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Politics in Yoga

Yoga in NYC
Yoga in NYC
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Politics isn't just for the general population or the "other guy/gal". Politics is loosely interpreted as dealing with people and their likes/dislikes. Depending on your source, it can be defined as "an art or science that influences society in one way or another". As the title says, there are politics in Yoga. It's a fine line yet there is a certain political aspect to teaching Yoga.

When the conversation turns to preferences and Ego just about anything is fair game: after all, humans are a fickle lot. Yet it should be noted that such things, while acknowledged in Yogic philosophy and something to be overcome are simply, in the writer's opinion, not Yogic. However, Yoga (itself) is not immune to preference.

Consider that Sanskrit, the ancient language used throughout Yoga, consists of three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. Despite that, and despite the overall beauty of the language itself: it is not the prevailing language in most Yoga studios in the West. In fact, some discourage the use of Sanskrit terminology as there is a segment of the population at-large that finds it off-putting. Is this part of the de-construction of Yoga? Is it even necessary? Consider that Sharon Gannon and David Life explain it this way "(sic) In the West there is a deconstruction of Yoga much like a young child disassembles a radio to see how it works." Is that what's happening?

A conversation could ensue regarding the validity of the use of Sanskrit in modern times yet that is not what this is about. As in Yoga philosophy: intention is what matters, the 'why' part of what you do. So, in short this is not about the actual 'language' used in modern Yoga in the United States (the West). Suffice to say a strong argument for the use of Sanskrit can be made by simply noting that if one practices any of the Martial Arts one can expect to become familiar with an Asian language.

Statistics site that the majority of Yoga practitioners in the West breakdown as 72% women and 28% men. Those numbers are slowly, gradually shifting. With the prevailing attitude that Yoga is for women it's easy to see why the aura tends to lean slightly feminine.

On one side are males who prefer 'more' masculine forms of Yoga. It would seem that a segment of the male population prefer the less feminine aspects of Yoga. Perhaps it's that they prefer male lead-instruction: the birds of a feather metaphor fits here. Of course, the same could be said for females 'flocking' to female-lead classes.

Contrary to popular belief, there is reason to believe that there is a major myth regarding Yoga and women's roles in Yoga. One major myth is that women did not or were not allowed to practice Yoga until approximately fifty years ago. However, as Bjonnes is quick to point out in his piece "(sic)...according to the oral yogic tradition, which I studied in India and Nepal, yoga is thousands of years old, and hatha yoga has been practiced since its beginnings, which the carbon dated Shiva yogi seals quite conclusively confirm, and not just in recent years as Singleton claims. More importantly, these practices were also practiced by women."

That bit of information could reasonably lead anyone to believe that Patanjali wasn't developing a gender specific strategy to achieve Yoga: in other words it's an all-inclusive eight-limbed path. Later on, one would be hard-pressed to surmise that Krischnamacharya codified a system that is gender specific.

While attending Teacher Training (consisting of 2 men and 11 women) the writer noted some of the verbiage, er lingo, used by the women in the class consisted of words such as 'booty' and 'skooch' i.e. "Skooch your booty to the center of your mat." The writer, all male, had no idea what was once his 'butt' or 'bottom' had transformed itself into a 'booty'! Attempts to politely correct the terminology were rebuffed with light humor. However, the writer is still curious as to whether or not he is the proper owner of a 'booty' because of Yoga.

Since that time the writer has attended several other classes lead by female teachers finding that it is seemingly common to hear lingo such as that. Interestingly enough, the few male-lead classes attended were not surprisingly masculine in-tone with few exceptions.

So, in effect what we have is a divergence in Yoga. A metaphorical 'class' of Yogi: male Yogi, female Yogini. Separation in a practice intended to unify? Indeed. Perhaps a necessary step in the evolution of Yoga in the West with the eventual reunification happening at a later point in time? Or is this the way it will always be in the West? The saying "the more things change, the more they stay the same" comes to mind.

In the writer's opinion it should not be necessary to present gender specific Yoga; rather, gender neutral with gender neutral language. After all: Yoga is Yoga. In a 'perfect' world there would be no division in Yoga. So, how do we remedy this perceived division? Is it wrong? Is it even Yogic? Is this just another consequence (intended or not) of the West creating a business opportunity?

Please feel free to comment below and share any insights into the subject.