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Critics Corner: Mat, Block and Bolster

by John Weddepohl November, 2015


I was recently at an international festival listening to a PhD speaker giving a lecture about the Truth; (1) according to Tantra, (2) according to Christianity, (3) according to Buddhism, (4) according to Vedanta…..

Eventually tired of waiting for the plane to land, I asked:

“Sir, please, can you tell us the Truth?”

“What do you mean?” he asked, “Do you mean the Truth according to Buddhism? The Truth according to Vedanta, Mimamsa, the Truth according to Christianity?”

“No, no sir” I said “Please, you have obviously been studying a long time, so tell us what is the Truth?”

The room fell silent for a moment before breaking into laughter.

Beginning to stutter, each word coming out of the PhD’s mouth collided with the next. His embarrassment was palpable. Watching his career about to tank, I said “Mithya – it’s all mithya isn’t it?”
In his defense, the PhD grabbed the word mithya and fell on it like a sword.

Mithya is a very powerful and beautiful word, which means - something is real only as long as we see it as real. Ultimately this applies as much to a small flower as it does to the whole of creation and our existence in it.

Whether or not the Truth of being a human exists or not, may or may not interest you.
But what if your life depends on knowing the Truth?

For the PhD unable to answer, his ignorance is very real for him. Like a lingering black cloud, it will keep shadowing him until he either learns the Truth or dies trying.

For the sastris and pandits (PhD’s of yoga and spirituality) mostly only the words of the texts are real, for them the knowledge and the Truth that the texts discuss has yet to become real.

Which brings us to yoga in the 21st century. Over 30 million people practice yoga across the globe today. Just like the PhD who takes simply the words of sacred texts to be real, the masses doing yoga take Asanas, the yoga postures, to be Yoga.

Yet, Yoga was never simply a practice and has never been just a stretching exercise.
To think so is a mistake.

Yoga Alliance of America (YAA)

Yoga Cat

Thinking that simple asanas are Yoga is a mistake that has proliferated as thousands of different styles in teacher trainings worldwide. Thousands, maybe millions, live under the misguided notion that they are yogis and what they are doing and teaching is Yoga. This arguably comes down to one organization: Yoga Alliance of America (YAA).

With more teachers than required for the numbers of students in the world, the self-appointed body for Yoga, YAA - itself with no affiliation or connection to the roots of Yoga or its origins, is responsible for upholding standards and certifying this mistake.

That the YAA, the Yoga Journal magazine (whose stock is owned by a Wall street listed company), as well as the other self-appointed bodies in the world (also with no affiliation to Yoga’s origins) are seen as the authority on Yoga, throws a huge question mark over the whole Modern Postural Yoga (MPY) movement worldwide.

This raises the question. Is the $2000.00 YAA yoga teacher training certificate even worth the paper it is written on?

Epistemic violence: ‘The power of culture and culture of power’

YAA certified teacher trainings are the primary source of revenue for MPY studios and many ashrams. Offered in gyms, church and community halls, exotic islands and MPY studios around the globe, the YAA-approved MPY certificate has become the currency of the modern MPY teacher and his or her organization.

Mention the word ‘yoga’ in traditional circles in India and people want to vomit. Seen as a vulgarity, you would think you had just uttered a swear word. (After all ‘yoga’ is a four-letter word.)

Epistemic violence is weaponizing the knowledge and culture of another in order to maintain, manipulate and gain power and control over the other.

In the West, we are busy violating Yoga as a culture, thus turning it into just another of our commodities. We do this by transferring and superimposing our Western cultural bias of ideas, beliefs and needs onto Yoga, all without first considering or understanding what Yoga is.

MPY is all about ‘The power of yoga, and yoga of power’. This notion has become a powerful tool, which in the wrong hands, can easily be used to control and manipulate.

MPY - YAA’s blind spot

Blind Leading the Blind

Under the YAA approval, the Yoga Journal marketing, and the Western academia influence, MPY has become just another blindfold, and another blind spot.

Rather than challenging our perceptions, beliefs and ideas, MPY has become another way of comforting and hugging ourselves. A new way of reinventing, reaffirming and asserting ourselves as individuals. Further perpetuating the idea of individualization that is synonymous with Western culture. Under YAA, MPY has become another cave for our egos to hang out in.

‘Success’ in Yoga has always been achieved through sadhana. Success in Western MPY or selfie yoga is all about numbers. The number of hours one teaches, hours spent training, the number of classes taught and a number of students you attract, teacher trainings you taught or completed in a year, and a number of followers you have on Instagram and Facebook.

It is questionable if the selfie yogi or MPY teacher even knows the word sadhana, let alone what it means to succeed in sadhana without Google- ing these meanings.

Finally, MPY is all about the number reflected in your selfie yogi’s bank account.

The dream: Being a successful MPY teacher

MPY is all about ‘I’ - the individual and being ‘I’ obsessed. MPY tends towards pure narcissism, the opposite of Yoga.

Under YAA, MPY has monetised the student. Seeing students as currency, the MPY studio or ashram brands the naive student, while bragging about the number of students or followers they have at their events. Meanwhile, the willing and eager student, often having hit a crisis in their life, is coming to yoga for some healing – and gets nothing. The student who is rebounding from the deep stress or trauma of a broken marriage or relationship, or a burn-out from corporate life, gets stalked by the institutions of MPY and talked into teacher training.

Lured onto teacher trainings, enticed by the sparkle and dazzle of MPY, thinking that fame and fortune are success in Yoga.

