The popularity and commercialization of yoga has led to conflict among leaders of this spiritual practice, with those of the “old school” claiming that the new wave of practitioners are lacking in authenticity, reports the Wall Street Journal (June 23).
Yoga’s appeal has spread from its countercultural following after it was introduced in the U.S. in the 1950s to a mainstream popular fad driven by celebrities and, more recently, Madison Avenue. One result of this popularity has been conflict among leading yogis, who are celebrities in their own right.
Bikram Choudhury of Beverly Hills, who calls himself the “guru to the stars,” with initiates ranging from Richard Nixon to Magic Johnson, loudly denounces his colleagues. He says that “yoga is crucified in America.” His scorn is often directed at his protege Baron Baptiste, a Cambridge, Mass.-based yogi who created “power yoga,” which blends aerobic exercises with the spiritual practice. For his part, Baptiste claims that he is making yoga relevant to people who can’t join ashrams.
“The culture clash goes both ways. Just as yoga traditionalists deride the cell-phone crowd, mainstream devotees can easily get freaked out by yoga’s more mystical side,” writes Andrea Petersen. Mainstream practitioners are put off my the long hours of practice and chanting to the idols that the traditionalists practice. Still, Sivananda yoga, the original school imported to the U.S. in the 1950s, is among the largest yoga movements, with more than 31 centers and 12,000 teachers around the world.