yoga – teaching an eastern discipline in the western world

we know that yoga originated from india thousands of years ago, and now it is one of the most popular forms of exercise, not only in the US, but in the whole western hemisphere. but what we consider yoga nowadays, is only a style of hatha yoga, one of the limbs of the 8 fold yoga system of Patanjali.

do we really care that we only teach and practice asana and perhaps pranayama during our practices? does it matter that most students have no idea who Patanjali was and what the yoga sutras mean?

most of us come to yoga to get stronger, more flexible and less injury prone. what is in the Bhagavad Gita does not concern most western students and chanting sounds weird to them. yet, they are still yoga practitioners.

some forms of hatha yoga, like jivamukti, does weave philosophy and chanting into the practice, and ashtanga practitioners are familiar with the sanskrit name of poses and counting. but the majority of yoga teachers do not feel that their students are better served by them knowing and sharing their feelings on the yamas and niyamas. bringing yoga into the students’ every day life from the mat is not something they strive for. the primary focus is to give them a good work out, perhaps infusing the instructions with an uplifting and motivating message. as yoga teachers, we are taught “to teach to the majority”. so if the majority of our students are not interested in anything else but the physical and perhaps mental effects of yoga, like being less reactive and becoming calmer, then it seems we should focus on that and not waste our time studying the sutras. this ancient script has no relevance to how we live our lives today.

on the other hand, how would our students even find out that there is more to yoga than just a set of poses we practice if we don’t bring it up during, before or after practice? but then again, would they be interested in yoga off the mat?
one of the most popular and widely practiced yoga style today is a strict set of poses practiced in a heated room in front of mirrors. the most advanced practitioners go on to compete in championships, and the teachers are discouraged to add anything personal to the script they learned during teacher trainings. their loyal followers appreciate what this system has given them; their lives have improved no doubt, they would not be going back time and time again otherwise.

as no shoe fits all, there is no yoga style that is for all. we are all different, and we look for and appreciate the different benefits yoga has to offer. how deep we get into it, it’s up to us. what we share with our students depends on our comfort level, knowledge and ability. but we need to be true to ourselves, what we believe in, and what our authentic voice says. we all have a teacher within, we just need to be strong enough to trust.