addressing the class

6 teachers reflect on the most important issues facing yoga today

Georg Feuerstein, Yoga Research and Education Center
I believe that the looming ecological crisis combined with increasing terrorism will change the face of the Earth in the decades to come. With its rapacious consumerism and all its wealth, the crisis will hugely affect North America. Yoga must be made more relevant to this issue, which involves the practice of yoga as a spiritually based and ecologically sensitive lifestyle.

Helen Goldstein, The Yoga Studio, Toronto
The most crucial issue to me is the commercialization of yoga and the lack of teacher training. I have a great deal of concern about these quick "become a teacher in a weekend" courses that do not give proper training in philosophy, anatomy and ethics. People who haven't practiced yoga are becoming teachers. They don't have yoga in their bodies.

There is also a trend towards competition and aerobics and "look at me" that creates judgement and hierarchy. In the future I'd like to see yoga made more accessible to seniors and those with special challenges, and more yoga for children, teens, and pre- and post-natal women. Let's take away the show-off stuff and add pranayama and meditation as a regular part of this practice.

Tawanna Kane, The Lineage Project
Practice is such a gift, one that I wish everyone could experience, regardless of their physical challenge, race, or socio-economic status. I have always been deeply saddened and even disturbed by the lack of diversity in the Western yogic world. Studios, ashrams, and sanghas in the West seem to increasingly reflect a small, homogeneous portion of the population in their communities. When I practice, I am one of few people of color. I am sure that this vision is so disparate from what grandfathers of the practice intended. I fear that if things continue in this manner that sadhana practice will become an elitist "leisure activity" for those that can afford to take part.

Accessibility goes beyond economics. Yes, we must find a way to allocate a
percentage of student space to those that cannot afford the full rate. But, in this same spirit, we must question our outreach strategies, our staff's openness to beginners, and the diversity within the teaching population at our centers.

Donna Fornelli, President, Canadian Iyengar Yoga Teachers Association
People need to understand what yoga is and what it is not. There is a lack of public information about what it takes to become a properly trained yoga teacher. The word "yoga" is incorporated as a marketing tool to promote other forms of activity. Some fitness corporations certify "yoga" instructors along with their fitness instructors after a very short training period. There also seems to be a trend in becoming certified in several styles of yoga so that a teacher becomes more marketable.

Each person must find the style of yoga that suits them and then stick with it. Immersing yourself in a particular style of yoga is a life long commitment.

Chip Hartranft, Arlington Center & author, The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali: A New Translation with Commentary (Shambhala 2003)
We need more of the insight that cuts through contemporary fashion or philosophy. In wisdom we come to see yoga not as a scheme to improve or empower ourselves, but as a coming to freedom through seeing things as they are. In every age there has been a tension in the yoga world between narcissism and transcendence, a tension that is perhaps more visible today now that we have yoga magazines!

As yoga becomes more mainstream, the institutions of the mainstream - capitalism, for instance - have altered the way yoga is taught and practiced. It is important to remember that the goals of yoga are ultimately incompatible with capitalism, consumerism, or any other -ism built on desire and fear, because yoga exists to bring about freedom from desire and fear.

Celeste Mallett, Salt Spring Centre of Yoga
The most crucial issue facing the future of yoga in my opinion is the commercialization and glamorization of the practice (and the teachers themselves!). I fear that in an attempt to popularize and Americanize a "precious jewel," yoga has become just another commodity. I am concerned about the elitism of yoga retreats in exotic places at exorbitant prices, with famous and equally exotic teachers, wearing even more exotic apparel.

I think the future of yoga rests in the capable hands of the thousands of "small town" teachers who are daily practicing the art of chop wood / carry water. Ordinary people, engaged in ordinary tasks, doing the best to help others become mindful along the path.

Sharon Gannon, Jivamukti Yoga Center, New York City
The most crucial issue facing the future of yoga in North America is the courage of its practitioners to embrace the ethical and spiritual practices of yoga. I would like to see more Yoga teachers teaching Ahimsa as the first step toward enlightenment. The concept of Ahimsa means non-harming others. A yoga teacher needs to help his or her students understand what 'others' mean and how one would cause harm and how one then could practice causing the least amount of harm. Teaching about the link between yoga and ethical vegetarianism could be a first step; next could be to teach students that working to help the environment is very yogic, and last, but not least, teachers could encourage students to be politically active.

Rhonda Fogel, Wandering Yogi Studio, Vancouver
Many yoga teachers have gotten their certification in a week or so after maybe a few months of practice, and they want to make it a profession instead of a lifestyle expression. There are so many folks trying to jump on the yoga ride that combinations and variations of everything and anything are taking over. It's "cool" to be a yoga teacher these days. However few walk the path that they are teaching others about.

But I have great hope for the future of yoga in the West. The more people that try yoga, the greater the chance for people to continue. At our studio, people are asking more meaningful questions and are filling up the meditation courses. We are also getting a surge in interest for more devotional practices like chanting and kirtan.

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life