What is “Real Yoga”, Anyway?

Sep 13, 2021

Stephanie Bain, Body Alive Owner & Master Trainer

Stephanie is an ERYT-500 YACEP, ACE Certified Personal Trainer, ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor, ACE Certified Health Coach, Food Coach (Holistic Nutrition), Dance Teacher, Certified Dance Fitness Instructor, and Barre Instructor. She has led thousands of classes, as well as many trainings and certifications.

When I started yoga it was all static (unmoving poses that you held for a certain amount of time). And to say differently was to be accused of not doing “real yoga.” Which is a bit funny, because at its roots “yoga” had very little asana (postures), and was more a seated practice combined with breath work (pranayama), leading you to meditation (dhyana). Yoga was also a lifestyle of behavior, diet, and thought-culture embodying what was referred to as a “sattvic” life. Think- pleasant thoughts, relaxed activities, no fried food, meat, or alcohol, and a general sense of well-being.

As yoga became a more “Western” activity, it became more challenging and physical and this “non-judgmental” and supposedly non-competitive exercise became an enterprise in and of itself. Complete with merchandise, festivals, restaurants, and of course studios.

Sometimes when I hear someone comment that this kind of yoga isn’t the “real yoga,” I giggle wondering what Krishnamacharya would have thought if he could take a class in North America today. I’m sure he’d be a little surprised.

I actually like how yoga has taken on so many different shapes and forms. It allows people who would never have the chance to practice whether from financial difficulties, or location, or upbringing (perhaps the biases of family or religion), to sink their teeth into a piece of the yoga pie and start their own exploration. The Buddha had some good advice when he asked us to take the information given (the wisdom of others) and then go out and practice that advice and see if it was in fact right for us; to explore if it was our truth.

Yoga with wine, yoga for anger, yoga with headphones, yoga for dogs, hot yoga, laughter yoga – it’s all a way for people to discover themselves and explore the mat from their own authenticity. Music, no music, sweat, no sweat. Yoga was made to still the fluctuations of the mind and I can think of no better way to do that than by either making the body tired and/or experiencing joy. 

Pattabhi Jois (Ashtanga Guru) didn’t teach Hot Power Yoga, that’s very true. But, it should be noted that teachers who still hold a deep connection to Yoga’s Eastern Roots will often say that yoga itself is not enough for the body, and regular exercise is important for most in addition to asana (postures). 

One day, at a studio I managed, when I had first fallen in love with the practice a couple of decades ago I was having a stressful day. And my wrist hurt in a way that impeded my ability to practice and to hit my mat and blast out the Primary Series (Ashtanga) was all I wanted. And as I wailed away in the back office one of my teachers came in on his way to class. He had been teaching for a long time, and just to stand next to Vieslav was peace. One look at me and he knew what kind of day I had experienced, and what my Type A personality wanted to do. He told me, “Sometimes the best yoga, Stephanie, is to go home and have a glass of red wine in the bath.”

I grudgingly took his advice that day. But as I grew his words made more and more sense to me.

Yoga is what stills the mind. Yoga is what connects us to our loves, our hearts, our needs, our truth. If profanity yoga is what lets you get rid of stress and connect with like-minded people to live a better and more fulfilled life- is it any less yoga?

Maybe today we need the warm bath and the comfort of a friend; tomorrow a boot camp. Monday is a meditative practice, Tuesday is Barre and Wednesday is Hot Body Challenge. Life requires balance, and our exercise can support this principle. The best part? You get to decide what that looks like for you.

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