There are a lot of different opinions and controversy surrounding this topic. This post isn’t meant necessarily to answer that question, but rather to incite some critical thinking about it.
A Brief History Lesson…
Yoga is one of the oldest religious practices. Yes, for some people this might be shocking, but yoga is based in religion. In India (where yoga originated), artwork depicting ancient yogis have been found that predates Christ by thousands of year.
The first yoga text was the Bhagavad Gita, which is still widely distributed throughout the world today.
(I highly recommend reading this if you are at all interested in the topic)
This book describes in detail the yogic path to enlightenment. It define yoga as a spiritual practice towards immortality. Interestingly, this book has very little space dedicated to the physical practice of yoga and instead describes the lifestyle and meditation practices that enabled men of ancient India to come closer with the Divine.
Fast Forward Thousands of Years…
Today, yoga is still apart of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, but overall has become removed from its religious roots. Since entering Western culture, the identity of yoga has altered to become a mainstreamed representation of the original practice.
Originally, yoga was a spiritual lifestyle practiced almost exclusively by boys and men seeking enlightenment.
Now, yoga is mainly perceived as a physical workout practiced by Western women, and intertwined into capitalist culture.
The identity of yoga has transformed to include the clothing, the fitness, and the cultural persona surrounding it. Almost every girl in Western society owns a yoga mat and a pair of yoga leggings. Every gym now offers yoga classes which often times lack any incorporation of meditation or spirituality.
The physical practice of yoga was originally only a small portion of the overall spiritual lifestyle, but now dominates the entire meaning of yoga.
If hundreds of thousands of people are going to yoga classes and wearing yoga clothes and posting pictures on Instagram in yoga poses, is that yoga?
If our general population believes that this is what it means to be a yogi, then in some ways the answer is yes. The mainstream version of yoga has eclipsed the original practice.
Thus, who is to say what ‘real’ yoga is?
Is it an ancient religious practice or is it a cultural fad?
To quote one of my Buddhist meditation teachers from a couple of years ago, “It is both and yet neither, at the same time”.
Both the original and newer variations of yoga are ‘real’ in their own right. Many people within the yoga community believe that ‘true’ yoga is based solely on the ancient yoga teachings.
My argument is how do we define ‘real’ yoga?
If the vast majority of the population identifies with the mainstream representation of yoga and are completely ignorant to its spiritual origination, then how can that version not be ‘real’?
Arguable it has grown to be the definition of yoga, more so than the original.
I teach and practice yoga based on alignments of the chakras and am not a fan gym-style-yoga. I personally choose to practice yoga for the spiritual benefits, but was originally attracted to joining a studio because of the physical ones.
This article is not meant to justice yoga being taught solely as a physical practice. Rather, I was inspired by the countless people I have discussed the mainstreaming of yoga with and who often have (in my opinion) snobby remarks about other people’s practices.
Who am I to say what the ‘real’ yoga is?
If more people perceive yoga from a certain perspective, then in theory that version has more validity than mine.
All yogis are entitled to their own practice since in the end it is their own spirituality and body that are at work.