In the late spring of 2012 I was invited to offer a workshop presentation for the Certified Professional Trainers Network Conference in Toronto on BIM Power Yoga for Athletic Performance, along with teaching a certification program developed by Yoga for Athletes expert Caron Shepley called the CPTN Certified Yoga Specialist course. The crowd was quite large for my BIM Power Yoga for Athletic Performance workshop (around 50 participants) and included author Christine Felstead, who was later to publish ‘Yoga for Runners’ in 2013. I remember Christine and others coming up to me after our sweaty BIM Power Yoga session and asking questions.
In that 2012 workshop I taught a technique that is known as the ‘great lock’ or Maha Bandha in the yoga world. The technique involves applying three Bandhas or locks in the body, called Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha, and Jalandhara Bandha. Each lock corresponds to a diaphragm of the body; Mula Bandha relates to the pelvic diaphragm, Uddiyana Bandha relates to the respiratory diaphragm, and Jalandhara Bandha relates to the glottis of the throat. When all three locks in the body are engaged upon a complete exhalation and a ‘mock-inhalation’ is performed, a vacuum in the torso causes the contents of the abdomen from the pelvic floor upwards to be lifted. In the above photo I’m performing this technique that comes from the centuries old classic book by Yogi Swatmarama called the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
As I have been a speaker at the CPTN Conferences for several years now I was invited to a present another yoga workshop for the 2015 Certified Professional Trainers Network Conference in Toronto, along with teaching Caron’s CPTN Certified Yoga Specialist course. At this Conference I attended a workshop offered by Trista Zinn between my commitments to the Conference. I recognized what Zinn was teaching immediately, and I thought I may have recognized her from the 2012 Conference where I had taught the technique she was showing. Zinn was teaching a repackaged form of Maha Bandha she was calling Hypopressives, which was being touted as a ‘new’ method of developing pelvic floor strength I had to chuckle inside knowing this ‘new’ technique called Hypopressives was a yoga technique that dates back at least 600 years.
It has become a trend lately to take an established yoga technique and repackage it. Yoga has unique tools to offer therapeutic rehabilitation physically, emotionally, and mentally. These tools applied appropriately as an exercise prescription for health can be extremely effective.
Mindfulness meditation has recently become trendy for emotional healing. This ancient practice dates back to at least 1500 B.C.E. and is a fundamental part of yoga. Lately this form of meditation has been adopted by clinical psychologists to help patients with mental disorders.
Concentration exercises have been used in sports performance for several decades now. These concentration skills are a repackaged blend of yoga and autogenic training that German psychiatrist Johannes Heinrich Schultz (June 20, 1884 – September 19, 1970) made popular. I am even left to wonder if Schultz studied yoga concentration techniques at some point in his life. Any student of the philosophical Yoga Sutras would be hard pressed not to say, ‘been there, done that.’
Also trending is the reassembling of other exercise systems and calling them yoga. For instance Monkey Kung-fu martial arts stretch techniques have been repackaged as a form of Yoga. It was yoga contemporaries such as Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers and others that learned stretching techniques from Monkey Kung-fu expert Paulie Zink, and this came to be known as Yin Yoga. If you practice Yin Yoga you are actually practicing Kung-fu techniques. It is a whacky yoga world!
Then there are the blended exercise systems like Yogalates. The irony here is that Joseph Pilates studied yoga and there are inherent exercises within Pilates that are yoga techniques. So when it comes to Yogalates you may be left to wonder which came first the chicken or the egg?
Even the so-called ancient yoga ‘styles’ that lay claim to be thousands of years old are not what they seem. The truth about yoga ‘styles’ is they are all hybrids formulated in the late 1800’s and early to mid 1900’s in an era of physical culture where east met west in the world of exercise. The story is well documented in a book by Mark Singleton called ‘Yoga Body.’
All yoga ‘styles’ are hybrids. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga turns out to be a combination of British military calisthenics with gymnastics techniques and yoga posture practice. Many ‘styles are named after yogis that lived up until recently such as the Iyengar Yoga style, the Sivananda Yoga style, and the Kripalu Yoga style. Bikram Yoga known to many as ‘hot yoga’ was founded by Bikram Choudhury who is still very much active publicizing his yoga as the one true yoga. This seems a very biased viewpoint after considering the presentation of facts in the book ‘Yoga Body’ by Singleton.
So what do we take away from all this? My feeling is yoga posture practice and meditation techniques are open to interpretation, allowing yoga practice to be customized for the end user. Yoga teachers should not be shackled with dogma and force-feed students a one-size-fits-all approach to yoga. In the spirit of Asteya, which is the yoga concept on ‘non-stealing,’ those techniques taken from ancient yogic knowledge encapsulated in literature such as the Hatha Yoga Padapika should be footnoted, as you would any intellectual property, and more honesty in terms of ownership of yoga techniques is needed for proper transparency.