Why Are There So Many New Yoga Styles Today?

By: Yogacharya

I have to bet that this is close to the number one yoga question on most people’s minds these days. The straight-forward answer is pretty simple … a lack of understanding of yoga.

Whoa, you say! My “inverted-heavy metal-yoga-for-naked-golfers” teacher is a master of yoga!
Oh. … Really? … hmmm.

Let’s be serious for a moment. There are some extremely knowledgeable, highly experienced, exceptional yoga teachers out there … and there’s some poorly trained teachers with little to no experience out there … and then there’s a whole lot of teachers out there who fit somewhere in between.

The great teachers have a good understanding of yoga because they have taken the time to properly study it and experience the truth of its teachings first hand.

The poorly trained teachers, for the most part, know that they have a lot to learn and are probably not likely to embarrass themselves by pretending to be something more than a beginner themselves.

It’s the whole wack of people out there teaching yoga, the ones that fall somewhere in between, who are the engine behind this modern “new yoga” mania.

Yoga is, in case you didn’t know, a science for personal transformation … it is a system that has been tested and honed and perfected by the great scientists of ancient India known as the Rishis, or yoga masters.

Through their tireless experiments on themselves, they discovered just what this Universe of ours is all about, and perhaps more importantly, who we are as human beings and what our place within it really is. They discovered what it is that we need to be in order to find real, lasting peace and happiness … and more so, they discovered what we need to do to achieve it.

That process is the system that we know today as yoga … the most comprehensive and complete system for profound personal change.

Yet how many people … how many yoga teachers have really taken the time and put forth the necessary effort in order to really understand what yoga is all about?

Well, by the looks of things, NOT TOO MANY.

Granted, changing ourselves is not always easy. In fact, it can be downright challenging, even at the best of times. Let’s face it, we like our modern lifestyles, we savour what we eat, we’re extremely attached to our friends and families, and our social and leisure activities form the foundation of our very identity. We really, deep down inside, don’t want to have to change any these things … even though, under closer scrutiny, they are the principle causes of all our troubles.

Rather than using yoga, as it was intended, as a powerful way to change ourselves for the better … we prefer to change yoga.

Hordes of marginally trained yoga teachers that have catapulted onto the yoga scene in a matter of no time, have done just that. The one thing that they have in common is ignorance. That ignorance has lead to the continual re-vamping, re-working, tweaking and reinventing of a science that was and is already perfect.

… something that they would know if they had taken the proper time to really understand it first, before changing it.

[Editor's Note: This little article seems to have touched a few nerves out there in cyberspace!  So I've written a little follow-up post , "Don't Get Pissed ... Ignorance is Bliss."  As usual, your comments are MOST WELCOME :O)]

For more on the yoga tradition visit International Yogalayam

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Yogacharya is Director of International Yogalayam and Editor of “The Yoga News

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19 Comments so far

  1. Martin on September 3rd, 2009

    Inverted heavy metal naked yoga for golfers? Sign me up! I’ll try anything to improve my golf swing. ;o)

    Seriously though, I think what you say is, unfortunately, pretty true. But isn’t that just the way of the modern age? What ever happened to the time when people understood what it takes to become an expert in something … and more so, were willing to spend the time and effort to do it? Now we seem to be living in an age of “Jacks of all trades, Masters of none.” Is this more evident anywhere than in yoga today?

  2. linovino on September 4th, 2009

    So, how does a beginning yogi find REAL yoga? I had an amazing instructor who knew yoga inside and out, he was absolutely inspiring and made me see that gym yoga is just not the same. Anyhow, in Chicago there are a million and 1 places that say they do yoga. They are all very expensive and I’m afraid most of them don’t do real yoga, which is what I need!

  3. Norm on September 4th, 2009

    Too true…
    Lots of competition to be seen as a guru and to be seen as one the “product” must be differentiated.
    It may be a tad presumptuous to claim that any mortal ever “….discovered just what this Universe of ours is all about”
    Of course, if people believed that then those that study the “real” masters can imply that they too “….discovered just what this Universe of ours is all about” — if it was true, listen to them.

  4. Angee on September 4th, 2009

    The answer is more than likely on pages 25&26 of “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.” “We don’t sell Yoga: We teach for our joy

  5. Deb on September 4th, 2009

    I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I think some “new” yoga is just plain silly (Budokon or something like that comes to mind); on the other hand, where do we draw the line? Is Yin Yoga a new style? Sort of, but it has a lot of value.

    Also, I don’t think all traditional yoga should be revered simply for tradition. Old books- or even older dvds or vhs- show people practicing without a lot of attention to anatomical detail- or in some cases safety. Sometimes, a little innovation or a shift in focus can be a good thing.

