Why I Choose Tradition
While on my morning beach walk yesterday, I thought about how many different types of yoga there are in the modern Western world. Some of the newer yoga forms seem to be more about having fun than personal growth, which was the original reason yoga evolved as a discipline. Personally, I’ve never really vibed with “fun” yoga; I’ve always been drawn to traditional styles. As I continued my walk along the water’s edge, I wondered why that's been the case.
I think I’ve come up with a few reasons.
First of all, I love that traditional yoga has been tried and tested through the ages. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, for instance, has existed in its modern form for almost 100 years. And Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras--the ancient text often associated with Ashtanga yoga--is much older still, dating around 2,000 years! That’s a couple millennia of yogis seeking self-knowledge through principles we still use today in our practice. To me, that sort of staying power must mean these methods resonate deeply with some innate aspect of humans, independent of cultural or historical context.
I also like that there are fewer variables in traditional yoga. In Ashtanga, we have a set sequence of postures, done in a specific way. Not only do we get to know each of our asanas in a deep way, but we also don’t have to come to the mat and wonder, what am I going to do today? There’s less for the mind to fuss over, and we can more easily enter the mindful/meditative state where we are ripe for personal growth. It also means that if I have a question about the practice, I can usually find a definitive answer (though thankfully the wise teachers I’ve come across seem to leave room for fluid thinking when appropriate; even traditions must be flexible and/or allowed to evolve at some point).
My final thought is a little out there, so brace yourself. Have you ever heard the term morphic resonance? Basically, it’s the idea that the knowledge gained by individuals in a group accumulates over time, and remains accessible to all current and future members without the need for direct transmission. It’s a hypothesis used to explain “inborn” instincts, like how Monarch butterflies know to take the same migratory path of their ancestors, or why animals seem to spontaneously “learn” behaviors acquired by other members of their species on a different part of the globe. This is kind of how I feel about Ashtanga yoga. When I practice it, I feel like I’m “tapped in” to an enormous wealth of wisdom, to which each yogi has contributed over thousands of years. That’s a seriously powerful feeling.
Even if morphic resonance isn’t a real thing, it makes sense that the knowledge base grows over time as yoga is passed down over the generations. As long as yogis maintain focus on the original intention behind yoga tradition, the wisdom added will continue to help others connect to their inner selves in powerful ways for generations to come.
There’s a place for fun yoga. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting enjoyment, entertainment, or physical gain—sometimes I want those things, too. But I am so thankful that the traditional lineages of yoga remain intact. There will always be yogis like me seeking personal growth, who will find what they are looking for in powerful, time-tested tradition.