As yoga moves into the future and spreads its wings over western culture, are we preserving its true roots or morphing it into something else entirely?
There exists a lot of debate in the yoga world about whether social media is good or bad. There’s also always a lot of discussion around the way in which yoga is practiced in the west vs. its traditional Eastern roots. Are we doing it correctly? Or have we morphed an age-old sacred practice into something sacrilegious? It’s an interesting venture, to understand if what we are doing is in fact authentic. Are we preserving the essence of yoga, or has our perception been blinded by a relaxing savasana? We sat down with FP Escapes instructor Aarona Ganesan to get some answers.
Can you start by telling us some of the major differences between yoga before it reached the western world, and the yoga that most of us know today?
There has always been a broad variety of schools and practices within the yoga realm. So the expansion we continue to see unfolding in the modern world of yoga may not be so farfetched. However, that said, when yoga became well-known in the US it swept through as a popular system of physical exercise. In the Indian tradition of yoga the physical part of the practice was just one aspect. At its core, the spiritual and meditative evolution is fundamental; the physical postures were the vehicle to arrive at this place with more readiness.
Needless to say, many westerners have adopted the full spectrum of yoga since its appearance here. There has been a loss or a shift in some of the modern yoga styles of the west when it comes to the deep devotion to ongoing study, the teacher/disciple relationship, and the conscious exploration of the more subtle connections between the physical, mental, medicinal, spiritual, emotional, esoteric and universal planes that yoga taps into. Yoga is multi-dimensional; it’s more than showing up for a class. Some methods value this and others don’t.
You’ve traveled to India quite a bit. Do you see yoga changing in the east like it is in the west?
My husband is from Chennai so we visit his family, and I’ve spent a few months in the north studying yoga. From what I can tell, little pockets are shifting in India because of the positive response from western culture to absorb eastern culture – which I feel is a valuable thing. But the pace and style in which yoga is changing in the west versus the east are not the same.
Yoga is intrinsic to the Indian culture but it doesn’t permeate the public the same way it does in the US. In the US there is so much constant outreach and availability, and it’s become a major part of the fabric in how we think of health and wellness. In India, it doesn’t seem to be as overtly a part of the commercial wellness industry. That’s not to diminish how entrenched yoga is in Indian culture, but it seems to me that it’s more commercially visible in the west.
With the rise of social media & technology, yoga is in more hands than ever before. What are your thoughts on this epidemic?
Getting yoga into as many lives as possible is a positive thing. At the rate it’s going, this will continue and I believe this to be good.
As teachers, many of us have made this a career and use technology, social media and online promotion as a means to share our work. I don’t see an issue with wanting to create success in this endeavor, so long as it’s not at the expense of quality or sincerity. We must remember to teach from our genuine experience as a student.
I value the connection and creativity that social media and technology grants us. I use it myself, have made some incredible connections, and have found it to be a useful place to share my work and be inspired by others’ work.
If you could change one thing about the current state of yoga as portrayed on social media, what would it be?
This is an ongoing conversation for me because I feel like I see both sides – the value and the disease of this ‘epidemic’ as you call it above.
What I don’t love about the role that social media and technology can play with regards to yoga is the idea that it’s a body, a lifestyle, or a personality of slick, watered-down perfection. For me, this is not what a 20+ year yoga practice has looked or felt like. It’s been a multi-layered journey filled with raw emotion, triumphs, deep inquiry, setbacks, victory, and everything in between. It’s not linear and it’s not perfect. Yoga, in its entirety, is always pulsing. It is an education and a tool that has helped me heal, become a better person, and create a more meaningful life. And yes, there are countless physical perks too!
I appreciate beautiful yoga photos. Yet I find the cookie cutter yoga fan pages filled with only the ‘perfect’ moments to be monotonous. They can breed a false sense of deficiency or inadequacy for our collective communities. And I don’t believe that any of us, at our core, really want to make another feel that way. I appreciate the feeds where there is a healthy dose of honesty, accessibility, and human realness, coupled with positive affirmation and creative rebellion. I want to see the process as well as the achieved goal. Yet I realize this is totally subjective, and what inspires someone may deter someone else.
On the one hand, commercialization is a vehicle to spread awareness but, on the other hand, many people worry that it’s causing yoga to lose its core values. What are your thoughts on the commercialization of yoga?
Yoga is bigger than me, and I honestly believe that it has an intelligence of its own. Yoga is doing what it wants – reaching more people, speaking more languages, finding new ways to be expressed, inspiring conversations, traveling around the world, collaborating with other art forms, etc.
Whatever someone’s reason is to begin a yoga practice, even if it’s for vanity, the healing wisdom of yoga will eventually unfold. Because at some point, if they stick with it, the practice will deepen – their awareness will shift, how they feel in their own body will change, their breath will expand, their perspective may soften, and on some level their lives will change. Although some trends of yoga have diluted the fundamental values, I believe this core truth will never change with or without commercialization.
There are many of us who value the rich and timeless teachings of this sacred lineage and have a responsibility to keep this thread alive as both a student and as a teacher. How we choose to do this may be unique to each of us. Yet no yogi wants to see the heart of yoga lost or distorted. So it’s up to us, as we expand into the changing times, to carry the sweet nectar of our first yoga experience with us, to never forget why we started, to return to our studies if we’ve fallen off course, and to always honor our teachers who paved the way.
Do you see a healthy way in which technology & yoga can move forward into the future together?
To keep the inevitable healthy, we should keep these conversations going openly and honestly. And we can each make a personal choice as to how much we let technology infiltrate our practice or our teaching.
Just as music has built on itself, influencing one form into another, we are creative beings building on our influences in yoga, as well. That said, as we continue to merge technology and yoga, it’s important to remember why we’re doing it and what it’s capable of — it has the potential to share the healing wisdom of yoga with more people who may not otherwise have access. It will reach and inspire young people who are growing up in a world of technology. We can be connected globally and create a powerful, loving network that surrounds the planet. We can use technology intelligently, tastefully and mindfully.