Let’s just start off by saying, this article isn’t going to be a hugely pessimistic debate about whether yoga has ‘lost its soul.’ It is going to look at the possible benefits and downfalls of the growing trend of yoga hybrids in the current yoga world today.
If you practice yoga, teach yoga, or even just dabble in yoga, chances are, you will have an opinion on the new ways in which yoga is merging itself with modern culture and seemingly irrelevant activities.
While some of these hybrid classes seem entirely at odds with the yoga that has been devoutly practiced in India for centuries, there may still be a silver lining shimmering behind the aerial swings and festival stages.
To start though, what is a yoga hybrid exactly?
A yoga hybrid is anything that merges the practice of yoga with another activity.
These hybrids have actually been around for quite a long time when you take into consideration the trend towards yoga-dance classes, yoga fitness classes and yoga-pilates classes. However these fusions have now advanced and accelerated to include yoga with goats, yoga with beer, aerial yoga, circus yoga, SUP yoga, yoga with dogs/cats, savasana and champagne, vino and vinyasa, yoga raves, hip hop yoga, yoga festivals and a host of other classes that merge the physical asana practice with these rather diverse and often contradictory sidekicks.
(Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve come across at least one of these yoga hybrid classes in your local area.)
Evidently, it is clear why these yoga hybrids have caused somewhat of a fuss in the yoga world and why serious practitioners and yoga purists claim these classes are diluting the essence of yoga and insulting what is essentially a very spiritual practice. While there is no denying these yoga hybrid classes are a large step (or hanuman-sized leap) away from the ancient yoga world, there is also a more positive view that suggest these classes still have their place in the modern yoga climate.
The Down Side:
Diluting an ancient spiritual practice
“In fact, spirituality and yoga are interlinked. You cannot take away spirituality from yoga and practice it. That will not be considered yoga at all… There is a dire need to revive classical yoga in its spiritual form, which I think is the authentic form of yoga.”
There are numerous accounts of how increasingly gimmicky the yoga world has become. Does practicing yoga with a farm animal or with a glass of shiraz help to still the fluctuations of the mind? Or does it simply make for a great Instagram moment?
Yoga has traditionally been synonymous with wisdom, devotion, dedication and respect for a lineage. It is easy to see how these values seem to have been diluted through modern yoga that focuses more on fitness, fun and frivolity.
As Sharath Jois states: “Unfortunately, the world over, yoga is being diluted under the garb of modern yoga. There is no such thing as modern yoga. Today, I see yoga being practiced in gyms, combined with aerobics, and in the Western world, it has taken a completely different form. The spiritual aspect of yoga is missing everywhere. In fact, spirituality and yoga are interlinked. You cannot take away spirituality from yoga and practice it. That will not be considered yoga at all… There is a dire need to revive classical yoga in its spiritual form, which I think is the authentic form of yoga.”
Many scholars speak of the insult that modern yoga is to the ancient practice. Not all that long ago, to become a teacher at all you had to study for many years under a yoga master and yoga lineage. It was the teacher who decided when you were ready to teach and this could take decades of committed physical practice, meditation and philosophical study.
The popularity of a yoga booty workout with live music, sporting images of young flexible women with Sanskrit tattoos and ‘Namaste Bitches’ t-shirts is clearly insulting to what has traditionally been a deeply prestigious and sacred way of life.
While this argument can be flushed out in various ways, the main argument against the rise of yoga hybrid classes is that they dilute the essence of yoga and ridicule the sacred yoga lineage. Essentially, the argument is that these classes shouldn’t fall under the umbrella of yoga, but need their own title, far removed from what ‘true’ yoga rightfully is.
The Bright Side:
Opening the yoga door
On the other side of the fence, there are several arguments in support of the yoga hybrid revolution. Many people state that these new classes are a way to encourage people from all walks of life to come to the yoga mat through a doorway that is less intimidating and a little more familiar and relaxed. While people may feel uncertain or apprehensive about attending a straight up yoga class, these popular fusions are a way for people to dip their toes into the yogic pool with a lighter approach. The yoga hybrids are seen to attract a diverse demographic from senior citizens to teenagers, young mothers to business executives, travelers to householders, yoga newbies to advanced yoga teachers.
Not only do these classes open the door to a yoga (or yoga-like) experience, they act as a bridge. We all come to yoga for different reasons, goals and aims. Even those attending more traditional studio classes may come to improve their fitness, reduce anxiety, improve flexibility, make new friends, and a host of other plausible reasons. Often times, the initial reason they came for changes over time.
