Trolling yoga blogs and the comment threads that ensue reveals a prevailing sentiment of tough love. Sure, there are a few hold-outs from the sixties still hanging around but the new breed of yogi is way too savvy to be fooled by any fluff and seems more interested in what you can do than how what you do makes you think or behave.
A musician friend and student was telling me about his last tour. He was at a party after a show with some of the other bands that played on the bill. Apparently, a guy from another band was into Yoga and heard that my friend was also a practitioner. The conversation went something like:
"Hey, what's up?"
"I heard you do you Yoga."
"Yeah, I do."
"Can you do headstand to crow?"
In and of itself, two dudes hanging out at a party after a rock-n-roll show talking about Yoga is a testament to Yoga's new status in our culture. Back in the day, I was consistently the only man in class and, if it ever came up at a party, my inclination for Yoga was usually met with little more than a blank stare. Few people, men or women, had any frame of reference for Yoga much less a knowledge of headstand to crow.
When I chose to make Yoga my life direction, it was a decidedly un-cool thing to do. In fact, Yoga represented letting go of a need for external approval or recognition in favor of a greater sense of personal well-being and fulfillment. Some time in the last fifteen years, my decision to abandon cool kid status has backfired.
Yoga is the new hip.
Yoga teachers are headlining Lolapalooza-like events and referring to variations of downdog as "rockstar pose." There are talent agencies for yoga teachers, celebrity endorsements, and reality TV shows in the works. Yoga is now an undeniable marketing demographic and has spawned a multi-billion-dollar industry.
Unfortunately, what is selling yoga as cool is not really all that cool.
I suppose it's understandable that the grander displays of physicality found in classical Yoga marry well with advertising exploits and western workout mentality. Certainly, yoga poses can be used to challenge people to do more than they think possible. However, suffering through rigorous, sometimes injurious, practice routines with the idea that we will potentially accomplish some unknown something at some unknown point or perpetuating a subtle form of body dysmorphia around ideas of alignment and perfection is patently not cool.
For me, the key to making my practice effective was cultivating a nurturing sentiment. Whenever I suggest the importance of a nurturing sentiment, even right now, there is a voice in the back of my head that says, "Really? A nurturing sentiment? That's the best you can do?" Nurturing is not generally thought of as all that cool, it definitely doesn't look as neat as a flying crow pose.
The case against nurturing always seems to get chalked up to discipline. Thus, the tough love model. Yoga requires discipline and some find this is best achieved by overbearing means. I cannot deny the proven efficiency of austere practice in imposing discipline. For those so inclined, this may be the best route to take.
For a whole lot of us, however, discipline achieved at the forceful hand of an outside suggestion is often short lived. Just as a caring parent might discipline their child in a different manner than a drill sergeant does a soldier, nurturing and discipline are not mutually exclusive.
My two-year-old daughter has recently begun to require some discipline. I can get her to do what I need her to do by being stern and forceful with her but it usually requires a great deal of effort, involves some considerable whining, and is only so good as I am standing there and making sure it is so.
If I have my wits about me a bit more, I can often achieve the same ends by merely setting the proper conditions and allowing enough space for her to arrive at the decision to do what I need her to do herself. Then, the next time, she often will do the right thing because she is the one who decided to make it so.
Regardless of how we choose to bring about the discipline needed to be well, most of us could probably benefit from some nurturing. If nurturing is considered to be somehow weak, naive, or cheesy then I think we are really in trouble. I contend that Yoga is best when it feels unconditional and nurturing.