So far, December has been an eventful month for yoga.
First, Well+Good revisits a touchy issue, by posing “Does Yoga Have A Skinny White Girl Problem?” The post touches on race in regard to those who practice westernized yoga in the US, and whether there is judgment on race, body type and basically appearance in general (the post also serves as a good source for acceptance resources.) Part of the problem, and what fast tracked the discussion (at least this year) was this cringe worthy XO Jane post by a self described “skinny white girl.” (The author may be the best example of why I like Pilates more than yoga.) If you were brave enough to follow that link, cleanse your soul and mind with this rebuttal, which switches roles and substitutes twerking for yoga.
Then, The Guardian debunked the detox claim of various modern Western yoga practices. Yoga, a word with etymological roots in the Sanksrit yuj which has the meaning of enterprise, employment, performance, is commonly defined as to yoke together. Figuratively, a word once commonly used to denote the yoking of oxen, is defined as the connection between mind and body. The 3000 year old sacred text of Hinduism, the Vedas, are one of the first manuals of yoga, a practice also found in the texts and beliefs of Buddhism and Jainism, among other places. So yoga got around even in Prevedic Asia. This doesn’t mean yoga is loose and afraid of commitment, but rather adaptable, employable and pliable.
One of the most appealing factors of yoga remains its malleability, from the adaption of poses for the level of the practitioner to the creation of new schools or practices.
Yoga came to the Western world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Since its introduction, several schools of yoga, including Bikram, Power, Laughing, and even Hip Hop, have been created out of these ancient practices. This broad range of thought on how to practice is one of the reasons that, within the US, there is no regulatory board to provide certification for “yoga instructors.” Certified yoga instructors, as listed by gyms and studios, are those people who have been granted certification within a specific school or philosophy of yoga by other instructors, but there is not a unified standard of certification. With no real oversight, these schools can make any marketing claim they want – hence the theory that certain practices “detox” your body of harmful chemicals.
This giant pool of variation also means that some of the Western schools, and the instructors, may have lost the original intent and spirituality of yoga.
The week ended positively for yoga. Today, the UN announced that June 21st will be the International Day of Yoga, as tool for climate change. Indian Ambassador to the US Shri Asoke E Mukerji, speaking with the BBC today, recounted that 135 countries originally supported the proposal and that 170 counties were willing to co-sponsor the resolution. The proposal, made three months ago by Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi, referred to a minimalist lifestyle in harmony with nature, and aware of a person’s actions on and to their surroundings. As Mukerji stated, this support “shows there is a huge latent potential for joining hands.”
“I don’t necessarily think all of the variations of yoga per se are quite exactly yoga. In the Gita [the Bhagavad Gita] they talk about 3-4 different kinds of yoga,” said Sheetal Shah of the Hindu American Foundation when speaking with the BBC. “One of them being Karma Yoga [the discipline of action] and perhaps that is the one where by our actions and being aware of our actions and being thoughtful with our actions we would best be able to affect climate change.”
Yoga is large part of the reason that there were over $11 billion dollars in fitness apparel purchases last year. The global sports apparel market is forecasted to reach $178 billion USD by 2019. In 2013, Lululemon – a major clothier in the fitness market – posted sales just under a billion dollars worldwide. Jumping on this bandwagon are Athleta, Lorna Jane, Sweaty Betty, Koydon, UnderArmor, Champion, Nike et al. Hardcore outdoor stores like REI and EMS have dedicated sections for yoga-ware. Additionally, Americans paid over $6 million to pilates and yoga studios in 2013.
But that’s not the only way that Western yoga veers off the minimalist lifestyle. And to be fair, yoga as practiced in the US is a sweaty endeavor, and most of us would support the wearing of fresh apparel and making it unnecessary to do laundry daily – think of the water consumption. Yoga mats, integral to any form of practice, are still made from a variety of materials, include plastics, rubber, BPA and phthalate.
A first small step in intention and awareness might be the actual practice.