Just another exercise tape

The term “yoga” is not an accurate depiction of modern American classes.

Meghan O'Connor


Over the past few months, my days and weeks have been scheduled around when I can get to yoga class. I look forward to it all day, and when I get back from class I just want to go again.

I have to admit: I’m addicted.

And just as with any new obsession, I throw my whole self into it. If you were to check out my tab of bookmarks saved on my laptop, you would see page after page of yoga journals, articles on the yoga practice and the key to a successful yoga practice.

Last week, when I was surfing the Web to get my daily yoga article fix, I stumbled upon an article comparing modern yoga to traditional yoga. I was shocked to discover how exploitative American culture has been in its usage of the word “yoga.” This led me to question my own yoga experience and to believe that the creation of the “yoga industry” here in the U.S. has been a disservice to the traditional yoga practice in ancient India.

America has taken the philosophy of yoga from ancient India and rerouted it to become just another exercise routine in the billion-dollar fitness industry.

Today, we believe that the word “yoga” is relative to positions and postures and that the goal of yoga is to provide physical fitness. People’s imaginations may roam to 110-degree rooms with people balancing on their heads. However, traditional yoga was grounded in the spiritual component, and the physical component was an added benefit.

According to Funk and Wagnall’s New Encyclopedia, “Yoga affirms the doctrine that through the practice of certain disciplines one may achieve liberation from the limitations of flesh, the delusions of sense and the pitfalls of thought and thus attain union with the object of knowledge.”

Yoga is more than just another sweaty trip to the gym. Yoga is a way for a person to become more attune to their surroundings and more at peace with one’s self: It is a lifestyle.

Yet, in losing the conventional purpose of yoga and its foothold in Hindu philosophy, we have distorted the practice and made it into another set of exercise DVDs for our purchasing pleasure.

Yoga is a journey of sorts and requires a strong commitment that can’t be found in your living room in 20 minutes twice a week.

Over the past few decades, there has been the invention of the “yoga mat.” The creation of this mat has led to the idea that yoga is to be practiced “on” it. Yet, traditional yoga is to be practiced on hard earth as a way to connect oneself with the land without having anything between your body and the earth. Now, you would be hard pressed to find a studio that doesn’t require its students to use a mat.

Fitness clothing companies including Nike, Lululemon  and Athleta now have exclusive yoga clothing lines. Even celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow has jumped on the yoga bandwagon and will be releasing collections of yoga wear sometime this year.

The ancient tradition of authentic yoga has been set aside for the sake of commercialization to make a profit. In 2012, $27 billion was spent on yoga products in the U.S.; this is up from $5.7 billion in 2008. There’s now a business category called the “yoga industry.”

Yes, I know that I will continue to attend “yoga” classes offered at studios around campus. But I am now in an understanding that what I do five times a week isn’t yoga; it is merely the product of the “yoga industry” and just another way for me to stay fit.