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Monday, April 2, 2012

Is Old School Yoga Becoming Extinct?

 Is Old School Yoga on it's way to extinction or can the more modern methods and Old School methods coexist?  It reminds me of the 80's when snowboarding started to become popular.  Skiers and Snowboarders butted heads for many years and still occasionally do, but both are surviving on the Mountain together. (I'm Old School here too...Snowboarders test my yoga patience).

I attended The International Yoga Festival in Early March, where in 2007 I came to meet one of my primary teachers Vamadeva/Dr. Frawley. This year he and Yogaini Shambhavi did not speak there and for students like myself, I felt this year, there was little there for me. As I gathered from the locals and attendees through the years, the word was that things had become too "Hollywood"....and too physically focused. Personally, I attended Kundalini Yoga, one Iyengar cass, and the rest was lecture. The lectures were not well attended, while the asana classes were so packed, many people were turned away. I then realized how blessed I am that my studio does as well as it does because of what and how we teach and where we teach it.

Old School studios and teachers frequently mention their frustration concerning the Boom of yoga as a popular exercises (substituting asana class as Yoga), one that may harm the practitioner or creates the impression on beginner "yogis" that, often times, is one that gets them accustomed to focusing more on the external rather than the internal. Truth be told, it's more difficult to work the mind, which requires healing the aches and pains of the heart that many people do not feel safe tapping into (because our culture is so external), but one thing I know is...this is where Yoga (by definition, not by asana brand) is found and where personal growth and compassion is cultivated. I'm not writing about yoga asana injuries here, as that has been beaten to death already, I am simply bringing this up because so many beginners hurt themselves and never give yoga a second chance (the tragedy). This is why us Old Schoolers get our yoga mats all bunched up in a wad. Asana alone is not yoga, but yoga can be taught through asana.

Through the years my attitude has gone back and forth on the subject of the Old School or Modern approach, usually concluding that we are all on our own path and who are we to judge what path is greater than the other? I support people practicing whatever physical practice they wish to practice and the only thing I might change is what we call our classes (and maybe hunker down more on the quality of education yoga teacher are receiving...which is another topic altogether). Asana Class is more appropriate or even Inspired Asana Class in many cases. I even feel like this regarding my studio if the class is more than 50% asana (which are most of them). I have been to power vinyasa yoga classes, Iyengar classes, or any hybrid class you can imagine (except Bikram since I know I can not handle the heat) and if the class is void of pranayama, then to me, it's not yoga (my opinion). Otherwise, if the teacher teaches us to breathe and offers modifications that help calm and center our bodies and minds...then this is Yoga (no matter what the style). Yoga is everywhere if we are taught what yoga actually is, unfortunately, those lessons are fewer and fewer because it is the rare student who will sit and listen to a 15 minute lecture on yoga philosophy before asana class begins.

So, what IS disturbing to me and why I am writing this, are the amount of articles and Blogs I read regarding studios just like mine shutting down and teachers just like me giving up teaching altogether because they do not feel they have an audience and therefore, can not pay the bills. At my studio we call the majority of our classes Hatha Yoga Classes because this is the branch of yoga that takes the physical route as a stepping stone to self-realization which is where most modern people choose to start.  All asana-based classes are formed from the umbrella of Hatha Yoga, one of the Six Branches of yoga. Unfortunately, many people assume calling a class Hatha Yoga means "Yoga for the old and injured". This is not true and mildly irritating if I allow it to be. When I was a teacher at a popular fitness facility, teaching a watered-down version of what I believed in, my classes were packed. Today, taking the step to be more authentic in my teachings (as I desire to teach), I find my classes, while well attended, are  a 1/3 the size they were at the other place (which I actually prefer because I feel it is more safe and easier to make a connection with my students). It is also true, that since our classes attract those using Hatha Yoga as their spiritual practice, we become like church, people attending once a week only. This makes it more difficult for us to fill classes and keep a schedule that compares to other studios in the area who offer more fitness-style classes where their people attend 3-5 times per week. This also requires us to locate in an area that is undesirable so we can afford rent. So what happens? Only the most dedicated to the deeper components of yoga will make that drive and those who would actually enjoy the practice don't bother to make the drive because we are a culture of convenience.

 So, this is an educational blog entry for those who love Old School yoga. If you wish these kinds of studios to stay in business and these kinds of teachers to keep teaching, then you need to support them. I see and hear a lot of talk from individuals regarding being "into" the deeper teachings, though the physical body still seems to rule because why else would the Old School studios and Old School teachers be shutting down and giving up? We say we want a more Sattvic mind, though we take most of our classes that feed the Rajasic mind that already rules us and causes us frustration and suffering.

It has always been my wish that we could all work together, to cultivate Unity in the yoga commUNITY and I am seeing some of this, though we still have a long way to go. There are studios we regularly refer who offer what we do not and they also do the same for us, but this is rare. What I see more often is studios and teachers trying to be all things to all people and this leads to a break down in community and expertise in certain areas.

That said, students of yoga and teachers of yoga, support what you say you want or know that, in the end, if these studios or teachers can not pay rent/their bills, they may end up being a Fossil.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post! You hit the nail on the head. I started a long winded post about teacher ego being fed by some of the things addressed in your post, but it suffices to say that at the end of the day teach from the heart and be true to yourself and your students. TK

Mrs. Z said...

Thank you! I think that most of the time when I am explaining what I do (teach yoga) to people, whether they practice or not, I spend a great deal of the conversation explaining the depth of yoga, the pranayama, the history, the benefits (physical included), and more, as well as explaining that asana is only one of the 8 limbs. I am grateful to have a mentor like you to help and support me as I teach what I truly believe.

