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The Danger of Western Yoga: A Letter to Tumblr Yogis
When hatha, or physical, yoga developed in India centuries ago, the social and cultural context was entirely different. Their relationship to the body was one of deeper harmony, as was their relationship to themselves and the world in general. Even today, nowhere do we see more fighting with the body itself than in the affluent Western societies, especially in the United States.
This is why I’m very ambivalent towards the Westernization of yoga, because yes: it definitely has been Westernized.
Yoga is, first and foremost, intended to be a practice of awareness. It’s a methodology, a precise tool to facilitate awakening. It’s an art of learning to feel and to notice.
But one look at the industry, at the clothing (when exactly did all the scriptural advice to wear loose, breathable clothing become translated into, “Wear the tightest black stretchy pants you can find”?) and at the Tumblr photos/videos of young girls slaving to perfect the way they look in deep backbends and inversions—considering these new changes suggests that these original intentions have been a little lost. Yoga needs to return to its roots, especially in the West.
I’m going to say it because no one else will: yoga isn’t a sport. You don’t have to compete to slim down or get more bendy or do poses that look in photos you post to social media. You don’t have to try so hard. At its root, yoga is a path to learning to simply be. And if being is the way to peace, then trying and willing and doing for some future aim/hotter body/satisfied ego can only obscure your peace.
I’m not immune to trying to use yoga to enhance my ego, either. I get it. My relationship with my body is far from perfect, and far from healing it, yoga can sometimes aggravate my need to do things perfectly and look a certain way.
Basically, using yoga to enhance ego, like anything else we use to enhance ego, will never add to your peace but only obscure it. On a certain level, the healing asana and breath practices can help shift your state of being, but your entire approach to yoga must first be rooted in being and not in the American specialty verb: achieving.
I don’t agree with the notion that yoga is 100% good and healing and perfect and will save the world because it’s just not true. Yoga is a powerful tool that can either fortify your ego or elevate your consciousness, but you must make the choice to let it bring you higher awareness. I’ve seen yoga be used as a tool of willful perfectionism too much and I’ve seen too many people injure themselves because their striving overcame their willingness to accept and to feel to say that yoga is the magical cure to everything.