Evolving Yoga

By Mark Stephens on Tue, 05/03/2016 - 07:13

While the reality of yoga history is that yoga has always evolved through the creative explorations and new experiences of those deeply into the practice, today there are tens of millions of people worldwide stepping onto yoga mats with some intention related to living a better life. On every continent, in nearly every culture, across the cycles of life and the patterns of gender, ethnicity, religion, and belief, we find people practicing yoga. In practicing yoga, people are making choices about their practice that are related to the other realities of their lives: where they are, their values, their immediate needs and goals. In the spirit of human endeavor to have greater clarity, meaning, and well-being in life, we find that people modify what they are learning from their teachers, books, and other sources. In some instances the modifications are designed to make the practice more accessible, as in the pioneering creativity of TiramulaiKrishnamacharya (who created Ashtanga Vinyasa as an original synthesis of various forms of physical culture) or that of his student, B. K. S. Iyengar, who has given us most of the world of yoga props. In many instances we find innovations that tap into the wells of insight found in other practices, including dance, acrobatics, gymnastics, and the martial arts, various religious rituals and observances, and forms that can make it difficult to discern any element of yoga. 


Whenever someone shows up in the practice, he or she is at least potentially contributing to the creative evolution of yoga practice. As teachers—in contrast to gurus—we might well best open ourselves to working with our students in a way that supports them in the ways they are evolving their own practice, even as we contribute to this expansive evolution through the ways we create class sequences, provide narrative overlays to those sequences, share insights, and bring in qualities that derive from multiple varied sources found in the world’s richly diverse cultures and in our own creative imaginations. While many on the fundamentalist paths will likely denounce such creativity as sacrilegious, it is likely that yoga will continue to evolve in myriad ways.