13 October 2009
Yes I know I promised to write a review of the talk I attended about whether American yoga is in crisis, but I think that topic is a very small part of a much bigger picture. So I will throw the question out there: what are we lacking that make people do this:
James Arthur Ray's Spiritual Warrior Event Kills 2
I've never seen the movie The Secret so I have no opinion about Ray and what he puts out, but know many people who have and who have thought it the greatest thing since sliced bread (I'm dating myself with that phrase.) I've also heard many New Agey people talk about the Law of Attraction (and who hopelessly confuse it with karma) and just have to wonder: why do you feel you are so utterly lacking in anything? It is almost a luxury in this country -- one of the richest countries in the world with so much material and yes, non-material, things available to us -- to feel that we lack anything! I have met people in India who have nothing compared to westerners yet are content. But I digress.
The psychology of people who will blindly follow a "guru" (whether American, Hindu, Buddhist, etc.) has always fascinated me so when I read Brenda's post about American false idols I had to ask, what are we looking for when we follow a "brand name" in yoga and spirituality?
Speaking of false idols, read these posts:
The Unquestioned Gurus of the Religion of the Self (that contains the great subheading "Psychopaths as Teachers of Right Living.")
The Cultivation of Inflation and The Culture of Narcissism in Personal Development
One of the comments to the first link was this:
"...that you can't just take the most sacred ceremonies from another culture that you do not belong and have not paid any dues too (sic), mix it with whatever you feel like and sell it off as a business venture. for decades actual native americans have tried to warn the white culture about fraud ripping off and bastardizing their culture and ceremonies. no one listened opting instead for the glittery promises of the new age gurus and plastic shamans."
I found that one comment (especially about paying your dues and mixing things up and selling it as a business venture) on point with the recent discussions about western yoga. Just sayin'.
Roseanne's excellent posts on the branding of yoga caused spirited discussions as do my posts on Americanized yoga v. what I practice in India. So why isn't practicing plain old yoga good enough for us? Has yoga in its partnering with companies like Adidas and fila merely become part of this culture of narcissism? Has yoga in this country become a new religion of the self?
To those who stand around a yoga "master" who performs "advanced" asanas at a yoga conference and applaud and film it to put it on YouTube, are we not celebrating the cult of narcissism in a vacuous yoga celebrity culture that we at the same time scoff at?
Amanda wrote one of her always brilliant comments to this post:
"- I suspect the 'faddish' and 'hypercommercialised' nature of American yoga is what many people object to beneath this critique of contemporary yoga, but don't verbalise it as such.
- the question of authenticity also jumps out as an issue: does Anusara, Jivamutki, Forrest or whatever style of yoga represent an immature innovation based on shallow Western values such as commercialism and body image or true cultural change within yoga? (Only TIME will tell on this one!)
- babies teaching babies yoga. I agree but our western culture tells us we can do anything if we have the money. Thus, we see 23 year olds running yoga schools. (see my earlier point about paying your dues.)
- an unhealthy obsession with Patanjali's Yoga Sutra as 'the last word' on yoga at the expense of other texts. Hasn't anyone read Georg Feuerstein or Mircea Eliade?
- an obsession with difficult and physiologically/psychologically harmful or futile asana which 'apparently' grant one the body of a hyperflexible, twenty-something. Again, this is the current Western trope of youth/perfection/image that pervades every facet of our lives."
"If we wish only to teach poses or postures, it would be better to call what we do by a name other than Yoga." Donna Farhi in Yoga Beyond Fitness, page 125
I'll ask again as I did in this post, is Americanized yoga a mile wide and an inch deep? And if it is, I will ask again as I did at the beginning of this post, what are we searching for that so many of us unquestioningly put our bodies and minds and psyches into the hands of false idols, whether it's in the yoga world or elsewhere?
What say you, yoga teachers? Are you a fitness teacher or a yoga teacher? As a commenter said in Brenda's post, "We are (essentially) fitness instructors. We need to be happier with that role I think."
I don't know about anyone else but I have not spent $10,000+ to be a fitness instructor. I was a certified fitness instructor for a short time and I can tell you that as a yoga teacher what I do now is light years away from what I did before, which is why I think the "become a yoga teacher in a weekend" programs are a great disservice. BECAUSE I deal with peoples' emotions and psyches when I take on private clients, that's the main reason I'm applying for a certificate course in Jungian psychology, to learn even more on top of what yoga and Buddhism has already taught me about human psychology. Speaking of dealing with the mind, if I conducted my own yoga teaching training program each student would be required to sit for a 10 day silent vipassana retreat in the strict Goenka tradition. Talk about a brain enema. Teachers, know thyselves.
Krishnamurti said, "it is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.": "...as Krishnamurti suggests, it’s possible to think that we’re spiritually and mentally healthy because we share our mistaken values and understandings with those around us. Collectively, our ill minds create a society that is itself ill, and we consider ourselves healthy because we see our values reflected in our fellow worldlings."
I think I've brought up some more questions, so talk amongst yourselves.