No matter how or why we come to the mat, yoga has a persuasive way of luring us in and enticing us to seek more; more depth, more meaning, more connection. Yoga philosophy and the spiritual side of yoga usually isn’t the number one reason people come to practice. Yet as our physical practice deepens, our desire to learn more about the essence of yoga grows. Sharon Gannon, co-founder of the ultra-fashionable Jivamukti Yoga Center in Manhattan, states that while students appear for the physical aspects of the practice, “There’s more and more thirst for the more esoteric teachings.”
Our thirst for diversity & creativity
Just as yoga hybrid classes offer an invitation to newbies to the yoga scene, these classes are also a fun and challenging way for experienced yoga students and teachers to expand their skills, try something new, and build upon their existing practice. While the yoga raves and alcohol fueled classes are a little more about fun and socializing, classes such as aerial yoga and SUP yoga genuinely offer ways to advance your asana practice, create balance, challenge yourself, still your mind and try poses with the assistance of props that can actually be safer and more supportive.
When it comes down to it, yoga has been evolving for centuries. “Yoga has been reincarnated a hundred times already: Yoga has a history of at least 5,000 years, and in the course of that long history it has made many adaptations to changing social and cultural traditions,” says yoga scholar Georg Feuerstein, the author of The Yoga Tradition. The adaptability and fluidity of this practice have always been one of its greatest strengths.
Today, there are now there are more paths than ever before, and it’s up to each practitioner to decide what works for them. Yoga hybrids allow us to breathe new life into our yoga practice, to customize a practice that suits our needs and desires, and to establish our own unique relationship to yoga.
New opportunities for teachers
For yoga teachers, these yoga hybrids have dramatically increased the potential for additional opportunities and revenue streams. There are a host of yoga niche teacher trainings in the world now, (view our Top 10 Yoga Niche Teacher Trainings here), that allow teachers to branch out and become proficient in offering classes beyond Hatha, Ashtanga, or Vinyasa.
Aerial yoga studios are popping up all over the world. Yoga raves and festivals have gained unparalleled momentum. Yoga in the ocean, the forest, in tipis, in treehouses, in farms, on vineyards, in the desert, in airports… there are literally endless opportunities for teachers to branch out from the traditional studio and create something new and unique. Yoga and cooking classes, yoga and writing, yoga and essential oils, yoga and hiking, yoga and bubs… with no rule book in place, yoga is paving new pathways and teachers are stepping up to meet the need and demand for yoga in every arena.
The need for yoga
Let’s get real for a moment shall we? We live in a world where obesity levels are higher than ever before and cancer rates, diabetes, and heart disease are all on the rise. We live in a world where depression, anxiety and stress are part of daily life. Suicide levels are rising. Divorce rates are doubling. We feel isolated and alone. We are disconnected. Global warming is advancing and the oceans are a garbage pool of plastic and waste. Poverty levels are rising with growing financial disparity. I could go on, but let’s shift focus.
No matter how we come to yoga, it is a step in a positive direction. Yoga by nature helps to make us more aware, more present and more compassionate. It helps us to connect to ourselves on a deeper level, and with those around us. Yoga IS union. It helps us unite the seemingly separate parts of ourselves, as well as unite with the greater whole.
The yoga hybrids may be light hearted and completely unrecognizable to a more traditional approach to yoga. Yet the intentions are often the same- we want to feel better, we want to grow, we want to connect, we want to find ways to deal with the less-than-pleasant responsibilities of modern life. We want to find space, peace, happiness. These hybrids still ask us to connect to our breath, to consciously move our bodies, to let go of inhibitions; they invite us to go within. The true power of this practice is its ability to ground us in the present moment and connect us to who we truly are.
These classes all offer people a period of time away from computers, phones and technology. Often they are offered outside and in nature. They are a much needed way to disconnect from our often sedentary, tech-driven lives. Let’s face it- we NEED yoga, in all of its forms and hybrids. The more opportunities available to get people to the mat (or otherwise), can only have positive ramifications for the individual and the world. So maybe instead of frowning upon the yoga hybirds, we need to celebrate the sheer influx and predominance of yoga in the world.
Yoga will transform us, whether we intend for it to or not- it will affect the way we think, the way we treat others, what we eat, what businesses we support, what products we consume, what politician we vote for. With 12 million people practicing yoga, that’s a great deal of transformation power.
The final word…
If a yoga hybrid class isn’t for you, that’s ok too- there is still an overwhelming amount of more ‘authentic’ yoga classes available offered by well trained, passionate and dedicated teachers. In the modern world, where yoga greets us everywhere from flashy billboards to inflight airline meditations, it is up to us to develop our relationship with yoga. Whether that includes beer, goats, glitter or blindfolds, is entirely up to you.
Where do you stand in the conversation of yoga hybrids? Leave your comment below. Let’s start a discussion!