I came to this country 10 years ago in 2004. The first time I walked into a yoga class in Los Angeles, I could barely recognize the practice. All the asanas had an English translation. There wasn’t any kind of pranayama or meditation. For that matter, any mention of the yamas and niyamas of the yoga. It was mostly a repetition of a few select asanas that one thought would give them a good workout. I returned home with the impression that yoga had been stripped of its spiritual component and just the physical practice remained. It then occurred to me that I must do something to make people aware that yoga is a comprehensive science of self realization and not just an exercise regiment. I never expected Americans to become clones of yogis in India. I recognized that the practice can differ in different cultures based on their customers, traditions and lifestyles. At the same time, I knew that it was still possible to honor the fundamental values of a yoga.
A decade has passed by and not much seems to have changed. There are definitely some pockets in the city that have started practicing meditation and chanting through kirtans. But if you drive just 10 miles east of Santa Monica, the story remains to be the same. I am told it is the same in many parts of US. I have often wondered why yoga practice in America has not transcended the physical, especially when it was introduced to the west more than a 100 years ago. Why are people not taking their practice to the next level? Especially when the practice of pranayama and dhyana (meditation) offer such tremendous physical, mental and spiritual benefits.
For millennia, wise men and women from different civilizations have told us that happiness is a state of the mind. Why did they not say that happiness is a state of the body? Yes, it is important to be in good physical condition for ones overall well-being. But where do you draw the line between the right amount of physical exercise before one can focus on mental and spiritual health? Yoga asanas were designed to keep the practitioner healthy enough so that they could meditate for longer periods of time. In fact, excessive practice of asana without incorporating the other aspects of yoga might even be detrimental to one health.
I started examining the reasons behind why yoga was relegated to just the physical. I identified a number of reasons, which I have shared with you in the documentary. While I was planning this movie, I wanted to make sure that this is not about the opinion of just one Indian immigrant. I wanted to get the collective opinion of some senior American yoga teachers in the Los Angeles area on this subject. Mind you that most of the people I interviewed for this documentary are yoga teachers and not just asana instructors. I was pleased to know that many Americans shared my opinions and that made it easier to make this documentary. Let’s hear from them about the future of yoga in America.