30 per class. But yoga is nothing to do with price, price was about the teacher eating or not eating, but today yoga is being turned into a business and corporatised.

The corporate yoga model is all about 'bums on mats' and the nature of yoga is coincidental. The teachers employed by these corporations must have a certain amount of sex appeal which is sometimes more important than their ability to instruct.

The general movement of yoga in the West is becoming like that of headless chicken. Without reference to the history and lineage of enlightened beings as well as some knowledge of colonialism, yoga as it is so often practised as little more than calisthenics. For the people who flock to classes, as long as the teacher has an essence of goodwill, the practice will be like a lottery, their bodies may feel better, they may fend off developing health problems and even glimpse the mystery of life.

The corporatisation of yoga is destroying some of the essence of yoga in the same way that corporatism is antilife in other ways. Those who practise yoga in the West need to understand that that yoga is an ancient science and a technology that helped to make India an enduring civilisation.

I'm inclined to support the efforts of the Modi government to reclaim yoga for India as after all, how would you like your most beautiful creation designed to support life to be used for the destruction of life?

However many of the enlightened are unconcerned by this because through yoga or through boga, most people make the journey through life even if it takes 1000 lifetimes. Even if humankind creates the conditions for extinction of our species and the destruction of all life on earth, the earth will carry on and new life will emerge. It is just that humanity will miss out on participating in the exuberance of life.

A critique of modern yoga

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