Our first day in Spain and we were thrilled to attend the Barcelona Yoga Conference. As Yogis in urban India we wanted to see how Yoga conferences in Europe would be. We were really happy to see a well-attended yet slightly underground/ alternative fest – it wasn’t so BIG that Yoga Companies were dominating it!! Which is how I like Yoga conferences to be – a space for small, brilliant yoga schools rather than the big Corporatey types.
The classes were plentiful and myriad in their representation of styles. And it was our first interaction with a little bit of Aero Yoga – which has caught the imagination of nouveau yogis (if I may coin that term!) The food stalls were good with interesting variety; and the tents selling yoga-products were resourceful. (Special mention for the Great Yoga Wall.)
What however is something I feel needs re-thinking in the modern global movement is the method of Kirtans. Kirtan is devotional group singing that elevates the entire participative audience to spiritual realms. However, I believe that Westerners should not have to strain themselves to sing Sanskrit hymns. Firstly, it is not intrinsic to the audience’s culture at all – which makes it difficult to really ‘feel’ for the hymns – which is absolutely essential in Bhakti Yoga. And secondly, at a more technical level, the correct Sanskrit pronunciations (which are difficult for modern Indians as well) are essential for the power of the words to resonate! I would imagine that the Kirtans should use spiritual/inspirational songs from the audience’s culture. Like ‘Amazing Grace’ for Americans or something similarly relevant in Spain. Right? Do let me know your views on this. It’s important because too many Kirtans end up being ‘faddish’ and non-inclusive for participants.
We also happened to meet an American Yoga Teacher living in Barca. As we interacted on the metro ride back into town – she shared how she was being torn between her Christian roots (which she loved) and her Yoga learning. In the course of that conversation I understood for the first time this divide that many modern yogis in the West are facing. A lot has been written recently about whether Yoga is a religion and whether it conflicts with Christianity. There may be no need to force the Indian cultural-spiritual ethos upon everyone who wants to practice it. Ganesha need not occupy your consciousness suddenly – now that you have enrolled in a yoga class!
I’m a Christian as well and have been a Yoga Teacher for 10 years. Never has there been any conflict. I’m grateful that my Guru taught us Yoga as a science – that we could draw from and use for our growth and NOT a rigid format that had to be followed and super-imposed upon the spiritual traditions one was brought up with! I hope you get my drift. Yes, Yoga is not just a physical discipline – it’s much more than that. It’s the perfect Physical-Mental-Spiritual practice and it has tremendous benefits for ANYONE – irrespective of if they want to enter the spiritual part and by keeping the practice simple initially, people eventually actually take to meditation. But sometimes the toughest thing is to keep it – SIMPLE!