Yoga in India: How the West got it Wrong
As I was staying in Bangalore last week, I asked my friend to find a yoga studio near my hotel. After taking a few horrible yoga classes in Chiang Mai and basically giving up on any exercise besides walking everywhere, I was more than excited for good yoga.
My friend found The Arts Village and we both went to yoga. When we arrived, there was already a woman doing advanced yoga. It made me a little worried. Hope this is not the advanced class - I haven’t exercised in a while and needed something simpler.
Other women walked in, and they each started doing their own thing. It didn’t seem like they even needed a class…
But as the teacher walked in, the format of the class became clearer. Instead of everyone doing the same yoga together as a class, everyone was working on what they needed to work on individually. The teacher was there to walk around, assess the postures, push the students, and potentially assign harder / more advanced postures.
He asked my yoga level, and I mentioned that I have done yoga before, but I’m a beginner. He then assigned different stretching exercises. However, for each exercise, he focused on the breathing. He mentioned when in the exercise to inhale and when to exhale.
At first, my breathing was super hard. I was trying to do things right. But then I relaxed, and let my exercise follow my breathing, not the other way around.
Suddenly, things made sense. Yoga is NOT a workout. It is a BREATHING EXERCISE. The stretches allowed my breath to reach different parts of my body.
I realized that if I can conquer the breathing technique, my body will follow. This was confirmed by the long-time students around me. These women were doing crazy advanced poses! Yet - they must have all started with the same simple exercises as me - just breathing and stretching.
The exercises were simple. The hardest were sun-salutations A & B at the end, which made me sweat. I was so sore from these the next day!
Yet, this amazing and invigorating yoga wouldn’t pass for an exercise class in most Western places I’ve taken yoga before. In the West, yoga is exercise. Some classes feel like you’re paying per pose - the goal is to do the most poses per class. Teachers push students to do more advanced poses that they’re ready for - for the challenge of it. In one Western-focused yoga class in Chiang Mai, the teacher finished three OMs at the end of the class before I could finish one…
I guess the good thing is that I now know what yoga is supposed to be. I can spot bad classes from good ones. And I’ll keep looking for the good ones. I remember one class in a retreat in New York. Two in Amsterdam. One in Spain. And I’ve found another one to try in Chiang Mai… I’ll keep looking as I travel. But if you ever have a chance to do real yoga in India - do it!