  6. International Yogalayam on September 4th, 2009

    You bring up some good points Deb. These questions loom on many minds. Let me ask though … Just because something has value, does that make it yoga? I mean, taking a nice hike in the mountains is definitely good for you in so many ways. But do we call it “mountain hiking yoga”?

    The real point is that traditional forms of yoga don’t asked to be revered. They invites us to study them, and in properly doing so we would be able to decide whether or not they deserve respect.

    Funny how something like yoga can survive through thousands of years without anyone feeling the need to “innovate”, then, in the span of just a few years, it all of a sudden needs a complete overhaul, major shifts, and endless innovation. We have to ask ourselves seriously, is that because there is (or has always been) a problem with yoga? … or does the problem lie elsewhere?

  7. Deb on September 4th, 2009

    I think it’s pretty clear in context that I wasn’t going anywhere along the lines of hiking is valuable therefore it’s yoga. Please don’t take my words out of context. Thanks.

    Yes, I do think yoga’s longevity speaks to its validity, but everything changes and should be open to change. If it’s not, it gets stagnant and loses its value. I also think that the needs of the diverse population (particularly in this country, but all over the world) now practicing yoga is different from the needs of the original target audience, if only at the physical/structural/anatomical level.

    Also, where are we drawing the line re: valid innovations? The Ashtanga Vinyasa and Iyengar schools- as well as Viniyoga- are less than 100 years old. Bikram and that lineage is older, but still within the last two centuries (please correct me if I’m wrong). I think all of those schools are imperfect, but again, I think they are Yoga.

    But yes, I do still agree that some variations are so watered down that you shouldn’t get too excited about how much yoga you’re actually going to get to practice. Cy-Yo for some reason comes to mind, and I think there’s something aerial that popped up recently. Then again, if it helps open the door for someone to get more robust training, I’ll take it.

  8. Angee on September 4th, 2009

    Budokon is a blend of yoga poses and martial arts. just like Duncan Wong’s “Awakening” & “Source Power.” practices. Yoga poses are always secondary. We have been doing Yoga stretches in most if not all fitness exercises forever. I believe Yoga is not about exercising or trying to do a pose. I believe it’s about learning how to calm the mind. The poses are a benefit if one wishes to do them. I read the Sutras and that keeps me away grounded.. I have been practicing Yoga and Yoga poses for over 12 years and I still love getting on my yoga mat and calming my mind. I wish more people would read the Sutras. I think it would open up the door to understanding Yoga much better but I also understand that most people don’t have the time to read the Sutras or may not be interested in reading them.
    Angee

  9. missye on September 7th, 2009

    As an individual who has exercised all of her life and only since april of this year began yoga, there is one profound differance for me between yoga and all other forms of exercise. Yoga practice prepares the body, mind and spirit to expect change, with a foundation as basic as breath to moderate your internal and external reactions. It prepares the individual to self examine reactions at the most basic of levels and shape the life experience to generate powerful positive change in many directions.The closest I experienced anything like yoga was in distance swimming. Yoga is unique in its benefits.

  10. [...] a post I made a little while ago about why there are so many “new yoga styles” today, I said that ignorance is the main reason. Well, let me tell you, this little statement seems to [...]

  11. YogaMat on September 10th, 2009

    “A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.”

    Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744) in An Essay on Criticism, 1709

    The traditional “domination culture” Yoga teachers and schools try to:-

    * Prove who’s right and who’s wrong (e.g., grades)
    * Teach students how to obey authority
    * Dispense labels, evaluations, diagnoses, and moralistic judgements (e.g., Learning Disabled, Special Needs, Emotionally Disturbed, Culturally Disadvantaged, Hyperactive, ADD, etc.)
    * Motivate desired behavior through punishment, reward, guilt, shame, duty, or obligation.

    Our spiritual, personal, political and social aims should be:-

    * Make life more wonderful
    * Get everyone’s needs met
    * Connect with self and others
    * Motivate through the joy of natural giving, i.e., contributing to the well-being of others
    * Learning how to receive freely from others

    Lightly adapted for Yoga from Marshall Rosenbergs “Non-Violent Communication” (NVC)

  12. bella on September 10th, 2009

    Deb – I think you missed the point. Yoga is not merely an asana practice, which is what the “so many styles of yoga” blog post refers to. It goes far beyond that.
    Personally, I don’t have much problem with the proliferation of various styles of asana practice. But, an asana practice alone does not a Yoga practice make. MOST of a Yoga practice should happen off a mat. If you consider solely Raja Yoga (as outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras), there are 7 other limbs, or steps, that make the practice.
    And that’s not to mention Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga…
    The point is that most of that is lost in Yoga Classes in the West. The classes are just about being on the mat and practicing asanas, perhaps some meditation thrown in at the end. Yoga is pushed as a form of physical exercise. And that is fine. You can gain a lot of mental tranquility on the mat that can carry on somewhat off the mat. But that, in reality, is only a small part of yoga… and as stated, it alone does not a full practice make. :)

  13. Deb on September 10th, 2009

    Thank you for the clarification, but I’ve been teaching yoga for several years and understand what a full practice is.

