Today’s expression of yoga looks more like gymnastics than that of 50, 30, or even just 10 years ago. Each time you pull up a social media feed, you see a new yoga pose. One that you didn’t even think the body could do. One that you feel you have to immediately get on your mat and try. While this new pose may look like a new pose, it most likely is a derivative of an older pose, practiced in a traditional yoga body. What is a traditional yoga body? One that practiced yoga in a time when chairs were not available to the common person. A traditional yoga body sat cross legged to eat, to read, and to study. A traditional yoga body didn’t sit at a desk most of the day, rather this body was in a squat to perform work. The traditional yoga body didn’t use a car as transportation, but rather the body; the traditional body walked to get here and there.
So let’s look at a modern yoga body. Today most folks are using a car or mode of public transportation, from Uber to subways, to get from one place to the next. Most people don’t walk or bike to work, but sit for hours in commute. Most jobs today are office or desk based, very few with standing desks or floor desks in which the body can sit cross legged or stand with natural posture. Physical laborers are no longer using the squat to perform tasks. Sitting in a chair produces stiff spines, limited femur rotation, tight hips, and slouching. Cell phone use, computer use, and other tablet use has caused a severe increase in postural problems and carpal tunnel syndrome. Sitting at a dinner table in a chair, slouched over a cell phone, wolfing down food in a hurry or maybe zoning out on the TV while cramming food in is a bit of a 180 when we think about sitting cross legged on the floor to eat dinner slowly.
So with these two comparatives, the glaring difference that we see is the effect on the physical body. Physical bodies have changed since the physical practice of yoga become popular in India in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Adjustments and alignment in the traditional yoga practice are applied to those traditional bodies that have open hips, flexible spines, upright posture, and mobile bodies. So why are we looking at new postures, or even old postures for that matter, with a modern body and getting frustrated when it doesn’t work? Why are we taking old adjustments and alignment of postures and cramming them into modern bodies, and blaming yoga when injuries occur? Why aren’t we teaching more anatomy, science, and evolution when we train teachers or when we teach our students?
Yoga teaches non-attachment, yet adheres to a different set of rules when we talk about ancient alignment, adjustments, philosophies, and applications of the yoga practice. Yoga schools, branches, and organizations are so attached to old principles and theories that we are injuring modern bodies and psyches with this bizarre attachment. Yoga is being prescribed by doctors, physical therapists, and chiropractors. I wonder if these medical professionals adhere only to ancient texts and principles in the medical field. I wonder if these service providers blatantly ignore technology and modern advancements in medicine. I really don’t wonder this though, because I know that’s not the case.
When practicing or teaching yoga, remember what body you are working with. Actually look at the body before you; experience your somatic practice rather than the aesthetic practice; remember that we don’t become better people because we can put a foot behind our head. The physical practice of yoga can be a powerful tool in mobility and longevity. Most of my students coming into my studio are either doctor referred or looking for mindfulness. Hearing these goals is exciting and really hopeful. We are taking the practice of yoga from one of physical attainment or achievement to a deeper somatic experience that is healing and strengthening on all levels.
Now it’s up to yoga teachers to continue to educate themselves on the body, how our bodies are evolving, and how yoga fits into these bodies. Not the other way around. We should be teaching people, not poses.