What kind of a teacher are you when you can't respect the history of Yoga

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I remember my first yoga class vividly. The teacher used a lot of words that were not in English and I didn't understand what was being said. I followed along as best I could by doing what everyone else was doing. The more I came to class, the more I picked up some Sanskrit terms phonetically.

To my Western ears, Sanskrit sounds weird, strange, hard to pronounce and harder yet to spell properly. I rarely use Sanskrit terms when I'm leading class, because I found it distracting as a new student. In my opinion, using Sanskrit names for physical yoga poses is unnecessary and can over-complicate the physical practice. We heard the word "ujjayi" a lot in yoga but rarely does anyone explain WHY nostril breathing changes our body and our mind. Recently I read "Breath" by James Nestor which delves into the scientific evidence supporting the positive physical results from nostril breathing. Now I'm making nostril breathing a primary focus with the why to support it.

What this comment is in actuality is an attempt to shame me because I used the word weird with regard to the word ujjayi. Perhaps I should have chosen another word - strange? unusual? unfamiliar? These are all synonyms of the word "weird." I won't be shamed. I won't accept the judgement of this comment. I will get a little angry and write this blog post though...

What kind of yoga teacher am I? The kind that strives to simplify the practice for students to experience themselves. The kind that puts their classes online for free, unmonetized, just because. The kind that blogs about the journey from student to teacher. The kind that will research  the history of yoga to educate myself on the spiritual or secular origins of the physical practice. The kind that brings scientifically based evidence into the physical practice. The kind that resists deleting comments full of judgement and shame and instead uses them as educating moments (for me and for others).

Let's talk for a bit about the history of yoga. The yoga limb that I lead is one of but eight of the limbs of yoga as inscribed by Patanjali. The first record of asana (the physical practice of yoga) appears in the 15th century (1401-1500) in the book Hatha Yoga Pradipika. According to this article on ElephantJournal, "the earliest asana from the three major treatises of Hatha Yoga. More than half are seated. Tree is the only standing pose. There is no mention of sun salutations or inversions." We can trace the physical asana practice that we know today (Sun Salutations, Warrior poses and Headstand) to T. Krishnamacharya. This YogaJournal article reads:

"Thus began one of Krishnamacharya’s most fertile periods, during which he developed what is now known as Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. As Krishnamacharya’s pupils were primarily active young boys, he drew on many disciplines—including yoga, gymnastics, and Indian wrestling—to develop dynamically-performed asana sequences aimed at building physical fitness. This vinyasa style uses the movements of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) to lead into each asana and then out again. Each movement is coordinated with prescribed breathing and drishti, “gaze points” that focus the eyes and instill meditative concentration. Eventually, Krishnamacharya standardized the pose sequences into three series consisting of primary, intermediate, and advanced asanas. Students were grouped in order of experience and ability, memorizing and mastering each sequence before advancing to the next.

Though Krishnamacharya developed this manner of performing yoga during the 1930s, it remained virtually unknown in the West for almost 40 years. Recently, it’s become one of the most popular styles of yoga, mostly due to the work of one of Krishnamacharya’s most faithful and famous students, K. Pattabhi Jois."

Mark Singleton's book "Yoga Body" refers to the 1925 book "Primary Gymnastics" by the famed Danish Olympian coach Niel Bukh includes "at least 28 of the exercises in the first edition of Bukh’s manual are strikingly similar (often identical) to yoga postures occurring in Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga sequence or in Iyengar’s Light on Yoga.” So where did the physical practice of asana begin? Is it Scandinavian or Hindu? Matthew Anderson writes in this article:

"If nothing else, the question of what yoga is and where it came from is far more complex than people realize.  In fact, it’s so complex that yoga proponents haven’t quite figured it out.  The possibility of a “secularized” yoga simply for the purposes of health has some proponents decrying its commercialization and yearning for a return to its more spiritual roots.  Yet if Singleton’s thesis has any weight at all, then the “return” may not be as far back as advocates suggest, and yoga may have more to do with the secular west than they realize."

So best case scenario here: I received a shaming comment from an anonymous person on the Internet, I got steamed, did some research on the reverence required for the history of yoga and will probably never use the word "weird" in a yoga class again - but I can't promise that. I did learn about Mark Singleton and Niel Bukh and for that I'm grateful.