Yoga means sweating in Lululemon leggings to college students of the aughts. It meant learning to live without violence to downtown New Yorkers like Sharon Gannon and David Life in the 90s. It meant weird hippie mysticism to many in the 70s.
Ever since all of its stretchy-and-philosophical components arrived in the United States, teachers and students have been (and still are) shaping and evolving the ancient practice into the massive slice of American wellness culture it is today—with innumerable different styles, passionate practitioners from athletes to priestesses, controversies, and commercial products and studios galore.
Yoga Journal, the go-to magazine for those who bend and bow, has been around for a lot of those years. This year, the pub is celebrating its 40th anniversary (the first issue, below, debuted in May 1975), so we caught up with editor-in-chief Carin Gorrell to talk about yoga’s past and future poses. —Lisa Elaine Held
You’ve been doing lots of looking back at past issues this year. What are some things that stand out to you about how the practice and perception of it have changed since the 70s? I think one big thing is just that it seems to me there’s much more of a focus these days on asana—how to do the pose, what’s the right way…and not as much focus on the philosophy and sutras. Before, there’d be one or two poses in an issue and the rest was around philosophy and meditation and looking at the texts; now it’s almost all asana. Asana is just one of the eight limbs of yoga, but in a lot of ways it’s the most accessible, so I think that’s how people are finding their way into. I do feel like that’s starting to swing back in the other direction a little bit, though, as more people get past just that “entry phase” and get deeper into the practice.
Are there specific things you’ve been seeing that point to that? One thing is just what my readers are asking for. The number one thing people come to our website for is still poses. But when I survey readers, and where we have the opportunity to do deeper, longer pieces in the magazine, there, they’re asking for meditation and they’re asking for philosophy, and they’re asking for wisdom. They want more of a balance. In 2016, we’re introducing a new meditation column and a philosophy column.
Why do you think people may be craving more of that side of yoga? One thing is there’s been a big surge in the number of people going through yoga teacher trainings. The number of new practitioners is slowing down a little bit, but now the people that have come into yoga are going deeper, and trainings are not all about asana—it’s the sutras, it’s anatomy, philosophy. They’re asking, “how can I take this off the mat and live the principles in my life?”
That makes a lot of sense. Have you seen a change in which styles of yoga have been more popular over the years? I can’t necessarily track it through the decades, but I would say that vinyasa is more of a recent trend. Historically I think it was more Iyengar, more of that traditional track. What I’m seeing rising in popularity now is definitely the more restorative classes, like Yin. Part of that is because people are recognizing the greater benefits. There’s been a lot of research on what restorative can do for you beyond just stress relief. I’m also seeing a rise in the popularity of Kundalini...I think it’s really interesting and not necessarily what I would have anticipated.
Maybe a reaction to the it’s-all-about-sweat set. How do you feel about the crazy amount of commercialization around yoga in the past few years? Is it good or bad for yoga? Honestly, we get overwhelmed by the number of new products out there, and it’s hard to determine what’s good and what’s worth your dollars. And what’s so awesome about yoga is you really don’t need much to do it. It’s “have mat, will practice” pretty much. All the other stuff can be great and fun but is maybe not necessary. We hear all different opinions—some people really want to know what the best new yoga pant is and then some don’t, they just want to stick to the practice and be more traditional about it. I think it probably does get more people on the mat, though, and that’s a good thing.
For more information, visit yogajournal.com
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(Photos: Robert Caplin for Well+Good, Yoga Journal)