Monday, July 19, 2010

5 Most Controversial Topics in Yoga

One of the biggest misconceptions about the yoga community is that we're all lovey-dovey peaceful hippies who hold hands and sing "Kumbaya." It's good that people think we're an agreeable bunch that goes with the flow and accepts everyone no matter their flaws. And it's true ... to an extent. But there are a few hot-button topics that can quickly disrupt the peace in the yoga community. And while we might not exactly go for each other's jugulars, we debate these topics with such passion and conviction it might even sound (to the untrained ear, of course) a lot like petty arguing.

Here are the five most hotly-debated issues I could think of, and why I think we should all just get along.

1. The Great Vegetarian Debate
Some schools of yoga say you absolutely can NOT eat meat and call yourself a yoga student. That's because one of the niyamas of yoga is ahimsa, or non-harming. And, well, you can't eat meat without harming another living being. Of course, you can't eat anything without harming something. Consider the harm you're doing to the environment when you drive to your local grocery store or farmer's market to buy vegetables. I'm not saying it's a good practice to eat animal products, I'm just saying that all of us are responsible for harming in one way or another, why condemn others for choosing to find other ways to harm less?

2. Religion
In ancient times, yoga and Hinduism went hand-in-hand. Even today, yoga philosophy sounds a lot like Buddhism to me. And yet, I still maintain that yoga is NOT a religion, unless you want it to be. Sometimes yoga feels a lot like church to me, and other times it doesn't. As far as I'm concerned you can call it whatever you want. Yoga is about connection and mindfulness. If chanting to Krishna helps you find that connection, great. If banning all Sanskrit and philosophy helps someone else find that same connection, great.

3. The Yoga of Money
Should one person be able to trademark (and make $$$ from) a set of yoga poses, even though those poses were passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years? Is it OK to charge others $18 a pop to lead them through those poses? How about $98 for a pair of oh-so-flattering yoga poses (I love yoga fashion!)? Yoga and money might not always fit together as gracefully as Up Dog and Down Dog, but how can you fault someone for doing what they have to do (charge money) for making the practice of yoga available to others? Capitalism is the name of the game today, and if it weren't for the exchange of money for yoga I'm pretty sure I would never have set foot in a yoga studio. Does it cheapen an ancient practice? Or is it a necessary means to an end? We could debate this one for months and never come to any worthwhile conclusion, so maybe we should just forget it and practice yoga... a highly INDIVIDUAL practice! To each his or her own, I say.

4. All-Girls Club. (No Boys Allowed!)
I'm not going to lie. I love seeing the magazine covers with strong, beautiful, bendy women practicing awe-inspiring poses in front of a girly pastel pink backdrop. I pick it up off the shelf and think, "Finally! A magazine for ME!" It just wouldn't have the same effect for me with a male model. But I also realize that the same pictures that I find so inspiring turn thousands of men away from the practice of yoga--which is a shame because they need it SO badly. But you know what? My yoga history studies have taught me that years ago, before yoga came to America, women weren't even allowed to practice. It was for men only. In a few years when yoga becomes more commonplace for men, maybe we'll be even. As long as you're warm and welcoming to everyone who plops down on a mat next to yours, you've done your part.

5. Gym Yoga
Yoga purists sometimes poo-poo gym yoga classes because the main objective is usually to get a workout, not to eventually reach enlightenment. And, of course, there are gym yoga fanatics who prefer fitness yoga because they don't like the spiritual aspect of the practice or they just don't want to pay yoga studio prices. But how can you make such sweeping generalizations? There's no way you can put all yoga classes that take place in gyms in the same category! Besides, even the most fitness-oriented gym yoga class is often a gateway to a more "spiritual" yoga practicce. Practice wherever you feel at home! And don't judge other people for doing something different... It's not very "yogic."

Did I miss anything?