I have a lot of unfair disdain towards the practice of Yoga. A lot of my friends wonder why. Some people I’m not friends with think I’m an asshole when they find out about this abject distaste for Yoga in it’s current state.
The moves aren’t lame. Some of them are quite awesome. I love the corpse pose. It helps me fall asleep every night. It’s the dopey new age woo that comes with it that I don’t like. Here are three reasons why.
Three Problems with Yoga
1. The Main Focus is on Not Moving
Sometimes, it is advantageous to train yourself to not move something. Other times, you have a pretty good amount of joints that aren’t moving enough. You can easily guess what you’re getting good at, right?
If you can’t, the answer would be “not moving.” That’s one of the main problems with Yoga.
To give you an example, my my Siberian Husky, age 12, is superb at lying down. She is also adept at standing still for short periods. However, going from standing to lying, she is terrible. She has the typical problems of a lot of dogs this age. Bad hips, bad eyesight, and terrible gait mechanics, and so forth.
Put in her position, would it be advantageous to get really good at the poses in points A & B? Sure. It’d be even more fruitful to work on getting there. Getting there more efficiently, in a way that isn’t painful, that you can get better doing over time.
2. The Pseudo-spirituality of Western Practices
This dual lens through which we view things is mainly a product of the west. Same goes for the need to people to try and integrate the two in their practices. We have Christian touring strong men who perform great feats of strength. For the Indians, they did it because it was all interconnected. From The Encyclopedia of Indian Physical Culture:
Activity is life, while stagnation is death. Exercise brings healthful activity to every organ, gland, and cell of the body; it makes the entire body actively and radiantly alive with a feeling, energy, and well being that make one so buoyant and alert that you feel like running and jumping.
Exercise is the best insurance against disease or sickness. It builds a fund of resistance of healthy blood-corpuscles, which can attack and overcome any disease germs which come in contact with the body.
Lastly, exercise builds confidence; for there is no road to supreme confidence as sure as the knowledge of one’s physical and mental ability. It cultivates power of will and determination; it gives you complete mastery over your physical and mental self; it promotes personal efficiency and all desirable mental characteristics.
Moreover, in the West, using Yoga classes to promote a perceived spirituality is nothing short of a bastardization of Hinduism and to a lesser extent, Buddhism.
Concepts like Karma get thrown about around here pretty often. But there’s no real understanding of what it actually entails. Here is what Karma isn’t: Karma is not a platitude. It is not “what goes around comes around.”
Karma is not what happens when some asshole cuts you off, and then gets T-boned at an intersection.
Space and time are infinite, and are on a wheel that, in Buddhism and Hinduism, is referred to as “Samsara.” The totality of every act you commit in this life determines where you end in the next life. The ultimate goal in both traditions is to not have a next life. And for this goal, it took unfathomable lifetimes to achieve.
When you hear Westerners talking about their myopic view of Karma, they always leave out the most important predecessor: Dharma.
A pretty much inconceivable notion, unless you speak Sanskrit, the best definition I have heard is that it is simply your duty. Your actions. So in Hinduism, you do what you’re supposed to do, and it will determine your Karma.
Dharma begets Karma.
In The Bhagavad Gita Arjuna is always directed to do what he is supposed to do. That is, fight a war. He is a member of the warrior caste. Despite his questions, Krishna is always advising him to carry out his duties. By carrying out the duties of his caste, he may liberate himself from the wheel of Samsara.
Indeed, each of the castes have a duty to follow to eventually hop off that wheel.
Yoga, as it is referred to in this text, has fuck all to do with exercise or gaining flexibility. It’s about honoring the deities.
Which brings us here:
3. The origin of your Yoga practice is, in fact, Western
The practices that are popular today go back roughly a half a century. Not so ancient, right? Before that, people knew what the undertakings of a spiritual practice entailed. They decided not to mess around with it:
Until the twentieth century, educated Indians and Westerners alike tended to disdain the occult practices denoted by the term “hatha yoga.” “We have nothing to do with it here, because its practices are very difficult and cannot be learnt in a day, and, after all, do not lead to much spiritual growth,” wrote Swami Vivekananda, who did much to popularize yoga philosophy in the West with his 1896 book, “Raja Yoga.” Only in the modern era has hatha yoga been transformed into a wholesome, accessible regimen for health and well-being. A central figure in this transformation was B. K. S. Iyengar, the author of the 1966 yoga bible “Light on Yoga,” who died this week at the age of ninety-five.
Indeed, the focus prior to that when talking about Yoga was on your mental development.
Rewind a little bit to the early 20th Century. You can trace back your favorite dog and cobra poses to a form of exercise called Primitive Gymnastics, which was developed by Niels Bukh in Scandinavian region. From there, these sweet ass moves migrated to other places, including India.
As far as actual Asanas, those were just postures good for meditating. Like the “corpse pose,” or the “lotus.”
So there you have it. Three problems with yoga. These are the reasons why I don’t “do yoga” and in fact “dislike it” when people ask me. The poses themselves are cool. I do Chaturangas and Downward Dogs all the time in my movement practice. In fact, going from Child’s Pose, to Chaturanga, to Downward Dog is a pretty good sequence to do for reps. But while the ranges of motion are awesome sometimes, it’s the presentation and application of them that are problematic.
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