I avoided yoga for years (to my own detriment) because I was turned off by what I perceived as the combination of materialism and spirituality-lite that the modern culture of yoga in the west seemed to represent. And I really didn’t like that it seemed to be turning into a status marker, that having the time to devote to yoga and the money to invest in a pricey yoga wardrobe was sort of a class signifier. But I realized that it doesn’t pay to throw out the baby with the bathwater and that yoga has a lot to offer, and what it has to offer is bigger and more powerful than – and will outlast – the contemporary cultural associations that I may not find so tasteful.
And anyway, if some people are initially attracted to yoga because of the cute Lululemon leggings, and they find some meaningful benefit from doing yoga, then isn’t that still a good thing? Is it my place to judge anyone’s reason for doing yoga? This is a good question for me, because becoming less judgmental has been one of my major goals as I get older.
In a time when ideas can spread across the farthest reaches of the globe, humans looking to tend to their mental and physical well-being can choose from any number of spiritual and religious traditions, psychotherapy, pharmaceuticals, dietary practices, exercise regimens, systems of meditation, and more. In some ways this is overwhelming, and it is bound to lead to a cafeteria approach – picking and choosing what works rather than dedicating oneself fully to a single practice or tradition. I don’t see that as good or bad, it just is. If one person wants to get more into yoga as a full “system” and someone else just wants to do the postures for 90 minutes three times a week, I think that's fine.
What is clear is that most of us need something to keep from being tossed about on the waves of modern life filled with constant stressors and intrusions on our mental peace. For many people, that might be sugar, alcohol, drugs, shopping, zoning out in front of the TV, etc. Life is hard, and I myself am not giving up my red wine any time soon. But I believe that yoga helps, and it helps even if “all” you do is the asanas. I’m not in it for spiritual reasons per se, but I know that when you do good for your body, you do good for your mind, and yes my “spirit” benefits from yoga. Even just looking at it as a physical system, I am constantly amazed at how thorough, deep and effective yoga is. I’m not going to renounce such a great practice because I wasn’t born to the culture that came up with it. I count myself lucky to live in a time when I can benefit from the wisdom of people across the ages and across the globe!
And as for yoga at the YMCA, etc., I would actually like to see yoga become *more* democratized, and for more men, older people, heavier people, people with unfancy workout clothes, etc., to have access to it and feel that it is for them too. Will it become "watered down" by virtue of becoming more widespread? Is that bad? Interesting questions to think about!