Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Call it Stilates!

I picked up yoga as a means of spiritual exploration. The sinewy limbs and improved digestion seem to be a welcome bonus, but they're definitely not the focus. Yoga for me, and as far as I can gather for others as well, is a peaceful break. I struggle in every class I attend not to let my ego get in the way. I'm constantly berating myself for comparing my skills to others', reminding myself that this is a journey. A humble practice. But then this girl, Tara Stiles, comes along and says it's not. She eschews ascribing to any particular philosophy of yoga, and ignores traditional sanskrit in describing poses and sequences. "Who made these rules?" she questions in the NYT article.

Okay, good question. But I hardly feel that the elders of yoga had intended it to be a means by which insecure 20-somethings shed their freshman 15 (finally). Her claim that yoga studios are elitist and unwelcoming seems redundant, since pretty much all of New York City (where her studio Strala is located) is elitist and unwelcoming. I would encourage her to attend a class at my favorite studio, Yoga Ah!, or any other studio in any other midwest city. Granted, there are people who look down their noses at newbies, but I've experienced that in knitting lessons. You're gonna find it everywhere. This is, perhaps, the most extreme of the protestant yoga philosophies. To say that it is only about health, weight, improved sexual function, and appearances strips yoga of it's essence: moving meditation. Yoga cautions against ego and self-promotion. There is no perfect pose; your breath is your mirror. My yoga instructor has joked that yoga was never designed to be a business; I'm assuming she's referring to the stereotypical flightiness and unmaterialistic nature of yogis. A lot of yogis I meet may have functioned well as Amish in another life.

To her credit, Ms. Stiles charges a fair price for her yoga classes. She used to teach classes for free out of her apartment. I've known many yoga teachers to do the same. However, they gain no revenue from book deals and product promotion. Not many of the instructors in Cincinnati model for American Apparel.

This is not to say she must be stopped. There are all kinds of adulterated yoga classes out there. But most of them at least adopt the om's and the contemplation as part of the practice. This is simply to say, perhaps she shouldn't call it "yoga." There are reasons Episcopalians don't call themselves Catholic. They ascribe to a different set of beliefs about Christianity and worship. An Episcopal Eucharist even looks very similar to a Catholic Mass, but it's labeled differently. The same should be said for Ms. Stiles' exercise regime. She has different beliefs about the essence of the practice, and therefore, should call it something else. It's fine! You're allowed to believe what you want about your practice. This is a free country, and we are blessed to have religious freedom. But if you're gonna start your own church, you can't call it Baptist just to get people to show up.

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