Yoga's return to dharma?

Updated: Jun 28

In 2019, my teacher's partner Michael wrote about how we were going to see an uncomfortable return to dharma (that which is right/true) in the coming period. And then 2020 came in with a bang!


Firstly we were given the unique situation of a pretty much worldwide lock down. Something that had never been witnessed before meant that many were shut away in their homes. For so many of us the result was boredom, which was actually being confronted with themselves. People started seeing their true nature, and it's not always pretty. What was needed to be healed was brought to the surface which can be an incredibly uncomfortable time. It is why there is predicted to be a huge rise in mental health difficulties as many begin the process of healing; part of a return to dharma.


Then we saw the truly horrific events in the U.S. It is so so truly horrible that George Floyd had to lose his life, and so many had to lose their lives before him in order for white people (including myself) to wake up to what was going on. As we take the long road to putting things right, this is also a return to dharma. The journey in this will be long, on an individual and a collective level.


So in yogaland we are also having to wake up to what so many have seen but maybe not done enough about. That is the fact that yoga is predominantly white, middle class, slim, able bodied....basically every privilege except male privilege (although I would argue that men still 'control' much of yoga and it is still far easier for men to reach a 'higher' status in yoga...that's a whole other blog). There is going to have to be so so much change in yoga to address this, and it will be a long road. We have to look to what has caused this primarily privileged yoga that we see in the west and will collectively need to do a lot of educating ourselves to shift this.


The following is a simplification to promote contemplation, and not an all encompassing solution.


One aspect I see is that yoga in the west is so dominated by the physical practice- āsana. Here is not the place to discuss the reasons for that, but one result has meant so much marketing based around just that- the physical. As soon as that occurs then we are potentially creating separation. 'I don't look like that', 'I can't do that pose' etc. When the depiction of yoga is that, you are always going to alienate somebody to some degree. ALWAYS.


So what do we do instead? Make it about the philosophy to gain knowledge-jñāna? If we are doing that then we may alienate those without the mental capacity to maybe understand complex teachings. But then those people may be able to partake in the physical practice perfectly fine. Or what about those who don't have the physical or mental capacities? Maybe they will be able to do some breathing exercises- prānāyāma- and find some benefit. What about if people cannot utilise and control their breath. Well there is bhakti or devotion. A prayer may be said in their thoughts, maybe they look longingly at a diety or yantra.


In other words, if we teach all aspects of yoga more evenly- if we return to the teachings- IF WE RETURN YOGA TO DHARMA- there can be something for literally everyone I believe. Or we address the equality and diversity issues found one by one...and over time, guess what? Yoga returns to the being the whole practice. The question then becomes, how do we get the practice for anybody, to everybody (who wants it). And this is where matters get more complex when yoga is a business. I'm not going there....just yet.


I am aware of my myriad of privileges, and I am not saying that returning yoga to a whole practice will solve all the equality and diversity problems within it. Each individual- studio owner, teacher and student- also needs to confront their privileges and do the work there. That is also actually part of the journey of yoga and returning to our true nature, to the Self.