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Undoing the Pretensions of Yoga

Undoing the Pretensions of Yoga

The host, Tom Ashbrook, played a clip from a Corepower Yoga class. Emerick replied that she didn’t recognize what was going on in that class as yoga—her Iyengar training is light years away from what happens in a Corepower class. That the two styles are vastly different is no surprise. The problem arises when we consider the snobbery of deciding that your training is the proper pursuit of a discipline. In all the movement formats I study, teach, and pay attention to, yoga is by far treated as the most precious.

Which is, in part, why I don’t write about yoga as much as in the past. The above is not a new argument. The struggle for the ‘right’ yoga was not only apparent when every swami and guru that could find an American sponsor transformed this country’s spiritual landscape in the early twentieth century, it has been a debate since what we call yoga emerged from a number of disparate ideologies three thousand-plus years ago. There has never been a ‘true’ yoga; we’ve been making it up as we go along.

The pretensions of thinking that you’ve hit upon the one direct lineage serve to bolster your ego more than reflect historical evidence. At this point I only claim to teach yoga because that’s what is says on the schedule. I’m way more interested in movement, getting bodies and minds moving, inspiring people to breath and expand the boundaries of their possibilities, sharing an hour or so of sweat and playfulness in a room of like-minded explorers. I’m more mutt than purebred: connections between yoga postures and transitions in other fitness formats are delightful to discover. I’m constantly challenged to create a movement vocabulary where one might not be apparent, to thread postures and transitions in unique ways.

Purism is troublesome as nothing is pure—everything is built out of its influences. It’s understandable that some gravitate toward the same sequence every time they step onto the mat. I would never criticize such a practice if it’s bringing that person inner peace, focus, a sense of accomplishment. I prefer diversity of movement, however, which, according to the literature is what our brains desire. To limit yoga to a specific guideline reminds me of what John J Ratey and Richard Manning discuss regarding exercise in their book, Go Wild.

The term “exercise” is an artifact of our industrialized, regimented, domesticated lives. If the brain is to take full advantage of what we now understand about the importance of movement, then you don’t have to exercise; you’ve got to move. You’ve got to be nimble.

Throughout the book the authors argue for a range of movements, preferably on uncertain terrain. Yoga, for example, is extremely helpful in creating focus, flexibility, and calm, but does not do much for our cardiovascular system, which is one of the more important considerations in heart health and staving off dementia, as well as boosting our memory power in general. Yoga is a piece of the puzzle; it is not the entirety of the puzzle. In the movement dictionary it plays a pivotal role for millions of Americans. But so does a number of other disciplines. The notion that we can “find our true self” and all the other New Age verbiage now associated with yoga is a neat marketing trick reflective of the capitalistic filter that the multi-billion dollar business has found itself spiraling through. Not that we can’t learn about ourselves in yoga. Yet we can also learn similar lessons running, jumping around in HIIT, and on a bicycle. Advocates of those formats simply don’t exhibit the same pretensions as many yogis I hear from.

The sheer number of emails I receive from various health websites selling yoga-related products is astounding. To be clear, I take no issue with someone trying to make a living—I’ve made a large part of my career teaching this format, among others. The continual grandiosity that seems to inflict yoga is the problem, something I only see, perhaps, with hardcore advocates of Crossfit, and even that is tame in comparison. You’d think yoga is a panacea for every ailment in the world, along with its associated essential oil, mat, juice cleanse, and whatever else could be sold under an umbrella term so large now that it nearly engulfs the sun.

It all comes back to the difference between thinking “I’ve found the way” instead of “I’ve found a way.” Once that treacherous slope is walked any number of ludicrous sentiments emerge. In the last year I’ve heard from a number of senior teachers expressing their frustrations with trying to survive in a market dominated by such mindsets. I certainly don’t have any solutions. There is no island of yoga, just a million small ships overcrowding the same harbor, and all the noise is deafening.

But what a beautiful movement it is, which is why I return. All this chatter dissolves in the midst of the flow. It is that place that unites the disciples of all forms of yoga: the moment when your dopamine receptors are flooded and a healthy dose of cortisol is stressing your body in just the right way for the final release to occur. When the moment is all that matters, which draws us back again and again to the mat. The pretensions of this or that are gone—this is why I’ll return over and again, foreseeably for the rest of my life. There is so much to share and love with this Indra’s net of movement it simply baffles me that anyone would tell someone else the way they do it is wrong.

*This article appeared originally on

About the Author:

Derek Beres is a multi-faceted author, music producer, and yoga/fitness instructor based in Los Angeles. He is the creator of Mosaic Method and Flow Play, an innovative program that fuses yoga, music, and neuroscience, designed exclusively for Equinox Fitness. He has published eight books, including The Warrior’s Path: Living Yoga’s Ten Codes, Global Beat Fusion: The History of the Future of Music. Beres has written for Women’s Health, Yoga Journal, National Geographic, Rolling Stone Middle East, Departures, AOL and MTV. He is currently a columnist for Big Think, where he writes the weekly 21st Century Spirituality. Beres is one half of global music producers EarthRise SoundSystem. He is on the teacher-training faculty at Yogis Anonymous, Strala Yoga, and Buddhi Yoga, where he teaches modules on yoga philosophy and music and neuroscience. He also served as the Creative Director of the Tadasana Festival of Yoga & Music. Derek is ACE and AFAA certified.

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