The Great Yoga Divide


Senior Member
Dec 23, 2009
An article about the dangers of yoga that appeared in the Sunday magazine of The New York Times this month inspired an outpouring of criticism in the United States and Britain.

In yoga's birthplace of India, though, the article seemed to highlight the growing divisions between the ancient practice's roots and the multi-billion dollar Western industry of classes, retreats and form-fitting clothes that has sprung up around yoga in recent years.

In "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body," William J. Broad speaks with an upstate New York yoga teacher, Glenn Black, who advises that the "vast majority of people" should give up yoga because it could harm them. The story details serious injuries that have happened when yoga practitioners pushed themselves too far. "It's controversial to say, but it really shouldn't be used for a general class," Mr. Black says.

Rather than stirring controversy in India, the article was met with gentle mockery.

In "Om My God, Who Wrecked Our Yoga," Firstpost dubs the article a "bunch of anecdotes dressed up to sound like a contorted expose," but says it does prove one thing: yoga may be India's biggest export to the West, but as it is practiced in the United States now it is just a Western form of exercise.

"There's nothing very Indian about it," Firstpost writes.

People who practice yoga casually in India rarely view it as an endurance sport or a heart-rate accelerator. In most classes held in neighborhood parks or private gyms or by yoga gurus, the notion of competitive or aggressive yoga seems laughable. Sometimes laughing is actually part of the practice.

Most casual yoga participants in India wear loose-fitting clothing that makes the West's body-baring yoga gear seem slightly obscene, and they often practice a much gentler form of the classic yoga postures. In some places, participants think nothing about answering cell phones in the middle of postures, or taking a short break to chat with a friend.

For more serious practitioners, India's yoga ashrams, even those that welcome a growing crowd of foreign travelers, feature hours of meditation and service to others, vegetarianism and celibacy as much as they do exercise.

"Yoga is not just about asanas, it is a union of the body, mind and soul," Delhi yoga teacher Nivedita Joshi told Times Crest, a Times of India publication, in an article also refuting the idea yoga can be dangerous. "It's not an exercise, it's a way of life," she said.

The Great Yoga Divide -

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