In the early 1900’s half the US population was composed of farmers, many of them operating diversified farms. They raised livestock, maybe cattle, chickens and goats as well as crops. Over the past 100 years farming has shifted from diversified cultures to favoring monocultures (or single crops or animal species). For example a farm might raise only cattle, and often times only through a certain stage of their life, or raise one crop, most likely corn or soy as they account for about 50% of all US Crops. Monocultures threaten the food supply by eliminating the adaptivity and resiliency naturally built into a system that is organically diverse. The shift is one that brings greater economic benefit. By limiting the focus to one animal species or crop and increasing the scale the cost per unit can be reduced. Today only a handful of companies control a majority of the food supply.
We have done a similar thing to the yoga discipline. Classical yoga is a system for living that is traditionally practiced with the diversity of the human condition in mind. In includes: postures (asana), ethics, breathing practices, subtle energy, exploration of the faculties of the mind and union with a divine God (Isvara). From this diverse system our western culture has pulled out asana, mechanized it, systemized it and called it “yoga”. By simplifying the system, increasing it’s volume and adding in the retail factor, yogasana has become a more profitable business. This too threatens the practice like our food supply. We lose sight of the whole human being. We have an abundance of food and an abundance of yogasana studio’s, yet we are still a largely sick and unhappy culture.
I’m not trying to demonize asana any more then a chicken on a farm. It is an important part of the practice. It would be hypocritical coming from someone who co-owns two yoga studio’s with asana classes seven days a week.
I think we have a great opportunity! I encourage studio owners and yoga teachers to use the asana practice (yoga class) as a space to introduce and encourage the other limbs of yoga. Setting intentions for classes that theme around the yamas or niyamas; explaining the traditional discipline of yoga and how we can use the asana to train not just the body but the mind; introducing the concept of God or a divine universal energy, not because someone has to believe in it to practice yoga, but because it has been such an intimate part of the discipline for centuries. With the growth of yogasana we have an opportunity to help people grow, explore and learn more about themselves, in an environment that supports and nurtures this development, in order for them to be more mindful aware human beings. Not just more “fit” ones.
The late BKS Iyengar said, “[yoga] is a practical discipline of the dynamic exposition of thought and life.”
Were yoga to be simply reduced to a physical exercise program, it would lose much of it’s richness and truth. As teachers, and leaders of yoga communities, it is our responsibility to honor the discipline in it’s totality while holding a neutral space for individuals to find the depth of integration that is most comfortable to them.