The End of Yoga (As You Know It)
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because these new-school gurus are ready to replace “om” with hip-hop and electronica.
By Brenda Strohmaier
As official yoga teacher of Germany’s World Cup champion soccer team, Patrick Broome is kind of a rock star in the sweaty world of fitness. His efforts make international headlines, and the players post selfies from his mats. Now Broome is at the center of another small cultural revolution: “dogma-free” yoga.
Forget the new-age gurus and ancient Indian wisdom. In studios throughout Germany and around the world, yoga teachers are skipping the mantras and encouraging their students to do the same. Dogma-free yoga, which the 45-year-old Broome practices at his recently opened Munich studio, has a certain appeal to people who don’t necessarily wish to do Vedic-inspired chants while they’re dripping in sweat, upside down, in downward dog. In other words, whatever works physically — forget about spiritually — goes.
The efforts by Broome and others to dispense with oms comes at a time when the yoga movement is in a sort of transition. It’s taken off around the world, but some schools have gotten blowback on everything from injuries to scandals. The death of B.K.S. Iyengar in August signified the loss of one of the most influential scholars in modern yoga, while his equally high-ranking colleague Sri K. Pattabhi Jois died just five years earlier. All told, while more than 3 percent of Germany’s population — or around 2.6 million people — currently practices yoga, 9.6 million say they have at some point but no longer do, according to data collected by the Society for Consumer Research for the Professional Association of Yoga Teachers (BDY).
Frankly, some people just want a yoga-sculpted butt — without having to change their belief systems or chant awkwardly in class.
Yet yoga retains its allure, at least in theory. Millions of Germans, and plenty of citizens of other countries, are considering taking up yoga in the next year, survey data shows. It’s partly for them that Broome is staging somewhat of a revolt. About 15 years ago, he brought one of the most globally successful styles of yoga — Jivamukti, which features dynamic moves and a vegan mission — to Germany. Over time, he grew a studio but more recently became frustrated with Jivamukti’s founders, Sharon Gannon and David Life. “They used to be radical punks who rocked the yoga scene,” says Broome. “Now they cater to a childish longing for a strong redeemer.” (Gannon and Life did not respond to a request for a comment.)
Now Broome plans to include a series of poses in Jivamukti tradition — without their accompanying moral sermons — in his old yoga studio, which he will continue to run, as well as in a new one. He also wants to borrow from other styles of yoga and involve teachers from other systems. While it means he’ll no longer hold the official Jivamukti imprimatur, Broome says it’s time to break “this franchise and labeling of yoga. Whatever works is good.”
None of this may sound particularly outrageous to those who have no clue what a Vinyasa Flow is, but it does mark a major shift in this industry. For decades, yoga has been characterized by authority figures with a sense of mission and students with a longing for spiritual leadership. But there have also been a number of high-profile scandals, from accusations of inappropriate groping and massage sessions to more serious allegations of sexual misconduct. And, frankly, some people just want a yoga-sculpted butt — without having to change their belief systems or chant awkwardly in class. So establishing new approaches to yoga has its appeal over sticking to the teachings of a single disgraced practice. Even BDY, the teachers association that has been organized across traditions since it was founded in 1967, recognizes that the industry is becoming more flexible. “We see many teachers today combining the elements which have proven successful for them,” says BDY’s chairwoman, Angelika Beßler.
What’s a monkey god got to do with it?
Young-Ho Kim, founder of Franfurt studio Inside Yoga
Of course, strict traditionalists accuse newer “gurus” of ruining the yogic heritage with feel-good adventure yoga. (This is somewhat ironic, some might say, considering that body-focused yoga is a relatively new interpretation.) Still, mashing up moves on the mat isn’t for everybody, and the advantage of having orderly divisions with certain ideological approaches helps practitioners know what to expect from specific studios. And it could just be a matter of time before one of these new-school founders becomes a guru-like figure.
Take 38-year-old Young-Ho Kim, for instance. Kim, who moved to Germany from South Korea when he was a teenager and founded the studio Inside Yoga in Frankfurt in 2007, pieced together his own style of yoga. Defense positions from martial arts are as much a part of his version as dynamic Ashtanga moves and the alignment principles of Anusara. Meanwhile, he has banned any images of idols or gurus from the studio — “What’s a monkey god got to do with it?” he asks, referencing the Hindu deity known as Hanuman. And don’t expect to hear “om” in his studio either. (“First, someone should prove that it’s an elemental sound,” he quips.) Instead, Kim’s lessons are accompanied by electronic and hip-hop music. Starting next year he also plans to offer Aerial yoga, a method that uses an artistic cloth that hangs from the ceiling and sounds like a lesson borrowed from a Cirque du Soleil training manual.
So who influenced Kim’s yogic journey? He avoids answering directly and instead says, “I don’t think much of name-dropping, nor of worshipping the ashes of our ancestors. Tradition is good but you must not trust it blindly, as is taught in Asian cultures. I prefer to ask a lot of questions and experiment.” Whether anyone else agrees with this kind of approach, of course, remains to be seen.
- Brenda Strohmaier, OZY Author Contact Brenda Strohmaier