Monday, September 27, 2010

Can Yoga "Sell Out"?

Stephanie Syman, author of newly released "The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America" claims in the Wall Street Journal blog yesterday that Yoga has "sold out".  While it is true that many people profit wildly off yoga, does that really mean that yoga has given up to the forces of materialism - forever to be tainted and thus unworthy?

No.  Yoga is not an institution run by any single, dominant figure or group that can profit off "selling out". 
Perhaps there are individuals who intentionally use yoga as a means for obtaining wealth - but as yoga teaches, those very individuals will never experience the true benefits of the practice.  At the beginning of my yoga teacher training we were taught Patanjali's eight limbs of yoga.  With the help of flash cards and child-like songs, we memorized the Sanskrit and the meaning to this pivotal teaching - with the hope of internalizing and living the spirit of the words in our daily lives.  The first arm of yoga is Yama or Observances ("right living" rules for students to abide by).

Yama: The Observances
  1. Ahimsa: Nonviolence
  2. Satya: Truthfulness
  3. Asteya: Non-stealing
  4. Brahmacharya: Celibacy
  5. Aparigraha: Non-possessiveness
Non-possessiveness calls for us to release ourselves from the chains of material possessions, relationships (both loving and not so loving ...), careers, thoughts, and so on.  How, then, could anyone truly "sell out yoga"?  The person who tries, indeed, is the person who fails.  Using yoga - or any spiritual path, philosophical teaching, or religious order - as a means to amass great wealth or commandeer power over others is contrary to the very essence of those teachings.

So, to respond thoughtfully to Ms. Syman's statement "How Yoga Sold Out", it didn't and it won't.  Globalization allows all aspects of culture to be scrutinized and idolized by everyone.  You cannot stop the transformation, the acculturation, the assimilation.  We are constantly spiraling onwards, a snow ball of beliefs and traditions.  At some point someone will try to greedily profit off everything good.  But that doesn't deny the good nor does it describe a fundamental "selling out".  Today, at the speed of the Internet you can blink and miss the point - completely.  Let's allow the teachings of yoga to make us stronger, healthier and happier - and if in the process hundreds of thousands of people follow that path, all the better.

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