Yoga: Alternative Lifestyle or Mainstream?

I was presenting at a yoga conference, gathering feedback from yoga teachers about the founding of Yoga Alliance, while serving as the founding President. One woman was concerned that the new Yoga Alliance would make yoga mainstream, “If yoga becomes mainstream, I’ll have to quit!”

I looked more closely at her. I could see that her intent in life was “to be different.” She did yoga for this purpose. Others do yoga so they will be happy. Others want to be pain-free, or stay young and beautiful forever. I was doing yoga because I wanted to be enlightened. I had spent years studying in-depth with an enlightened master, so I knew it was both real and possible. While you have your reasons for doing yoga, I’m sure you’ve noticed that yoga is becoming mainstream.

This is good news because every driver on their way home from a yoga class is a better driver. Every mother and father, after doing yoga, is a better parent. In spite of the political climate, I believe that more people doing yoga will make the world a better place. The United Nations agrees with me.

Only four years ago, the UN declared June 21 to be the “International Day of Yoga.” Celebrated around the world that year, we saw photos of 300 yogis in a class at the Eiffel Tower. Over 170 countries organized events. Images of yoga poses were projected on the outside of the UN building.

What a chance to celebrate the discipline that has given you so much! What a chance to share yoga with others! This is a great reason to party, even an opportunity to market your classes and other services. Yet fewer local events have been happening each year. I see teachers planning Solstice events, but not International Day of Yoga events. They’re on the same day.

Maybe it’s more important for American yogis to be “alternative” than to be enlightened. Maybe Pennsylvania teachers don’t need or want more students. Maybe yoga teachers don’t embrace their place in the world yet, but an International Day of Yoga would not have been created without the American yogis.

The Prime Minister of India asked the UN to create this observance, knowing they had created many other special days. In addition to historical events, such observances honor various causes and world treasures:

World Cancer Day
Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation
International Day of Forests
World Autism Awareness Day
International Day of Happiness
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Mr. Modi explained his proposal to the UN by citing yoga’s health benefits. We also know that yoga offers more. India’s interest in the asanas (poses) is fairly new. In Rishikesh twenty years ago, I was walking along the main road when I spotted a sign advertising yoga classes. There were many signs for Ashrams, but only one for a teacher of asanas. The teacher advertised his credentials, “Trained in California.”

Not only in India, but worldwide, participation has exploded. In America, the number of practitioners has almost tripled in the last four years. Worldwide, the figure is much higher. Why? Of course, it’s because yoga is good for you. But it is also because America exports its culture. Along with mobile phones, fast food and democracy, America exports yoga, even giving it back to the land it came from.

Please consider honoring this important upliftment of world consciousness by celebrating the UN International Day of Yoga on June 21. We’re offering free yoga classes and meditations all day long. You too?

Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati leads Downingtown Yoga & Meditation Center and Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram in Downingtown PA. An American yogi, she is an inspiring teacher with a loving manner and a great sense of humor. Before becoming a swami (yoga monk), as Rama Berch, she served the yoga community as the founding president of Yoga Alliance. Traveling and teaching nationally and internationally, she is authorized to initiate people into deep meditation through Shaktipat, as did Swami Muktananda, her own Guru. The Ashram website features extensive Freebies, including articles and audio recordings on the principles of consciousness as taught by the sages of India, as well as how to apply them in your life today.

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