Yoga points towards the infinity that we contain and are contained by. Because it is ultimately fed by this well-spring, Yogic culture is vast, the array of practices employed by yogis is vast and the potentiality for future creative development in the field of Yoga is vast.
The ramifications of these simple truths are legion, not only for the pragmatic business of sharing Yoga, what we call ‘Yoga teaching’, ‘Yoga therapy’ and so on, but also for personal practice.
For instance, it is a nonsense to equate the yogic concern to actualise the infinity of human beings with the narrow project of fitting individuals to the needs of the economy which education has largely become in most modern cultures. Yet this is precisely what the ubiquity of the terms ‘Yoga Teacher’, ‘Yoga Class’, ‘and ‘Yoga Teacher Training’ implies and the novice attending a ‘Yoga Class’ can be forgiven for attempting to understand the proceedings in the light of her experiences in school.
And it is certainly the case in the UK that the transmission of Yoga is commonly seen as a sub- species of education. Not only the general public, but many of those who claim to transmit Yoga authoritatively are seduced by this incoherent view. Hence we have a large and venerable Yoga organisation seeking credibility from a government organisation whose main business is the accreditation of main-stream educational qualifications. We see Yoga schools seeking respectability by putting on ‘Yoga degrees’ in conjunction with universities whilst teachers and organisations clamour for ‘accreditation’ from whatever organisation seems to lend some credibility, even if that organisation has no expertise in the field of Yoga at all.
This short-sighted willingness to try and fit Yoga into the educational box, if it ever predominates, will only result in the propagation of a highly truncated version of Yoga and the attenuation of the good it can deliver to people. You simply cannot fit an elephant into a shoe box.
The way aspiring Yoga teachers are trained is widely determined by this syndrome and is tainted by its intrinsic narrowness. Hence the large number of essays certain courses require their acolytes to complete. Hence the obsession with lesson plans. Hence the GCSE-like written exams. It is as though Yoga training were simply an extension of school rather than a transformational personal enquiry of the utmost existential weight.
This criticism applies mutatis mutandis to the notions of ‘Yoga Therapy’ and ‘Yoga as fitness regime’. In the first case Yoga is conceived of as a sub-species of medicine, in the second case as a sub-species of modern body narcissism. In both cases the same conceptual contraction is seen and the same reflex to fall slavishly at the feet of any non-yogic body that just might lend some credibility.
It is exactly this same misunderstanding of Yoga which is behind the widespread call for ‘regulation’. The ‘making regular’ that is required for regulation to be operable would clearly require doing violence to the diversity of yogic culture and its innate tendency endlessly to produce unique expressions of the infinite.
In fact, this is what we see when regulation is attempted. Some truncated version of Yoga is put forward as its apogee and then an attempt is made to align it with some government initiative or department. This, if successful, would give the advocates of this contraction a market advantage and an ill-deserved credibility whilst side-lining those who cannot in conscience go along with such initiatives.
None of this is to say that Yoga does not have educational, therapeutic or health/fitness elements or that specialists in these elements shouldn’t share their speciality. However, none of these elements is ever anything but a part of Yoga and cannot cogently be construed as the whole or given a defining character.
It is sometimes claimed that the observation that Yoga by its very nature produces an infinite variety of expressions implies that ‘anything goes’. But this does not follow, either logically or actually. It is certainly not the case that the practices offered out under the rubric of ‘Yoga’ are equally cogent and effective and this can easily be verified simply by attending a range of ‘classes’. Nor is it the case that the field of Yoga, like any field of life, does not have its share of charlatans, exploiters and incompetents.
But neither of these latter problems can be successfully regulated out of the scene with any more efficiency than the common law already supplies. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the regulatory impulse will get marshalled by the least knowledgeable and least effective sector of the Yoga community resulting in the eventual control of the field by what amounts to ignorance. In fact, if regulation does come to pass, this is the most likely scenario because no one with anything vital and transformative to transmit is going to imagine that the Government or some agency of the corporations will be able to competently pass judgement on it. They will therefore avoid liaisons with such bodies. As for the second point, that regulation will protect the public, one has only to invoke the name of Harold Shipman to realise its vacuity. Medicine, the most regulated profession in the UK had the most prolific serial-murderer in UK history active and undetected amongst its ranks for quite a long time.
If any of this is cogent, it is incumbent on practised and devoted yogis to actively oppose regulation and the hegemony that that would give to sectarian factions within the Yoga community. This does not mean that an attempt should be made to silence those factions or to stop them sharing their particular shard of Yoga’s vastness. On the contrary, the teaching, therapeutic and cultural activities of those factions and the freedom of the public to participate in them should be defended.
But at the same time, no-one standing up and claiming to guide, help or teach others on the basis of Yoga should expect their offerings to escape the critical scrutiny of their fellow yogis. In fact this is inevitable given that everyone in Yoga thinks that what they do is the very best! At its worst this situation gives rise to carping [which is unreflective criticism]. Yet it is full of the potential to facilitate the deepening of everyone’s understanding, even the already enlightened idiots amongst us. This will only happen, as far as I can see, if the Yoga community at large whole-heartedly embraces the challenge of a culture of debate and a willingness to share perspectives and practices. This in turn requires a free and open field in which all voices can be raised. This is the condition for Yoga to circulate within the body politic to the greater good. Regulation is inimical to it.