Saturday, February 5, 2011

Satya and the Evolution of Yoga

Yoga's history is fascinating because associations with the practice have evolved and shifted so quickly in recent years. Let's look at the history of yoga--and perhaps more important--the perception of yoga.

Alone Time
At one time, the word yoga brought up the image of loin clothes and caves. It was all about getting away from society and giving up all earthly belongings, so one could meditate, reflect, and become enlightened.

Rebellion, Self Study, and Togetherness
And then came the hippies. The yoga of hippies was pretty far from the idea of ancient yogis meditating in a cave. It was about self-study and freedom from the social norms. The hippies in practiced in groups. (Didn't hippies like the idea of communal living, too?)

Beauty and Perfection
Ten or 15 years ago (give or take a few), yoga finally became an accepted part of American culture. It was added to gym group exercise class schedules and become synonymous with healthy lifestyle and self-care. Instead of associating yoga with loin cloths or smelly hippies, people began to associate yoga with spas, massages, and lavish retreats... Somewhere along we way, we got the idea that yoga practitioners should be impeccably healthy, flexible, balanced, calm, stress-free, beautiful... perfect! (Talk about a shift!)

Greenery & Activism
At about the same time, yoga students also became increasingly interested in activism--environmental issues, animal rights, human rights, and more. Ahimsa (non-harming) is the basis and it goes hand-in-hand with yoga as a healthy lifestyle. Yogis weren't just supposed to be beautiful and in perfect health, they were also supposed to be leaders in creating a more perfect and beautiful world.

Satya - Truth & Realism
Lately, I've noticed another shift. Where it used to feel like serious yoga students had to be a part of this idea of external and internal perfection, now it's becoming more and more accepted to admit your faults and ask for support and guidance. I'm not just talking about sassy yoga bloggers. Even seasoned yoga teachers are getting in on the act. In the November 2010 issue of Yoga Journal, veteran teacher Patricia Sullivan writes candidly about an injury she sustained because of her daily practice of headstand. Of course, teachers who are embracing new media write about their struggles on a daily basis. And you know what? We LOVE them for it!

Maybe it's because yoga has become so accepted in recent years. (Finally! There's nothing left to prove!) Maybe it's just the rise of online media and the fact that now we are all free to share our feelings about yoga more openly. (We'll be our own editors, thank you very much.) But it's pretty clear that yoga students don't need the practice to be all air-brushed and pretty to see it's value any more.

Yoga is a great tool to help us deal with life's challenges, but it's not a magical cure for everything and those of us who practice are no closer to perfect than anyone else. I hope we'll all look back at this time in history, and recognize it as the time we all got a little more realistic and honest about the practice of yoga.