Yoga: extreme sport?

What’s hot: Yoga in Yellowstone. Photo by Larry Stanley.

Originally published November 2019

Many moons ago, part of my job in the beauty industry was to predict trends. Seems like a big gamble, right? How does one do that? I would venture that it’s being able to notice things that surround us in our culture, place them in the broader sense, and predict possibilities. Not exactly science, but requires thoughtful reflection, some experiential understanding, plus a sprinkle of creativity. (And in case you’re wondering, I didn’t get fired.)

We’ve witnessed the evolution of the yoga trend, from fringe hippiedom to pure mainstream. Almost everywhere you look, everything yoga. Those of us who aren’t new to yoga might simultaneously lament and rejoice at where we’ve ended up on the trend continuum. Yoga for the people! Props available at Target! And then there’s the lamenting. Which is why I’m writing this.

It’s been a slow creep that’s snuck up on me. It started about a year ago, when I attended a class where we busted out about 5 arm balances in the first 15 minutes, and where the teacher thought yoga class an appropriate place to drop the F bomb not once, but many times. I almost left. Not because I don’t swear – F no. It was context – I don’t swear in church, and I feel like the yoga studio is sacred space. But even more than that, it was the sequencing that bothered me.

The sequencing. Yoga class sequencing appears to be going to way of the dodo.

Is this something that isn’t being taught in yoga teacher trainings these days? I’m not sure. I would like to believe that it still is. Seems like basic training – you need to know what to do when. My hypothesis is that yoga has become an extreme sport. Poses that should take months – even years – are being offered in classes with people who are new to the practice, or who aren’t properly prepared. Would you train for a marathon? Yes. Why then would you not train for an advanced yoga pose? Instant yoga gratification is what’s for sale. More like instant injury, IMHO.

Power yoga has always had appeal; it was our most popular class at my DC yoga studio back in the day. And I certainly believe in challenging my yoga students, giving them opportunities to get stronger and maybe try a pose that they never thought could be possible. But a refusal to change your sequence when almost the entire class is down in child’s pose? When did that become yoga teacher etiquette? Double chaturangas, handstand kick ups in every vinyasa – are these things we should offer to the general yoga public?

No. If I taught like that on retreat, no one would ever come back. I believe that yoga is about making people feel good. And in order to feel good, they have to have some degree of success in asana practice. Pushy power yoga is going to result in lots of injuries. Lately I’ve struggled with many classes at many places. Yeah, I’m not in my 20s anymore, but I’ve been a yoga teacher for almost 20 years, and I’m strong and in good shape. And I want to stay that way – I don’t want to do a sequence that puts relentless pressure on my wrists – i.e., more vinyasas than anyone could ever need, mountain climbers and endless knees-to-nose in a heated room (I’ll just hold plank, thank you). I don’t want to do 5 balance poses in a row on the same side. I don’t want a sequence that doesn’t warm up, reach a peak and then cool down – that’s the ART of it! – but is only concerned with powering through for sweat effect and calorie burn and whatever else pushy power yoga is supposed to do.

I always say that one of the things I love the most about yoga is that you’re never done learning it. It’s a lifetime of learning and changing and evolving, because that’s what we as humans do. Yoga can keep up – and give us what we need in very different stages of the same lifetime. Or even just on different days.

So what do I predict with this extreme yoga trend? That a lot of people are going to try it, get hurt (or at least discouraged), and decide that yoga is not for them. That makes me very sad, because I truly believe that yoga can be for every. single. person. And it’s one of the few things out there that can change as you change – there are so many options. So why are we putting all things power on a pedestal? It’s only one piece of the yoga pie.

Stay tuned for a follow up post on what you should look for in a yoga class. My two cents, anyways.

Yeehaw & Namaste.