“Yoga in America is becoming what it needs to be. We cannot step backward from those ways of doing things [in India], because we never had them to begin with.” – Nina Moliver
The practice of yoga, which began about 5000 years ago in India, has become a booming $27 Billion industry in the U.S., with more than 15 million followers. The percentage of Indians who practice yoga? Certainly not 15 million. So, what is yoga in America, why do we love it so much? How do we take from the roots of this ancient tradition to make it a powerful and consistent practice in today’s modern world.
Contributor Sandip Roy on NPR quipped: “I am an Indian who doesn’t do yoga. Actually, most Indians I know don’t do yoga, either. I wouldn’t know a downward dog if it bit me. But because I’m Indian, people don’t even ask if I know yoga. They ask, ‘What kind of yoga did you grow up with? Iyengar? Ashtanga? Bikram?'” Deciding to try yoga for the very first time, Roy says, “The instructor is from Tennessee. Blond, shirtless, and a bit of a yoga rock star. I am just amazed at all the … stuff. Yoga tops, bottoms, blankets, mats. My vision of a yogi was a guy in the forest, sitting on a piece of tree bark — or in the deluxe version, a deerskin.”
However, Naveen Chandra, another Indian born native who has taken to American yoga adds, “The vast majority of yoga teachers have studied more Hinduism than I have or my parents have. I am learning more about the meanings of the shlokas and the intention of Hinduism than I ever knew as a kid growing up, being taught from my community.”
East vs. West
Yoga in the India is a spiritual lifestyle. It’s not uncommon for a devotee to practice for 10 years before teaching a single class (in America, one can get teacher certified in 4 weeks.). In India, the term yoga is as likely to refer to meditation, pranayama (breathwork) and devotional chanting as to postures. What we would call a meditation center in the United States is called a yoga center in India. A yoga session in India may include posture practice (asanas), or it may not. Postures are one part of the yoga experience, on a par with breathing, meditation, hymns and selfless service.
In India, there are 6 branches of yoga with the practice in class just being one of these. In addition, yoga is an integrative eight-step (limbs) system recorded in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and comprises ethical guidelines and observances (yamas and niyamas), postures (asanas), breath work (pranayama), ability to turn inward (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and the state of fulfilment, freedom, bliss and contentment (samadhi – the ultimate goal of yoga).
Yoga in the west could be called a fitness trend with a twist; part of an alternative lifestyle, hovering at the margins of mainstream healthcare practices. Americans take yoga and turn exercise into a form of prayer, teaching us that being healthy isn’t just about pumping up the physical body, but that it involves bringing mindfulness and stillness into modern life.
We cannot step backward from those ways of doing things [in India], because we never had them to begin with. – Nina Moliver
For us, yoga is a step forward. Yoga in America is becoming what it needs to be in its new home. The most popular forms of yoga in America today are Iyengar, which emphasizes postural precision, and its offshoots, such as Anusara; heated, power, and flow yoga; Ashtanga and Bikram yoga. Yoga in fitness clubs. Yoga done to rap music and R & B. Yoga to move the body and to work out.
The majority of yoga followers are women. They are students. They are business women. They are moms who sit in front of computers all day, rush to pick up the kids, shop, make dinner, and when they can, they WILL carve out that 60 minutes to reach for sanity and give their bodies the prayerfilled movement it needs to release, find relaxation and stillness. If yoga in the west focuses more on asanas (postures) than dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (ultimate bliss), it could be because our modern life is filled with sitting, thinking hard and fast, and multi-tasking, all within four walls (with our without windows).
So, what’s the key to a powerful, consistent practice? Finding some aspect that you absolutely love, and making that work with your lifestyle. Maybe you won’t be a ‘true’ yogi in the Indian sense, but realize that we live in America, in the modern world, and making it work is more powerful than doing it the ‘right way’. Yoga isn’t about fashion, weight loss or being holier than thou. It’s a spiritual practice – your spiritual practice.
Know that consistency matters more that length or quantity. Your body likes rythm. So if it’s once a week, or once a day, craft it to be your practice.
Go ahead, pick your class. Yoga at Root Whole Body.
Blogs from those who have learned yoga in the East