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Yoga Jumps the Shark

April 20, 2011

Image: Courtesy of Yoga Deck II by Olivia H. Miller and Nicole Kaufman

I took my first yoga class in June 2000 at the corporate gym inside CNN Center, just after I moved to Atlanta. Yoga seemed like a cosmopolitan sort of thing to do and very foreign to me, but at first I didn’t quite get what the fuss was about. It was just so-so and even though I didn’t feel terribly challenged, for some reason, I stuck with it. About eight months later, I signed up for a special lunchtime class on Valentine’s Day dealing with heart chakras. I was single, and that sounded like just the thing to avoiding downing a bottle of wine later that night solo while wearing a chocolate mustache, candy wrappers piled around me, not that I cared too much about occasions like that in the first place, but it could happen. At any rate, I knew my heart needed to be taken care of, and I couldn’t think of a more fitting place for it.

The best I can describe it is that I had some sort of spiritual experience during the class. I started to understand what yoga was about and why people are such devotees. Then, two weeks later, my dad died. I channeled my healing into yoga, and that is when I truly became hooked. Throughout the poses I moved through my grief—depression in the rabbit, anger in the breath of fire, denial in downward dog, bargaining during bird of paradise, and acceptance in eagle. Each day was different in what I felt and how I moved, but yoga, to be blunt, saved my life. It gave me the life I never thought I could have, one that strives for balance both on and off the mat.

So imagine my surprise when my private Prozac, my own special pill, becomes dare I say it, trendy. I’ve seen a rise in articles on the therapeutic theory—with everything from The New York Times running a great piece in February on fertility and the link with yoga as a stress reliever (you can read it here) to  Town & Country last year publishing an article titled “Prescription Yoga” (What? I read it while I was at the eye doctor.) about yoga as the cure all for whatever ails you. Yoga for anxiety, yoga for anger, yoga for anorexia (seriously), yoga for depression–why can’t it just be what it is? I realized more than a decade before Town & Country told me so that yoga is in fact my prescription; I need it like I need other things in my life to feel whole, and I can certainly tell when I haven’t had enough (my family will also vouch for that). But it’s frustrating to see this ancient practice broken down in a way that strips it of its original meaning. Are we so far gone in our fitness and quick-fix pill state to take something so basic, pure, and wonderful and turn it into a dumbed-down version that’s hardly recognizable? It just worries me that once the buzz factor of the practice dies down and the pendulum stops swinging which part of yoga will remain, the old or the new?