As often as I practice yoga, I am admittedly not a purist. Neither my personal practice nor my teaching style are traditional. While I spent 500 hours learning ancient Indian philosophy before earning a certificate to teach yoga, I rarely speak Sanskrit in class because my personal philosophy is to use simple, clear language that resonates rather than intimidates. (And equally in part because I physically cannot get through the word “tittibhasana” without having a laughing fit.) I feel most authentic and successful when I encourage my students to listen to their bodies and celebrate their progress than I do trying to manufacture a profound spiritual awakening in each of them. My practice incorporates sequences of high-intensity interval training set to playlists of Snoop Dogg’s greatest hits. (Who, contrary to popular belief, was evidently the guy who released his debut rap album “Doggystyle” in 1993, and not one of Northern India’s founding fathers of yoga over 5,000 years ago.) I lip sync my way through chants to conceal the fact that I sound like Danny DeVito impersonating a lawnmower, and I spend most of Savasana thinking about better ways I could be spending my time than marinating in a puddle of my own sweat and mascara goop. I suppose my practice is a modern adaptation of yoga suited for workaholics, perfectionists, and overthinkers who find peak mental clarity in the tail-end of a stiff endorphin buzz. Fortunately, I have a healthy enough ego to mitigate the flack I catch from people who say that isn’t “real” yoga to decide for myself whether they’re right. (Which is that next level zen sh*t, right?)
Having said that, I genuinely respect the rich history in which yoga is rooted. I wouldn’t be fit to teach without having extensively studied the foundation of yoga outlined in sacred texts such as The Bhagavad Gita, Rigveda, or Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. I understand the argument against Westernization of yoga, and I agree that posting photos of myself folded into a pretzel on Instagram is a pretty self-serving, indulgent pursuit of external validation, which is obviously the antithesis of yoga’s introspective, contemplative principles. I see the paradoxical nature of yoga’s public consumption because it glamorizes much of what yoga dissuades, and I am guilty of not following the “rules”. But then again, policing the right and wrong type of yoga, or judging who is good or bad at yoga is just as hypocritical and contradictory of yoga’s code of ethics. Ultimately, I think it’s important to remind people that yoga cultivates self-reflection. This gives every yogi the opportunity to explore and interpret yoga however it fits within the context of his or her life. My one stipulation is that it’s truly never worth using shoddy, unsafe alignment to impress or imitate others. Doing no harm to ourselves or to others should always be paramount in a yoga practice, but hopefully that’s an applicable policy in every facet of our lives. Beyond that, our time on the mat is probably best spent practicing whatever philosophy to which we ascribe rather than trying to convince others why ours is superior.