Much before yoga became an integral part of every fitness club’s program in town, it was a normal practice to see my mom doing a headstand while rest of the family was having a morning coffee. During those days, scanned pages and books, covered with schematic figures performing asanas, would be scattered all over the living room. My mom was studying yoga on her own and she tried to make use of the materials available, adapting them to her needs.
Remembering her effort, I felt more than blessed, when about half a year ago I typed “Ashtanga Yoga” on You Tube, and an uncountable number of videos came up in search results. Taught in all possible languages by women and men of all ages, they could satisfy the needs of any student regardless their level and teaching style preferences. Needless to say, my excitement became even less controllable when I stumbled upon such gems as original Astanga Primary Series taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, or a rare video of Sri Krishnamacharya, dated 1938!
As for a beginner, an absolute highlight were videos from Kino MacGregor. A shiny beautiful young lady, who is leading an Ashtanga Yoga studio in Miami, has a generous collection of publicly available instructional and demonstration videos. Trying to find out more about her I started exploring internet and came across unexpected results. In blogs, critique of her approach towards yoga teaching and her appearance flooded the comments. Her shorts were too short, her legs too sexy, her DVDs too expensive, and all together discussions led to a topic yoga commercialization.
Kino is not the only one yoga teacher with a flashy personal webpage and a twitter account with thousands of fans, who is attacked by followers of original yoga tradition. To some of them it happens for a reason: the most prominent example is John Friend, a founder of Anusara Yoga, who became infamous for his inappropriate lifestyle and whose career came to an end after his involvement in a sex scandal, covered by Washington Post. A former financial analyst created a modern school of hatha yoga, which attracted about 600 000 students and more than 1500 teachers from all over the world. Not only had he created a mainstream yoga, but also managed to build a successful enterprise, seeing yoga as a billion dollar industry, and being called “the most entrepreneurial of all yoga teachers”, “a superstar”, “ a jet-setting international celebrity of boundless ambition”. His secret was in being more human and presenting yoga knowledge in a way, which was more accessible for a bigger audience. With such a broad network and strong influence among yoga-lovers, the damage caused by him to the reputation of modern yoga teaching methods was enormous.
However, there are two sides of every coin. In the tradition of yoga, a teacher was surviving on a voluntary support from his students, be it a bowl of rice or a warm blanket. With no intention to make a profit, the ultimate goal was to share knowledge with those who were ready and eager to absorb it. How sustainable would this approach in a modern society be? And if we are not ready for this kind of practice, should we just stick to zumba classes and power lifting in our fitness studios? Oh, by the way, if we are talking about traditional approaches: it was not traditional for women to practice too!
The truth is: the majority of us can not give up our every day lives and head off to an ashram, and due to our modern reality we could hardly exercise the absolute same lifestyle on our own. For that, we would need to be born not here, and probably not now: the world has changed, and it needs adjustments accordingly. And it’s ok. During the Yoga Festival in Berlin last summer I experienced a different interpretation of “authentic yoga”. Crowds of “spiritually enlightened” people were roaming around in traditional Indian cotton clothes, crossing legs and diligently repeating “om”, sharing with people around how much they were awaiting an afternoon group meditation. Unfortunately, many of them could be related rather to the hippie subculture, and in my personal interpretation, it is not what yoga is all about.
The one real danger, which comes up as a result of commercialization and mass yoga classes, is a quality of teaching and, even more important, safety of practice. Not qualified teachers can cause serious harm and, unfortunately, there is already a lot of evidence about that. The only possible way to avoid it could be to encourage all beginners to be very careful with their teachers and studio choices, and to remember that yoga practice is not a regular fitness class and should be exercised carefully.
Coming back to Kino MacGregor: personally, I don’t care about the length of her shorts and her hair style. She responds to individual questions, she has fantastic explanation of asanas, and loads of positive energy, which she doesn’t mind to share. I would be happy to take classes from her, too. I am overwhelmed with an amount of information and knowledge available and I believe that it is responsibility of every student individually to decide how serious their yoga practice should be taken. Not everyone wants and can become a real yogi, not everyone ever could. Do we want to preserve the knowledge in it’s purity form, or do we want to spread it, being prepared that it is not going to be picked up in it’s original form? I believe that popularization of healthy practices can indeed contribute to humanity’s health – both physical and mental – and will always do more good than harm.