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Is yoga becoming a carnival?

It’s Leeds West Indian Carnival this weekend – a whirling twirling celebration of the colours, costumes, flavours, sounds and energy of Caribbean culture. I’m looking forward to watching the parade through Chapeltown with my son G, dancing to the rhythm of the steel pan music, eating jerk chicken and just immersing myself in the atmosphere.

I’m very creative and explorative in the Yoga I teach and practice, and I wouldn’t want to change that, but I only got to this place of embodied practice through my initial learnings from my teachers in the UK, Europe and Krishnamacharya in India and through years of practice. In the same way as the Carnival is a joyful interpretation of the very essence of West Indian culture (with African and French influences, of course), when I play and explore within my own practice, body and with what I teach, I’m always mindful of the roots of the yogic tradition which is thousands of years old.

Throughout time, Yoga has been constantly changing and evolving. It’s been influenced by many religions, cultures and philosophies including Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Buddhism, British athleticism and the New Age Movement. It’s still evolving and changing to suit modern society and our way of life, but is it really going in the right direction?

Did you see Mahny and her Maltese terrier Robbie demonstrating Doga (dog yoga!) on Britain’s Got Talent recently? Is it really possible to breathe and connect with your inner self while worrying about whether your dog will behave – and not cock his leg? And you can now attend Kitten Yoga and Goat Yoga classes too. Goat yoga is being promoted as having many therapeutic benefits, it claims to help people in extraordinary ways and make people SMILE! Inviting people to disconnect from the day to day stress, sickness and depression and focus on positive and happy vibes. Whilst I love a good dose of positive happy vibes, I think we need to ensure that we have a balance in our lives and give ourselves time to be with and feel all of the feelings that we experience in our own bodies; the happy pleasurable ones and the painful sensitive ones too. If we distract ourselves from the sensations that we are experiencing in our bodies and in our lives in the moment and don’t give our attention to our internal landscape when needed in the present moment then we run the risk of continually repressing these strong feelings, emotions and sensations which may well then manifest as tension and pain in the body.

In this day and age, are dogs, kittens or goats really necessary for us to be able to disconnect from the stresses and strains of day to day life while practicing Yoga, or are they just another distraction that adds to our sensory overload, even though I’m sure they do make us smile. Are we taking the multitasking we practice Yoga to get away from back onto our mat with us and overcomplicating our Yoga practice too when the beauty of it in its rawest form is its simplicity and accessibility? Body, Mat, Breathe, Move… you don’t even need a mat and you can do it outside or in.

As for BierYoga, a recent German phenomenon, while some may say that beer and yoga are both ‘centuries old therapies for body, mind and soul’, the combination may be less than the sum of the parts. While alcohol may help suppress the linear left brain, a shot of tequila is not going to free the mind to ‘experience the exquisite nature of their deeper physical form free from the tyranny of thought’ a claim made about Tequila Yoga classes. I’m not averse to the odd tipple but I definitely think the booze should be for after class and as for beer drinking being a ‘therapy’ and tequila being necessary to eliminate the mind monkeys, I’m not so sure. If we needed alcohol to clear our minds and get deeper into our bodies wouldn’t that just create another dependency outside of ourselves?

That said, if you do fancy a (post-yoga) glass of fine wine, a luxurious Yoga experience and a few days away in beautiful surroundings, together with Angela Sykes I’ll be running a Luxury Yoga and Hygge Escape in November.

And then there’s SUP Yoga, that’s Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga to give it it’s full title, where your balance will be tested to the max otherwise you’ll end up in the water. Obviously more popular in the Med than Yorkshire, it’s said to be a great way to connect with nature, but so is simply practising Yoga in a forest, on a beach or in your garden. Is the added complication of a paddleboard really necessary? It sounds like a fun sport but is it really Yoga?

And that brings me back to where we started, Leeds West Indian Carnival. It’s founded on the culture and history of the West Indies but do these carnivalised styles of Yoga really have their roots in the yogic tradition? There are eight limbs to Yoga and the poses or asanas are just one of those eight limbs. Many of these new styles of ‘yoga’ seem to put lots of focus on just the physical asana practice with an added gimmick – tequila, beer, kittens, goats, paddleboards or whatever. By practicing just one or two of the limbs of Yoga, we are not fully practicing Yoga, and by adding a gimmick are we making a mockery of what Yoga really is?

At the end of last year, I was asked about the ‘new fangled’ forms of Yoga by The Telegraph. I explained when Yoga is not Yoga and suggested that many of the new styles of Yoga that are just based on the physical do not allow one of Yoga’s most profound effects to emerge: the rebalancing of the nervous system. Yoga is about activating the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for rest and digest, but when we concentrate on pushing our bodies to the limits doing just physical poses we take our bodies into fight or flight mode, releasing adrenaline, and this isn’t what Yoga is meant to do to the body (it should be taking us to a space where our body, mind and spirit are united). In my opinion, people who are doing this aren’t doing Yoga, they’re just doing something that’s labelled as Yoga.

But what do you think?

Do you feel that Yoga should be made more social and turned into a circus? Is it such a bad thing if ‘yoga’ gets people together and gets them moving? Is that what our modern society needs? Or should we be honouring the roots of Yoga, our teachers and lineages?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, please let me know at lara@all-woman.co.uk.

Lara Heppell

About Lara Heppell

I use the incredible healing, calming, strengthening and restorative power of yoga to help you find the balance you need, no matter what stage of life you’re at. I couple this with Mizan massage, belly binding, birth preparation and doula services to support you as needed.

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