Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Yoga trends in the fitness industry and why it doesn't belong there

It bothers me when I am filling out forms, like the census form, when I needed to describe the industry I work in, or the industry that the business is in, as happened when opening a new bank account the other day. It seems to be a choice between fitness industry or health professionals. Sometimes allied health is available, so I choose that one because inner well-being and equanimity certainly leads to better health.

Yoga is a big word for only four letters. It was used for at least two millennia without a trikonasana in sight to mean both a goal, an end-state, and a range of practices to reach the goal. It means union and refers to a recognition of our True Nature as whole and undivided. Since the middle ages, body positive Tantric practices created Hatha Yoga, which added body postures to the range of practices that would assist us in finding that wholeness, that union inherent in the word yoga.

Roll the clock forward and yoga has taken on a meaning that places it in the fitness industry, and it seems in danger of losing its real meaning and original purpose. The American College of Sports Medicine, when it published its "Fitness Trends for 2016, ranked "wearable technology" number 1 and "yoga" number 10! (News article) Yoga is a fitness trend!

I have wondered if this is cultural appropriation? Is this an upsetting trend to Indians to whom the word yoga rightfully belongs?

I enjoyed this article which compares yoga in India and Seattle. The author, Arundhati Baltmangalkar, reports on how she adjusted to the yoga world in Seattle when she migrated from India. Her generous attitude helped me attain a more generous outlook as well. She says:

"I knew of different styles and lineages, but the idea of chocolate yoga, yoga to live music, rock and roll yoga, naked yoga, love yoga, etc. would shock the daylights out of me. Coming from a traditional yoga background, I often found myself annoyed and upset, but soon learned to ignore the eccentric ideas that have borrowed the name of yoga."

Those last words seem to be the nub of it. Much of what is understood as yoga these days is just a borrowed name.  If it is fitness stripped of those aspects which teach us a more wholesome way to live, that lead us to know our inner wholeness, then it cannot really be yoga and it has only borrowed the name.

But what if the name has become so disconnected from its real meaning and the practices that it represents that those who offer a traditional yoga are feeling unable to use the word?

It has been suggested to me that people who come to a class called "yoga" are expecting a fitness class, and are disappointed if they do not get it. So if we are offering real yoga, we should call it something else that will attract the true seekers, not those looking for fitness.

I tend to balk at that. If anyone should drop the word yoga it should be those who have "borrowed it" and stripped it of relationship to its real meaning. But that is unlikely to happen. A multi-billion dollar industry is now built around the word, yoga fashion and yoga accessories fuel desire for more possessions.

Patanjali gave us ethical precepts or behaviours as the place to start our practise of yoga. One of these is non-possessiveness. The person taking yoga seriously in the west has some big challenges as they resist the influence of those who have borrowed the term.

I would love to hear what you think. Please leave a comment.

1 comment:

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with you Tina. This huge industry built on borrowed feathers must crumble someday, Yoga was, is and will be what it is as we understand it, as a means to a union of our whole s lf. V well written and a lot of such writing and publicising through varied media is the need of the day.