Yoga Madness

image credit

Students receive a new identity by ticking off the number of hours required by YAA and completing the training. But they still get no yogam.

Hanging out at the MPY studio or ashram doing seva, (karma yoga or unpaid labour) students do menial jobs such as cutting veg and cleaning toilets, operating the studio reception desk, leading cold canvasing, or marketing trainings and events.

Student teachers either teach till they drop or market themselves, depending on how savvy they are at social media.

Achieving high numbers of followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, gives the MPY or selfie yogi a huge following, possibly even brand ambassador opportunities for the likes of Lululemon, Nike, Adidas and DharmaBums. Featured on magazines and in social media, not knowing any better, they honestly believe they have reached success in yoga.

Getting into a headstand or posing in shopfronts and commercials promoting MPY products is not success in yoga.

Most new YAA student teachers say their practice stops the moment they graduate and get their YAA certified teacher certificate.

In the end MPY and YAA wins at the expense of the students and to the cost of Yoga in general.

Because of its huge popularity, to even question MPY becomes difficult and even dangerous in some cases.

The miracle of MPY is not the millions doing it. Staking their claim to MPY, teachers have named MPY in so many different ways, that it is a miracle anyone can remember the style of MPY they’re doing.

Naming and branding MPY didn’t start in the West. Patanjali was the first to have his name associated with yoga. Then Krishnamacharya, Jois, Iyengar and all the rest. Yoga as knowledge and as culture existed before Patanjali, and will continue long after we are all through with it.

It is the right of the student to be ignorant. We have no choice. Wanting to further our education, having enjoyed some of yoga’s real benefits, we take the popularity of MPY institutions as our guide. With no other option, we go the YAA and MPY route only to find that a yoga mafia is often hiding behind the warm smile and “namaste” of the MPY studio, or a sexual predator is cloaked beneath the robe of a swami.

A Yoga Studio

Yoga vs MPY

Teachers in the West have little option but to resort to capitalism and rely on consumerism, as the West lacks the culture to support teachers and honor the tradition of teaching.

Try having a decent business in the West running on contributions. You won’t last a week.

And here’s the catch-22: the more it costs us as consumers, the more we value it. Invitation-only retreats with a leading MPY teacher, costing thousands of US Dollars, are not uncommon.

While the MPY studio in the West struggles to maintain market share, India’s big cities like Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai, are climbing onboard fast making a feast out of dotcom yoga.

YAA and MPY sends the wrong message and confuses everyone. Confusing yoga with capitalism, YAA and MPY are the very opposite of yoga.

Arrogating ownership of Yoga, MPY under YAA was always destined to find itself in the shadow of a huge Himalayan giant. Yoga is nothing more than the knowledge of the Self, the Absolute, shining as brightly as a million suns.

Under YAA, MPY should stop trying to be what it’s not - it should stop using the word Yoga when it is not in fact Yoga. YAA and MPY should drop the ‘yoga’ word and call themselves something else. That’s all.



The word Yoga denotes oneness, union.

There being only Creation – one without a second - means oneness is the very nature of existence. Already one; inseparably united with creation whether we like it or not, yoga is here to remind us of this.

Traditionally the simple example of a clay pot or wave in the ocean is given to describe yoga. Just like the wave can never be separate from ocean and pot can never be separated from the clay, so the human being can never be separate from its true nature. Not rocket science.

Said to derive from the root word yuj meaning ‘unite’, like the yoke unites and yokes the oxen to the wagon, yogabhyasa (yoga as exercise) reunites the practitioner with the truth they already are.

Not by changing the type of food we eat, or the type of yoga or meditation we practice, that we become complete. Already the clay, already the ocean, already whole and complete - we just don’t know it. All that has to happen is that someone who knows this points it out to us. That has always been a teacher’s role.

Trying to share what I don’t have with others is impossible.
Sharing what I have in abundance is easy, effortless.

Imagine owning all the money in the world. How difficult would it be to share with others?

Peace doesn’t appear just because you step on and off a mat.

Abundance being the very nature of existence, means that peace in abundance is everywhere.

There being nothing but peace, nothing but happiness, nothing but abundance; (ocean/clay) knowing this, knowing the nature of happiness anandam, sharing with others becomes effortless.

The person knowing this is a yogi.

In the search for happiness, knowing the One searching, the search is over.

This is the meaning of Yoga. The journey having begun with you, also ends in you.

By its very nature, Self - Atman, not being relative in any way, being That to which all relates, means in order to know ourselves, a non-relative means of knowledge is needed. This has always been the teacher.

The moment the teacher is finished teaching you, the role of teacher dies. And you are no longer a student.

John Weddepohl

by John Weddepohl

November, 2015

About John Weddepohl

John Weddepohl opened his first Yoga studio in downtown Johannesburg in 1969. Under the apartheid government ruling South Africa, it wasn’t long before the studio was shut down by the authorities and he needed a job. A musician from the age of seven, John found success as a singer, music composer and music director both at home in South Africa and abroad. With the release of Nelson Mandela from prison sanctions barring South Africans from India were finally lifted. Wanting questions answered, he travelled to India in 2004 where he lived as a western साधु sadhu.

Travelling north, south, east and west, living with sampradayas and paramparas, John finally met his master and received his education in परा विद्या Para Vidya. Told by his teacher to go out and teach John combines traditional Indian practices for health and longevity and Vedanta and calls what he teaches इष्टम् ISHTAM.

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