02 October 2009

is American yoga in crisis? part 2...

From the last chapter of Yoga Beyond Fitness:

"If teachers grounded in the deeper message of Yoga are not available or do not share what they know, Srivatsa Ramaswami predicts 'the subject will die because every following generation will know less and less. And the lack of knowledge could be filled with innovations of novices, leading to corruption or the art dying itself.'"

I attended Tom's talk last night -- see this post -- and have a lot to say about it but y'all will have to wait until next week.

Until then chew on the above quote from my teacher, Srivatsa Ramaswami (Krishnamacharya's longest standing student outside of the family), whom Tom quotes a lot in his book Yoga Beyond Fitness.

Talk amongst yourselves.

To be continued....


Bob Weisenberg said...

Srivatsa Ramaswami's statement is what they call in logic a "tautology", that is, it undeniably true on the surface, without further analysis. Of course traditional Yoga will disappear if there are no teachers to teach it!

The question is, where's the evidence that the number of teachers is declining? My own impression is that the number of traditional teachers is growing, not shrinking.

This may be masked by the fact that the non-traditional forms of Yoga are growing much faster and they're much more visible.

But I'm guessing if you did a study of the number of traditional Yoga teachers in the U.S. today vs. 10 or 20 years ago, by any definition you feel comfortable with, there would be more today than there were then.

If that's true, then Ramaswami's statement is still true, but his premise is wrong, so his conclusion has no point.

Maybe someone knows the answer to this question already. If the number of teachers with traditional Yoga knowledge has declined rather than grown, I'll be the first to admit I'm full of it! I'll apologize for being dead wrong.

Then I'll be worried, too. But right now I'm not.

I've thought a lot about where one could go right here in the U.S. to get in-depth traditional Yoga training. There are so many excellent choices it's hard to absorb them all. So where's the dearth of teachers?

Bob Weisenberg

Linda-Sama said...

like I said, it's a statement for people to chew on.

the bottom line I decided is that this discussion on traditional yoga v. whatever will never end.

Anonymous said...

Bob, you're probably right. Although it might be hard to find out the real numbers of traditional teachers. If they're serious about what they're teaching, then they might not be advertising at all!

That said, I also I agree with Srivatsa Ramaswami's statement.

And acutally, I think its ok to teach 'dumbed down' yoga classes as they probably attract more people, those that otherwise might not attend a class. Then if people are interested to learn more, they can.

That said, I know I won't be teaching any class without some kind of chanting and conveyance of a little more information about yoga other than "this pose is really good for toning your butt".

But I do think its imperative that yoga teachers have an indepth understanding about what yoga really is. The fact that there are teachers out there at don't even know what yoga nidra is... well that just smacks of the west taking over a tradition and bastardising it to suit themselves.

Its not pretty but then, I know I have to be grateful that yoga made it to the west in some form. Otherwise I never would have met my Guru and I certainly wouldn't be doing yoga teacher training myself!

And I'm grateful to be learning yoga in a fairly traditional and well-rounded way.

But again, without the ebb and plow of traditional vs non-traditional yoga, I'm not sure it would have survived this long in the west, because not everyone is interested in meditation, the philopsophy and so on.

roseanne said...

What stood out for me in this quote was the warning about the "innovations of novices, leading to corruption or the art dying itself." This, I feel is biggest "threat" to yoga in North America right now: young teachers who are introducing and branding their innovations.

While I'm sure that it won't necessarily lead to the "corruption" or "dying" of yoga, I think that it's something to watch out for. In yoga, I think it's fair to assume that anyone who has been practicing yoga for less than 20 could be considered a novice - and all too often we're seeing teachers who have been studying for 5 or 10 years, then create their own system and start offering teacher training. They don't credit their teachers or acknowledge their lineage.

I'm not sure if this means that these teachers are filling the void left by the dearth of traditional teachers. Or if more teachers would solve this problem. But it's interesting to observe and pay attention to.

Linda-Sama said...

I agree, roseanne. it is amazing to me that in my area people who I know are at least 15-20 years younger than me offer teacher trainings. I mean, what could they possibly have to offer me? there is much to be said about life experience. and I have know more than few younger teachers who, as you say, do not credit their teachers or acknowledge their lineage.

Linda-Sama said...

"If the number of teachers with traditional Yoga knowledge has declined rather than grown..."

how about the older teachers who just quit teaching? the ones who are disgusted by the Yoga Journal mentality of Americanized yoga but who don't talk about it or blog about it?

believe it or not there are some rule breakers out there who don't automatically buy into the "newer is better" mentality.

I predict that the yoga traditionalists will be the new yoga radicals.

you heard it here first.

Bob Weisenberg said...

Great discussion here, as usual. Thanks for getting it started, Linda. I'm really looking forward your report on Tom Pilarzyk's presentation.