I also want to comment that I was a snowboarder and grew up in the era where you didn't do both. Oh how sorry I am NOW that I turned up my nose at learning to ski!

Nirvair Kaur said...

Excellent post! I re-posted to my blog.

My thoughts on this subject are similar to yours since I am unapologetically an old-school yoga teacher.

Picking up just one thread: My husband (also OSYT) and I wrestled for many years with teaching yoga in health clubs etc. He's been able to find a regular HC gig where he's actually respected and recommended for what he teaches & the way he teaches it -- his boss gets it.

We've left other places that weren't supportive.

We wanted to teach in our own space but $$ was an issue, as it is for all independent OSYTs.

After several years of being ready to do this, we were approached by a long-time student who had purchased a building for her business & wanted us to live & teach on the second floor.

This is the ONLY way we are able to afford our own space & teach the way we feel we need to teach: yoga beyond postures.

It is a very challenging environment, as McYoga studios continue to expand & people continue to be miseducated about the what & why of yoga.

I appreciate your post & hope all the OSYTs who read it can find a way to keep on doin' what they're doin'.

It's A Yoga Thang said...

Thank you all for your feedback and your dedication to honoring what you love. There are students who need what we offer. Namaste'

;-P said...

One of my favorite, and relatively L.A., California popular teachers, is Saul David Raye. His particular style of yoga is centered as a Bhakti yogi. He blends devotion, pranayama, asana, trauma release techniques, Kundalini Yoga-inspired exercises (much like trauma-release), Yoga Trance Dance (a la Shive Rea), and anything else that inspires, including Marma massage points and mantra practice. If he is 'hippy-dippy', which a lot of mainstream yogis & yoginis see him as...then count me in. As a Kundalini Yoga Certified & Anusara/Ashtanga/Yin influenced teacher, I find that if I get my students to sweat alot, they'll go along for a while with my whims toward what yoga truly is. I feel like a little of a sell- out, but then again, I do want to kinda do a sneak-attack on their egos, and get their hearts slowly softened so they can go deeper once they've taken the asana bait.

I tell then if they learn to breathe correctly and learn the Bhandas, they can do their coveted inversions & arm-balances with ease & grace, all while slimming their waistlines. I remind them thar the added benefit of proper pranayama practice is that they won't piss off the studio owner by knocking holes in the walls while trying to muscle their way through handstands against the wall that should come gracefully instead from good pranayama practice & theory. It seems to work. ??? Well...most of the time.

Truth is: my classes are 1/2 what they were before I taught this way, but I believe that there will be a backlash as stress and stress-related illnesses increase in the coming years. Already, I see more students coming to Yin classes and Restorative classes after Injuries and other health problems. Eventually the body rebels. I know mine did. It's why I teach the way I do now. That sorta sounds grim in a way, but, most people seem to want to come into their hearts the hard way...myself included. The older and wiser students come back. Eventually. The big question is: can I keep food on the table while I wait? Right now I eat a lot of garbanzo beans.

It's A Yoga Thang said...

Yep, just like bell bottoms came back, perhaps Old School will come full circle. In the mean time, we have faith it will all be as it is supposed to be.

Yoga Guide said...

I think it’s not good to destroy old yoga school. I am sure many people are emotionally attached with this place.

NanYoga said...

Bravo! Excellent post ~ obviously I'm old school, too.

J. Brown said...

So appreciated this post and feel solidarity in your assertions. From one old-schooler to another: keep the faith. Cheers.

You might appreciate this:

Ab-Sutra Health and Fitness Coaches, LLC said...

This post speaks volumes. However, surely only those who want their yoga practice to be a spiritual vehicle will 'get it'. I have recently located to a new town and, of the classes that I have attended, I have yet to experience any pranayama or abdominal pelvic exercises. I am sure that those practices are being taught but by and large, everyone seems so connected to the physical aspect of their practice.

Yoga has so much to offer the seeker/practitioner but if the seeker practiotioner is not being pointed into those directions that enable them to 'evolve', the physical will be the only thing that they will know.

Thank you for this post.

MetalNun said...

Great article. I teach old-fashioned hatha yoga (Heart of Yoga) out here in the boondocks of NW FL. There are several "modern" studios which recently opened on the beach that charge $5-7 a class and also offer childcare, which I don't. I have just opened a green cleaning and design service in an attempt to pay my bills.

busybuffalos said...

Yes indeed The 8 limbs is being challenged.Just this week I was asked to participate in a local corporate Gym's elements training with the Air segment focused on inversions. What? Where is the pranayama? No focus on Air,the Heart Chakra or Vijnyanamaya Kosha. If asana is to be the gateway who am I to judge. I do find "the aerobic class" mentality unsettling, but think back to when I started practicing in early 2000. Yes, I too found Savasana difficult to sit through. So we all are living different realities. Old school and Neuvo can exist together. Right? I believe it is our job to carry the torch of our advanced studies thus introducing the other limbs—S.Bison

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. one if the times my yoga practice was the strongest was lying in bed in my ICU hospital bed having woken from an 11 day coma. the ventilator had been removed and I was struggling to breathe. I was terrified but my husband talked me through breathing in the same words I had used to teach my students, I focused on the photo of Swami Sivananda he had brought and he chanted to me- Yoga happened and so began my journey to relearning to speak and move. I couldn't have done it without a strong background in "old school" yoga. I start teaching again in a few week's and I will remember this post and teach old shool.
Om shanti