yoga is not cool anymore ivory magazine

How yoga lost its cool

In Spirit by Ivory Magazine6 Comments

Yoga had its moment.  Sometime after the Madonna years when it was elevated from its Maharishi, bearded beginnings.  Today, in the years of social media and big business, The Beatles are all its got left.

Some teachers aren’t very yogic in nature.  Take the yoga teacher contestant on that intellectually stimulating show Love in the Wild.  ‘I’m extremely competitive’ she barked, climbing out of a pit of snakes.  Or my first ever teacher, whose pedestal put Bikram’s golden throne to shame and in typical way-of-the-yogi was transformed into godlike guru as she glided round class, presenting her gold nuggets of wisdom as if she’d excreted them herself.

How I looked up to her.  That is, until I took a job at my local health club where she would harass me about potential timetable changes, waggling her finger in anger.  By combined force and intimidation she held onto her two expensive weekly yoga sessions, each with roughly 5 regular attendees, and jetted off to the Bahamas for her annual retreat.  Then there was the saint I visited who charged £100 for her sacred, soiled bedsheets – but I digress.

Bikram Choudhury.  Thankfully even the most devout supporters have cottoned onto the fact that Bikram Yoga was most likely a cult, seeing it as the brainwashing fad its bizarre, law-breaking creator convinced them it wasn’t.  And yet there’s something about being shouted at in a stinking hot room with other competitive types that makes you high with ego, falling into the deepest backbend your poor, pressured spine can take.  Then there are the territorial vibes when the class begins to fill and the devout Bik-er next to you shoots a look as she squats dominantly on her mat.  That’s right bitch.  This is yoga.

Push ups and jump throughs, show-off scorpion arm balances that can snap a spine if slightly off centre.  The International Yoga competition.  Yes, much of today’s yoga is a testosterone-flaring, muscle-pumping masochists game.  And yes – some of us are more inclined to practise in this manner, the alphas amongst us with the mindset that suffering equals gain equals extra yoga points.  We push through postures straining towards suffocation.

One thing that made me laugh was the research presented by 21st century yoga-basher William Broad suggesting that cobra pose produced a huge spike in testosterone for its female practitioners.  50% in fact.  Any goddess who’s practised this pose, pressing their pelvis into the mat while squeezing their legs together might not find it strange that so much sex hormone is unleashed.  And yet, after a football match men’s testosterone increased by less than 30%.  It does make one wonder, just how yogic is this yoga we practise?

Little is known about the exact role of testosterone in women.  Some studies show levels change according to employment status and even the way we stand.  All studies suggest that testosterone increases competitiveness and risk taking making people more self-centered and less cooperative.  Any physical exercise will raise testosterone levels to some extent and whether this has any part to play in today’s backward, yoga merry-go-round, the fact is much of it is a very physical practice.

Modern yoga is a pathway to perfection that was invented during the fitness revolution of the early 20th century, owing more to martial arts and body-perfecting gymnastics than the spiritual mish-mash we have come to know today.  But the spiritual twist on this physical sport seems to have presented a critical problem.  For when spirituality is included in an activity it takes on a whole new meaning.  People start preaching, the needy start worshipping, and the power hungry start exploiting.

Perhaps more importantly, with the intense focus on turning inwards and honing the body and breath, the levels of self-absorption and narcissism can sky-rocket.  Like any spiritual organisation yoga can become cultish quickly, fuelled by a high school popularity mentality that many of us had ingrained from a young age – the mentality that true yoga is trying to quash.

By Gemma Rowbotham


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  1. Colmán

    I attend astanga yoga classes. The classes have had a very possitive impact on my life. My life is more healthy as a result and my fitness has improved. I am happy with astanga yoga as you sweat a healthy amount during the class and the focus is on controling your body and as a result controlling your own mind. I like doing yoga in a class as the other participants help to spur you on and you can refer to their technique when trying to develop your postures. Yoga suits me but as Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Lyengar points out in his book Light on Yoga – yoga is not for everyone.

  2. Adam Baker

    You know, this really resonates with me. Naively I entered into the world of home yoga as a spaced out teen looking for enlightenment and relaxation through meditation and stretching: that’s all I thought it was. For a considerable time I would lock the door on the world for extended periods of time in a dark room with a candle and my thoughts for company focusing on the light and the internal noise coming from the chatter of my mind, and I enjoyed the solitude and peace it brought to a hectic job and life. Fast forward a few years and I had not really done a lot of that.

    I was living in Sydney and was invited to do some yoga (I cannot remember the type) which was about holding extreme stretches and it was going to be “intense”. I thought “great!” I’ll try this out. As a newby to the group, and male, I was subjected to a form of hostility from the teacher (also male and stripped to his chiseled waist) which could only be perceived as bullying. He would then go on to show the class how to “really” do a specific move and would be a little over familiar with certain women in the group which was not appreciated, at least the looks on their faces spoke a multitude of words regarding his education. He would regale the class on who he met where whilst studying and gave the impression he had no more left to learn. He then would play his very expensive alabaster flute for us to relax and meditate to for 10 minutes at the end.

    Now, it may have been his obnoxious non spiritual behaviour but something switched me off to organised classes and I soon reverted back to my own space after dipping back into something I enjoyed a long time ago and began following practices found online. It was a rebirth I was not expecting and a happy return to what I enjoyed so much to start with. It is funny how life can surprise in ways such as this, it taught me something, I dont know what to call it but it was meant for something.


  3. Bijay Anand

    Beautifully & eloquently written article.

    From the core of yogic living and spiritual existence, yoga has been transformed into a circus with teachers self-appointing themselves as gurus and dressing, prancing around as such.

    I even had one gentleman who would peep into our Kundalini Yoga ttc in Rishikesh and while the 160 of us spent the next 6 months completing our projects, study materials and practicals to be certified to be able to teach, this hero simply shaved his head off, renamed himself as Bodhi no less and is now a self-appointed Guru.

    This is really NOT what yoga is about.

    In any case, a conman can only con those who are gullible and unwise.

    The wise choose their Gurus with more discernment.

    Sat Nam

  4. Grey Dove

    I’m delighted that my very limited experience with yoga in no way resembles any point raised in this article. (And that I did not read it before venturing into the experiment of trying some lessons.) I never was interested in a spiritual aspect, the method I happened on is one easily practiced at home (essential for my rural life), gentle, well explained and has considerably improved my physical wellbeing. It might be nice not to paint your damning prortrait in such wide sweeping strokes, completely obliterating the possibility of alternate practices and experiences. Yoga, the exercises at least, have helped many people gently and effectively strengthen their bodies and can be helpfully easier to practice by those with limited mobility, poor or variable health. (I fall into the last category and am so greatful to have discovered these stretches that do much more for me than more vigorous exercises (bicycling for example), and are much easier for me to do at least a few of, even on my worse days.) Just things to consider when publishing a critique.

    1. Author
      IVORY Magazine

      I truly hope yoga will change the world but we should we wary of the pitfalls preventing that from happening. Namaste! Gem x

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