There are aspects of yoga that have undeniably changed since I first stepped into a yoga class 20 years ago.
Firstly, yoga is everywhere now. At the time I started, it was still in the domain of hippies and incense sticks in the general mind.
No one would believe me when I would say that the style I practiced was very physically demanding. They usually assumed I was just sitting in drafty church halls in rainbow-knitwear with my eyes closed for a couple of hours.
It was, in other words, a kind of counter culture, which remained firmly out of the public eye — quite the opposite of how it is now, where there seems to be nobody who hasn’t done a YTT.
With yoga’s absorption into the domain of the acceptable, aspirational, and most definitely lucrative, come inevitable changes in its presentation.
Moreover, it’s resulted in a knowing and a using of yoga in a new way. We may now come to yoga with a whole range of expectations, not the least of which includes becoming a yoga teacher, for this is now a career.
Yoga is now a huge business, and this changes everything outside the practice itself, even if yoga itself as a method stays the same.
My Early Experience Was Different, Even In 2000
Looking back, it is laughable to think we had to buy our yoga mats off a huge roll and have the teacher cut it to size during class, or that we used beach towels to cover our mats and wore our underwear, or at best, cycling shorts, to class.
Equally, it wouldn’t be so shocking for a parent now to hear that, after studying for a degree in philosophy (as I did), that their son is going into yoga teaching, as opposed to the academic career they’d hoped for.
Back then, there was apparently no money to be made in yoga. It really was, like the artists of yesteryear, a statement of commitment to something that promised to be rather challenging in life materially.
Now, a committed practitioner need not change any other aspect of their lives than an inclusion of a little early-morning gymnastics, and this lack of struggle against the conventional, the expected, the status quo is felt.
Perhaps, it even changes everything.
In a certain sense, back then we had a head start in our attitude towards yoga. It was clearer how to separate out our practice for the sake of yoga from worldly desires, because one might make a little money running a few popular classes around the local church-halls, but there wasn’t the distracting allure of becoming superstar teacher.
Yoga was something outside the bounds of getting on in society, and this made a huge difference in the way we related to it. Now, the glamorization of the lifestyle of a yoga teacher is often a predominant part of advertising yoga.
Back then, there were much fewer distractions around a most simple method that took us against the social tide in prioritizing stability over excitement and honesty over pretense.
We All Still Want Yoga in the Deepest Sense
However, even in the early 2000’s, before Madonna really brought ashtanga to the public domain, there was not such a capacity for confusing it with our, seemingly innate tendency to strive after the golden-trio of money, fame, and, power.
Clearly, times have changed, and we now have a yoga industry worth over a billion dollars at a conservative estimate. On the other hand, I still believe there’s a path by which we can get back to embodying ourselves and our lives in a deeper, more representational way.
We are all looking for change, to go deeper in our experience of ourselves and life. Yet, equally, we have always also wished for the comfort of the familiar, material life we know so well.
Our yoga practice presents this schism quite acutely to us since it has evolved in such a way that yoga can actually be made to enhance material life.
Yoga is now more widespread than ever, and more democratised than ever. But, on the other hand, it is also harder than ever to honestly relate to. That is, so often, we say to ourselves we are doing one thing, when, nowadays, it is all too possible to do another.
We Desire Change, Yet Also Want to Stay the Same
These two desires are mutually exclusive and contradictory.
But for the sake of business, they have become wrapped into a nonsensical whole in modern yoga. It’s much easier to sell to us through the comfort of the familiar as opposed to the uncertainty of the unknown.
Because of this, a yoga-lite has been manufactured to avoid this contradiction.
We may stay comfortable as we are, grasping onto material life we are used to, and simply incorporate yoga just to suit our ego’s need to feel affirmed and accomplished in the world.
Of course, the yoga method is aiming at seeing life more clearly, more objectively, which is to see that this individual self is a construct which gets in the way of living a deeper, though unfamiliar, experience.
So, it is impossible that the two things may go on at the same time? The desire to change and see through our ego’s wishes without actual change?
On the other hand, perhaps, the current situation in the yoga world gives us a clear view, and hence possibility to practice on what is a most evident dichotomy at the heart of our being.
The Answer Lies in Being Honest and Acknowledging Our Mixed-Motivations
It is not that I am recommending a hair-shirt approach to our practice. We don’t have to go back to ugly gym shorts and stay off the internet.
We need to recognize our confusion and be honest about it.
We need to see that we are always divided between the world and it’s material notions of achievement and personal security and something, albeit vague and unknown, that is greater.
When we are honest about this contradiction, there is no shame in the other half of this divide – our more individualistic desires that fuel what we do. Instead, they are the starter motor for our practice. All motivations are useful as long as they need to be.
What I am saying, is that, to really make a start, honesty is a pre-requisite. But this too, takes time to be able to tolerate a look at all that we are and aspire for and acknowledge our mixed intentions and obvious imperfect state.
But this is the fertile ground of yoga, and more than ever we have the potential to recognize and work with this.