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Smart Yoga Manifesto

What is “Smart” Yoga? And why have I waited this long to talk about it?

Well, mea culpa: I should have brought this up years ago. Frankly, I feared backlash from people who feared I was implying that a lot of the yoga out there is dumb.

Well, it is. And I’ll explain why. In the meantime, I’m old enough not to care if I get some hate mail. It’s more important that I share this public service announcement because dumb yoga can actually be dangerous.

And I’m happy to engage in smart conversation with anyone who opposes or endorses what I have to say, so please comment below!

So, here’s the idea: We have “smart” phones, smart cars, and now smart houses. All of these are constantly evolving to meet our needs better, faster, and more efficiently. They often anticipate our needs.

Take the phone. In the course of my lifetime, we’ve gone from the clumsy rotary phone, where you had to hook a finger in a hole and drag it around a circle seven times. This was happily supplanted by the touchtone phone, which required only a tap of the finger. Answering machines burst on the market just as my Ph.D. colleagues and I were entering the job market, allowing us to toil on our dissertations in the library rather than hover by our phones waiting for job interviews. Cordless phones made it possible to roam around the house, make dinner, or sun out on the patio while talking. And then of course we had the breakthrough technology of the first cell phones, which untethered us from geography. Today’s smartphones are not only mini-computers; they have spawned the explosion of apps that solve millions of problems we didn’t know we had, from fitness tracking to pandemic updates, gaming to social media to binge streaming.

Yoga relies on decades- and centuries-old techniques. And like any tradition, it’s only as good as its ability to adapt to today’s world. Arguably the biggest breakthrough in yoga technology in the 20th century was Indian teacher B.K.S. Iyengar’s application of Western anatomy to Indian yoga poses, which before then were based on internal energy flows. Knowledge of anatomy enabled Iyengar to adapt yoga poses, sometimes with the use of props like blocks and straps, to the wide range of body types that presented for his classes. This ensured safe and intelligent practice, including therapeutic benefits not otherwise achievable: Thinking, stretching hamstrings without straining the lower back, or doing headstands without overloading the neck.

Yoga also merged with Western social trends in the 1970s, when meditation, chanting, vegetarianism, and the ascetic ashram/communal lifestyle attracted disillusioned Americans seeking alternatives to the military-industrial complex and the gratuitous carnage of the Vietnam War. Peace and love, Hari Krishna, Krishna hari, Hari Rama, Rama Rama.

Starting in the 1990s, a more athletic, at times acrobatic yoga fed the Western obsession with physical fitness and the proliferation of offerings at upscale health clubs. Slightly later, yogic meditation, fueled by the quest to relieve the stresses of our plugged-in lives, received serious scientific study of its psycho-neurological benefits.

So the evidence is in: Yoga can be “smart”,  incorporating cutting-edge physiology and adapting to individual and broader societal needs.

Alas, there’s a major disconnect. Most students and far too many teachers are stuck in dumb yoga. Some practice or teach a one-size-fits-all yoga that pits most of us at war with our bodies, too often resulting in misery (dukkha) if not injury. Others of us have self-selected styles of yoga that suit our existing strengths, hanging out in comfort zones where no growth, no transformation occurs—meaning it’s not really yoga at all.

Stay tuned for upcoming blogs on how you can move from dumb to Smart Yoga. For now, which of these 10 Signs of Dumb Yoga apply to you? Leave a comment below so I can direct future posts to the hot spots.

DUMB YOGA: WARNING SIGNS

  1. You practice/teach fixed sequences that “apply” to everyone (Ashtanga, Bikram, Sivananda, Integral Yoga Institute, etc.).
  2. You’ve found your comfort zone, and have no desire to move.
  3. You always practice with the same teacher/level/class.
  4. Your teacher teaches rotary-phone yoga and says things like, “These poses are 5,000 years old”(—not!) or “The Yoga Sutras says,” or “My teacher always . . . .”
  5. You practice at home, with no supervision—yup, I know we had a pandemic, but there are still ways . . .
  6. “I got this!” You’re close-minded: No interest in conflicting or opposing options.
  7. You’re injured and on sabbatical until you heal or visit the OR.
  8. Your practice caused the injury.
  9. Pilates, barre classes, Gyrotonic are calling . . .
  10. You’ve decided yoga is not for you.

COMMENT HERE: Is your yoga just a tiny bit “dumb?” Mine was for years, and I still fight the urge to slip into what’s not so great for me. No judgment here—it’s just time for some honest convo fueled by the desire to keep yoga vital, relevant, and useful for all.

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