Who Owns Yoga?

If you want my answer: I do. You do. We all do. Anyone who practices "owns" a piece of the collective energy and becomes a part of the story. Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about what yoga "should" be and how it "was" in the past. There is discussion that much has been lost about yoga as a true practice - particularly in Western culture.

Today, another article popped up in the New York Times - about a group wanting to reclaim the Hindu History behind yoga: Hindu Group Stirs Debate Over Yoga's Soul (NY TIMES) and it made me want to write about my thoughts on the subject. Before I had this blog, a few months ago, a much more local article in the Boston Globe also got people talking (and facebook chatting) titled What Happened to Yoga? - an article that started out as a piece about a new yoga studio and ended up focusing more on a discussion on yoga consumerism and the loss of "true yoga."  Both are good reads to get your mind thinking beyond the poses - and they both inspired a bit of an unexpected reaction in me - a want to protect my belief that yoga can be owned by everyone, and experienced in a multitude of different ways.

Yoga can be everything we do. Yoga starts with breathing - the simple (yet at times so difficult!) act of moving air into and out of bodies. It is a simple act that we can do without thinking most of the time. When we are conscious of it and deliberate in doing it, we find yoga. It's not just asanas.

When we start to divide and claim and make large statements that yoga definitively belongs to someone or something, or a specific group, we are taking out the very meaning of the word. Yoga literally means "to yoke" or to unite. It was never intended to divide people or to cause polarization. It was meant to unite our breath, action, and thought, individually and also collectively. I think that if anything is providing additional obstacles to yoga - it is claiming that the practice needs to be done in a certain way.

What I do agree with - as someone who has been soaking up all things yoga and yearning for more information for over 18 months now - is that more should be made of yoga's deep history.  For me, it's a twist on remembering where you came from. Instead of "taking back" yoga - let's give everyone a chance to know more about its roots by providing opportunities to learn. Yoga has a beautiful, varied, and profound history - of great faith, struggle, and peace. There are amazing historical yoga leaders and teachers whose legacy to the practice takes us way beyond the mat, and a fair amount of exceptional reading on the subject. There are an abundance of physical classes but it is harder to find a class that invites discussion. Not every individual wants discussion - and I deeply respect that. I am a firm believer in come to your mat as you are - for what you want out of your practice. I found that I was coming to my mat looking for more history behind what I was doing - and that was harder to find. You had to look, you had to ask, you had to be observant - to be the kind of yogi I was trying to become. I'm reading and rereading a number of texts right now - The Heart of Yoga, the Yoga Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita. It is truly changing me to read them. I love learning about the parts of yoga that come from places that I am unfamiliar with - it gives me a chance to broaden not just my practice, but my mind.

During the week of December 6th - I will also be taking an urban yoga retreat (2 classes each day and then on the weekends) - and one of the topics we will be discussing is the idea of being an Urban Yogi - so very different from how yoga started, but truly the reality of where many of us are today. What does it mean and how do we marry the different facets of our life? I'm sure I'll be blogging about what we come up with :o)

And lastly, I will give you the photo below, exhibit A, from yesterday's awesome Hip Hop Yoga Madonna/Lady Gagathon at Back Bay Yoga- a practice made no less spiritual or beautiful just because there was loud music and a little more booty shaking than is usually prescribed in down dog or chair pose.

Yes, this is a madonna record cover in front of a beautiful Shiva statue in the BBY back studio making a guest appearance for the day.


Lynne Begier, who teaches this class, is a model for the Boston yoga community. She offers an incredibly diverse lineup of classes to her students so that they can have varied experiences and find what works for them. She has done a great job of integrating tradition with being a modern yogi.

When I left class yesterday, I had breathed deeply, and felt more at peace. I had turned my thoughts inward for a bit, felt in control of my breathing, and had shared a really awesome 90 minutes with 75 other people. And I had rocked out to Madonna and Gaga...and that was yoga.

-Grateful Yogi