    But the concept of a “full practice” is yet more fodder for discussion. There is disagreement about how many of the limbs we’re going to observe. I think almost all schools include meditation and probably pranayama (at least to facilitate meditation), but some place almost no emphasis on asana, and others have discarded the yamas and niyamas because they smack too much of religion. I like the idea of a “line-item veto” in yoga and again, I think we should again leave room for innovation and even improvement, particularly in the physical aspects of asana and pranayama. Modern bodies are different (and not for the better) and those differences need to be addressed. I’d also make the same statement about meditation techniques, but well-trained yoga practitioners continue to be among the most informed.

    But again, sometimes the new “styles” aren’t innovative, they’re just gimmicky.

  14. International Yogalayam on September 10th, 2009

    Our yoga masters are not ego-maniacs. In fact the complete opposite is true. They are compassionate almost beyond belief, and their only concern is to help us to grow. The guru is the “remover of darkness” and sometimes receiving their lessons that we need to “get over overselves” is not always pleasant. Like a mother who sometimes lends a firm hand to wean her child from a distructive habit, a true yoga teacher acts out of nothing more than pure love … even if it means that their actions may be misunderstood, or that they their students will not like them for it.

    About his guru, Sri Yukteshwar, Paramahamsa Yogananda said:

    “Students came and generally went. Those who craved an easy path, that of instant sympathy and comforting recognitions of one’s merits, did not find it at the hermitage.

    My teacher offered his disciples shelter and shepherds for the aeons, but many students miserly demanded ego-balm as well. They departed, preferring before any humility, life’s countless humiliations… [His] wisdom was too powerful for their spiritual sickness. They sought some lesser teacher who, shading them with flattery, permitted the fitful sleep of ignorance…”

    The traditional guru-disciple culture of yoga is anything but a “domination culture.” Perhaps this assessment of yours is more likely coming from something like your own deep-seated “Christian” conditioning, or the influence of a modern culture where we just can’t seem to envision anything greater than our selves, or muster up even a simple amount of humility and an acknowledgement that there is perhaps much that we don’t know, and that there ARE others who have walked further down the path to understanding than we have, who genuinely want to help us to go there too.

    Your quote from Alexander Pope is absolutely true,
    “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” … and modern yoga is suffering immensely from exactly that.

  15. Ananda Balayogi on September 11th, 2009

    there are so many styles today because everyone wants to be the consumer and be satisfied in getting what they want (not what they need)!
    we will end up one day with as many yoga styles as people on earth until we realize that yoga is oneness and that we are all one!

  16. Paula Craig on January 31st, 2010

    I completely agree with you about the various misrespresentations of yoga in western cultures. Tinkering with that which is pure renders it impure!
    Thank you for writing about this.

  17. Margaret on February 1st, 2010

    I agree with Paula. I will go a little further, to add to the confusion. Ashtanga is Patanjali’s eight limbs, it has also been described as Raja Yoga. We can break down Ashtanga Yoga into parts,the first five limbs are Bahiranga Yoga, the following three limbs are Antaranga Yoga. BKS Iyengar provides that information in his book Light on Yoga.
    Ashtanga, Asht meaning eight, Anga meaning limbs, Ashtanga Yoga is part of the British Wheel of Yoga’s teacher training syllabus.
    Why try to improve on something that has been in existence for several thousand years?
    Keep well.

  18. [...] is your yoga style? I stumbled upon a great blog post today. The author, Yogacharya, asks the question that has been on my mind a while: “Why are [...]

  19. Susan on February 14th, 2010

    I would like to add to all that has been shared, that practicing and teaching yoga requires an openess including open to accept the “new” that maybe our culture in the US needs to absorb the true nature of yoga that most of wish to impart upon our students.
    We must meet the student where they are, then bring them on the journey we “know” from our own practice and experience. Allowing each student to transition when they are ready.
    No matter what “style” of yoga someone chooses for whatever reason, it’s all good…because even the asanas will help to bring them to a deeper place within.
    If you understand how to create an “active” pose, you will begin to open the channels for greater energy flow, and the student is going to feel the difference no matter what style they choose to practice!:)