I've been having a spirited e-mail debate with Tom, who happens to also be from Milwaukee (that hotbed of Yoga thinking) and is a friend of mine. I wish I could get him to blog, but he's pretty busy with other stuff. We don't agree on anything yet, and neither one of us has any hard facts to support our positions.

Svasti, I actually think it would be fairly easy to figure out the growth or decline of tradtional Yoga teachers, or even traditional Yoga practice, in the U.S. It's no different than measuring any other social phenomenon, actually easier with Yoga because there are a relatively small number of easily identifiable institutions to find and survey.

You start with defining what qualifies as "traditional Yoga". Himalayan Institute? Yes, of course. Ananada Ashrams? No question. Kripalu? Yes, but only their traditional programs. Rod Styker? Absolutely.
Anusara? Probably. Bikram? Probably not! Ashtangi? Iyengar? Vinyassa? Etc., etc.

Then decide the level required, probably 500 hours or equivalent, perhaps coupled with years of experience.

Anyway, you get the idea. Really not hard to measure, just time consuming. I'd be surprised if someone hasn't done something like this already.

But, then. Who really cares? I guess I care enough to be able to disprove the sky is falling mentality of Tom and Ramaswami, but not enough to spend a lot of time on it myself.

If traditional Yoga, by a very strict definition, is really growing, not shrinking, in the U.S., as my gut feel tells me, it would at least help us put the exercise program distortions and corporate sponsorships we see into a different perspective. We can still bemoan them and dislike them, but it seems to me we would feel less threatened by them.

No one doubts that workout Yoga, in all it's stripped-of-tradition forms, is taking over the Yoga world. My contention is that under the radar and contrary to what Tom and Ramaswami fear, tradtional Yoga is also growing at a healthy pace, and that it is the beneficiary of workout Yoga because that's where many eventual traditionalists get their start.

And may I repeat, so I don't sound too sure of myself, that I have no hard evidence to back up my gut feel. My impression comes solely from editing "Yoga in America", extensive browsing of Yoga websites of all types, a lot of blogging, and general reading. I'm like a journalist who has strong impressions but no numbers.

In the end, though, I'm only interested in the truth. I will change my mind cheerfully and instantly if shown some facts to the contrary.

And it won't affect me that much if we never figure this out for sure. I know where my own Yoga interests lie!

Bob Weisenberg

Bob Weisenberg said...

Hi, Linda, and thanks a lot. Your last comment above got my subconscious mind thinking about what is this "radical yoga traditionalist" you refer to?

I woke up at 3:00 in the morning with the answer and couldn't go back to sleep until I wrote it down.

To me the true Radical Yoga Traditionalist is:

--One who thinks everything after the Yoga Sutra is an unnecessary modern innovation.

--Who constantly reads and rereads the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutra, and all the commentaries he/she can find.

--Who thinks later Hatha and Tantra practices are filled with as much distracting ritualistic excess as the Vedic rites the original Yogis were rebelling against in the first place.

--Whose idea of Yoga practice is living each and every moment in the realization of Brahman.

--Who believes Yoga is not hard work but rather ecstatic enlightenment.

--Who does asana, but only in limited form and only as an aid to deep meditation on the divine.

--Who believes the Upanishads and Gita represent universal truths that can be found in any religion and any life, just as they themselves proclaim.

--Believes everyone is already divine and Yoga consists of simply realizing that fact, through whatever method works for each individual.

--Is deeply indifferent (but not antagonistic) to the established Yoga hierarchy, and has not the slightest desire to become a Yoga asana teacher.

--Who spends most his Yoga life simply contemplating and writing about the divine rather than refining his "practice".

In other words, me!

(Uproarious laughter ensues.)


Amanda said...

I just had to comment on this, even though I'm on self-imposed blogging sabbatical at present. I'll just do dot points, so I'm not being a glutton!

-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 (actually, the founders of this style give me the creeps), 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...

-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? There is life after Patanjali!

-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.

Anyway, I've raved on enough.

Bob Weisenberg said...

Hi, Amanda.

Glad you mentioned the point about the Yoga Sutra obsession. I like the Yoga Sutra. I've read many different versions and will read many more.

But I can only read the Yoga Sutra with pleasure and comprehension because I'm even more familiar with the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads.

Patanjali doesn't mention either of these, but I'm guessing that's because his students were already steeped in these basics. He know what they needed was more method, rigor, and stucture, not more philosophizing. So that's what he gave them. The spiritual underpinnings were simply assumed.

In any case, I love the combination of the three, and they all have their special role, as I try to get a handle on in:

What Is It That Brings Us Happiness?

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I hope you won't be on sabbatical too long.

Bob Weisenberg