Yoga’s come a long way, baby. No longer relegated to Far Eastern philosophy books, today’s yoga is more often aligned with Lululemon-wearing bohemians seeking enlightenment through self-expression. The practice has gone from a 5,000-year-old transcendental service of meditation and growth to an athletic performance dominated by young, bendy, photogenic people — many of whom sell yoga as a way to build sexy bodies without the strain and injury of harsher workouts. These energetic yoga teachers push students to perfect postures and challenge them as if it’s a HIIT class without the tire-flipping.
If that level of expectation intimidates you, you’re not alone.
“For many people, the very reason they should attend yoga is the reason they do not,” offers Annette K. Scott, owner of Kodawari Yoga, established 2016 in Tampa. “Much of the great shame of our culture is that the tools that can help everyone, because of Instagram, have been relegated to the realm of pretty people.”
That shame exists on several levels, owners suggest. Yoga’s current emphasis on poses over meditation has dramatically increased the number of overuse injuries; the industry’s lack of regulation drives questionable marketing claims; and its pretend transcendentalism mixed with action attracts people who use its endorphin rush to mask pain in their lives.
“They are asking inappropriate things from yoga,” says Chris Acosta, owner of St. Petersburg Yoga, who established his studio in 1995.
From a yogi’s perspective, the purpose of the practice is to identify a root cause of pain and then use yoga as an instrument for change. But the first rule is – don’t keep doing what caused the problem.
“There is an unwillingness to buy into the really simple stuff,” he says. If you have sciatica and are at risk of foot drop, there is no scenario where you can fix that and run again. Despite surgery, physical therapy, yoga, there is no way you can keep doing the thing that caused the problem. “Nobody can correct damage being done to your joint by throwing magic postures at it,” he states.
Yoga is designed to overhaul systems. If a student approaches it with an open mind, they find powerful results throughout their body, mind, and life.
Dynamic (Hatha) yoga practices are designed for the lethargic: the nonphysical, the overweight, Acosta says. Conversely, an individual who chronically over-exercises may require self-reflection. This oxymoron is why in ancient times, prospective yoga instructors were chosen more for what they could not do, than for what they could — because yogis believed one cannot teach what was given, only what one has learned through sustained change.
“We treat everything we do as a meditation. Functionally, we have them working on their brain as much as their body when they are in here,” Acosta says.
Because meditation is not easy, many students avoid the study and miss the chance to truly benefit from studio classes. Yoga is a public, group practice. Flow is a breath and a movement:
“We are all organized around the same breath… I am you and you are me and the public expression of that is in a class,” Scott explains.
“We are hard-wired for connection. Your neural network is inherently around finding and maintaining connection. And if that initial need set is not met, the deepest offering of each person’s gifts will never be met,” she says. Essentially, “we are trying to diminish being an asshole,” Scott bluntly asserts, through creating a community that becomes a lifestyle, which allows us to live peacefully within our world.
Over time by practicing “real” yoga, individuals experience tangible results throughout their everyday lives: They are calmer, more connected, better able to use the tools developed through meditative yoga to shed that which has held them back and experience fewer, less dramatic emotional drops.
Acosta compares real yoga to the practice of medicine. Patients expect their doctors to evaluate, diagnose, recommend. Yoga is the same. For a student to achieve full success, they must be open to guidance from their teacher. They must ask what class is best for them and choose a studio willing to help them grow, not just sell the latest trend.
Sunder Luber is founder of A Yoga Village, established in 2007 in Clearwater. She explains that lifestyle medicine prescribes three things beyond a good diet: a meditative approach to diffusing stress, an exercise (not necessarily yoga) to stay fit, and a way to maintain emotional connections. Without this foundation of health, these practitioners argue, we are not capable of turning our attention to that which matters most in our lives.
And all this can’t be found following an online video of a bendy babe or hurting ourselves trying to achieve a challenge pose. It has to be earned the old-fashioned way – through patience, effort, and a willingness to listen.
Yoga Classes Now
During the pandemic, many yoga studios have been offering online classes. Now that restrictions are beginning to relax, some are doing a combination of live and live-streaming, while others are doing online only. Here’s information on what the studios mentioned in this story have been doing:
• A Yoga Village has been live-streaming its yoga classes. In-person classes are slated to begin June 1.