surprised yogi

The practice of yoga was originally derived from ancient Hindu-based philosophy (The Yoga Sutras, primarily) for the purpose of stilling the mind and obtaining a permanent state of peace. The physical exercises -- a series of poses, or ‘asanas’ -- are only one of the eight limbs described in the Yoga Sutras. And yes, they are an important vehicle in achieving peace of mind, but not the main focus of the overall practice of yoga.

Fast forward several thousands of years to modern day. You would think that the other tenets of yoga -- the other limbs which encourage moral behavior, meditation, deep breathing, soul searching, and the like -- would be more important than just another fast-paced form of exercise. Contrary to logic, I have noticed a somewhat backwards trend that I will call gritty yoga.

Gritty yoga is yoga without the spiritual and cultural aspects like chanting, pranayama, sanskrit, and meditation. But what is yoga if these things are not incorporated into traditional poses? I guess we should just call it stretching? I get it, I am a gym fanatic and former cardio rat. If I am not going somewhere or doing something, I am bored: that’s just part of my Type A personality. My interest in yoga was sparked by the demanding and rigorous vinyasa and hot styles. But the more I practice the more I have come to appreciate the slower styles and “hippie dippy” parts of class. I am proud that I know the Sanskrit words of poses, it helps me feel like I know what I’m doing. When I do Hatha yoga or mixed level yoga, I get an extra few seconds to hold the pose, which allows me to stretch further. Even hot yoga like Bikram and Baptiste incorporate breathing exercises and the relaxing Shavasana pose at the end. I feel spirituality fit when I practice regularly -- I am less impulsive, more mindful, and happier overall. And I don’t think that would be possible without the whole practice -- not just the strenuous parts. Here are a few brands that offer no-frills stretching routines that claim to be a form of or associated with yoga:

  • Broga is “man friendly” yoga that incorporates repetitive floor exercises
  • Dirty Yoga’s websites claims this is “Yoga for people who make sh*t happen,” boasting, “Dirty is yoga that won’t slow you down... Yoga for people with better things to do than yoga. People who want to get in, get their exercise, and get out. If that’s you, get dirty, then get going.”
  • The No OM Zone: A No-Chanting, No-Granola, No-Sanskrit Practical Guide to Yoga is a book whose title sums up this philosophy perfectly.
  • YAS Fitness Centers in Los Angeles combine yoga and spinning, advertising “Yoga for Athletes” and “for people who value their health, fitness, and time”.

So now we have to ask our readers: does gritty, no-frills “yoga” make an ancient, healing art more accessible to the Western mind? Or is it somewhat blasphemous, doing more harm than good?