The Next Step for the Yoga Community
Yoga, a modern practice rooted in over 5000 years of ancient Indian texts and traditions, continues to gain popularity in the United States. A new survey conducted by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal reports that the number of Americans doing yoga has grown by over 50% in the last four years to over 36 million as of 2016... In addition, nine out of 10 Americans have heard of yoga, one in three Americans has tried yoga at least once, and more than 15% of Americans have done yoga in the last 6 months.
-From New survey reveals the rapid rise of yoga — and why some people still haven’t tried it by Marlynn Wei, MD, JD
“Yoga” has truly taken a strong hold on our modern Western culture. I still remember when yoga used to be considered a weird, esoteric activity for hippies, and now most everyone I know has at least tried it. Even in my small town of 11,000 people, there are countless yoga studios within driving distance offering every type of yoga imaginable.
It’s wonderful that yoga has been accepted so widely, but this acceptance is almost completely based on yoga as physical exercise. This is unfortunate, because yoga is capable of delivering SO much more. Most Western practitioners are getting more toned and flexible, while missing out on yoga’s deepest benefits.
So where do we go from here?
I believe the next step is to encourage the millions of yoga practitioners in the Western world to embrace and consciously pursue the deeper mental/emotional/spiritual aspects yoga.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve been involved in several different types of yoga. From “gym yoga” to Power yoga to Bikram yoga to Ashtanga yoga and beyond, I’ve witnessed a variety as both a student and teacher. My experience has been that while many styles do at least vaguely point to spiritual ideals, many avoid the subject altogether, presenting themselves almost exclusively as physical exercise. Ashtanga yoga is the first tradition I’ve experienced in which there is a conscious yet practical consideration for deeper mental and spiritual development.
The result is that individuals engaged in dedicated Ashtanga practice undergo profound personal transformations—the likes of which I’ve not witnessed from the physically focused styles.
That’s not to say that the work is easy—because it certainly isn’t. In order to get these great rewards, we must give great effort. But I think more people are ready for this work than is commonly believed. We are selling people short if we give the impression that yoga is just about exercise and stretching.
Our next step as a community is to find ways to demystify and remove any stigmas about the process of spiritual growth. To talk about it more, in ways that are applicable to modern-day yogis (I’d venture to say that’s a big part of what we are trying to do with Finding Isvara). The next step is for studios and teachers to find better ways to deliver the tools students need to attain deep personal growth.
In my own life, I’ve realized the less I assume a student is unwilling to use yoga for personal growth and spirituality, the more I find they are actually willing to “go there” in their practice. Not pigeon-holing students as only capable of understanding yoga in a physical sense has become key for me. In fact, I think many people are craving deep growth, and are searching for a way to achieve it. I want to be the kind of teacher who can give her students the insight and support they need for the kind of growth they’re seeking.
The times I've seen students, friends and loved ones transformed from their yoga practice have been incredible to witness. It seems the ones who consciously seek personal growth from yoga inevitably find greater inner peace and wisdom. Because of this, they are able to sustain healthier families, relationships, and communities. So I think if we can get more of the Western world’s practitioners to embrace yoga as something beyond exercise, we will start to see the power of yoga to transform on a global scale.
I hope to see this discussion grow in the yoga community. The more we can demystify spiritual growth and talk about it in concrete, practical terms, the more we can bridge the gap between the physical practice and deep transformation for the average yoga practitioner. I have an intuition that’s where we are headed as a community—and I absolutely cannot WAIT to see the result :)
Love n' Namaste