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The Next Evolution of Yoga in the U.S.

by Heather Indu Eilering

There has been a rise in excitement and enthusiasm during the past 10-plus years over the physical, mental and emotional benefits of practicing yoga. The number of yoga studios have tripled in local communities and namaste has become a household word. Practitioners are reaping the benefits of healthier bodies, calmer minds and more peaceful and joyful expressions in daily life.

However, as yoga would teach us, for every positive there is a negative. More people have reported experiencing injuries during yoga classes possibly due to inexperienced teachers, or simply because they pushed themselves too hard to get into that picture-perfect yoga pose.

Practitioners are finding that often their body simply can’t go deeper into the traditional poses they have been practicing. Those that are only exposed to the newer Western style of yoga based on flexibility and strength, and that find they are unable to physically perform the poses, often believe that a yoga practice is not meant for them. They completely miss out on receiving the amazing benefits available to everybody. So, where does that leave yoga?

For every trend there is a beginning, middle and end. Is yoga approaching the end of its tenure? Undoubtedly, Americans have only just begun exploring what yoga really is. We have viewed yoga through the lenses of our Western culture and thus adapted the practice to fit into that vision. The practice of asana (yoga postures) which is a fundamental aspect of Western yoga is, in reality, a miniscule aspect of how yoga was designed to be practiced. So, the question remains, where is yoga headed if it is going to survive in the West? To answer that, we must go back to the beginning and return to yoga’s roots in the East.

The beautiful thing about Eastern-based yoga practices are their accessibility to anybody. This means the inflexible and fragile can join the other 37 million Americans that practice yoga today to reclaim their health, vitality and even freedom. The core difference between Eastern and Western yogic philosophies is that the Eastern style is an ancient time-tested science, and Western is a modern take on only a small portion of the wisdom and tools that emerged from Eastern yoga.

To fly, a bird needs both wings working together. A yoga practice based just on the physical body may create an amazing yoga butt, but will not take the practitioner to the heights for which yoga was designed. The next generation of yoga in the West will not be a “one size fits all” system where everyone in the classroom is asked to do the same pose in the same way. We have unique bodies, unique life stories and unique personalities. Our yoga practice should reflect that and be designed in such a way as to work within our own unique nature, designed for their unique needs as an individual seeking more balance and fulfillment in life.

Eastern based systems of yoga that have matured from the one-size-fits-all model to an individualized personalized practice which meets the practitioner exactly where they are physically, mentally and emotionally are immerging in the U.S. What that means is a more natural yoga practice which demands a higher skill set from those teaching the class.

These practices have two things in common: an emphasis on meditation, and feeling and moving with one’s innate energetic intelligence. Modern day Eastern yogic practices use meditation as a tool to enter a calm state of mind which allows practitioners to access their natural energetic intelligence. Because the body and mind are connected, this is a simple yet sophisticated way to maintain balanced, healthy bodies while effortlessly stepping outside of fruitless programmed mental/emotional habits and behaviors, thereby allowing new and renewed solutions in life to effortlessly emerge.

Where physical flexibility ends, physical, mental and emotional balance and peace of mind begins. Western yoga will survive the ebb from the first wave of popularity if it matures and evolves by returning to its roots in the East. A yoga practitioner does not need to travel to India to receive the maximum benefits from the practice. They only need to be courageous enough to travel through the darkness of personal fears and limitations to the light present at core of their own being. Eastern based yoga practices provide a personalized and individualized passage to limitless awareness. The more an individual visits this calm and harmonious internal dwelling, the more they will see those qualities materialize in their everyday life.

Heather Indu Eilering is a senior yoga trainer for the Amrit Yoga Institute who will be bringing her love of yoga back to Santosha Yoga Studio, which she co-founded in 2006. She supports the continued education of the Eastern yoga traditions through a practice called Meditation in Motion. She will be leading a 10-Day Immersion for yoga practitioners ready for a natural progression in their practice, and a 20-Day Advanced Yoga training for registered teachers. For more information, visit HealingElementsForYou.com.