Here is an example of the challenges that yoga teachers committed to the full path can face in North American studios:
Last night, I was fired from my job at Black Swan Yoga for a fundamental difference of opinion. I was ambushed, lured there to discuss my "schedule" and then tag-teamed by a pair with a yoga sutra tattooed on one and a chakra tattooed on the other. (Oh, the irony!) Together, they released me from my duties for standing by my published opinion that asana exists independent of the yoga. I say intention matters. Apparently, they disagree.
One needn't look far to find the basis of my argument. It's right there in the second sutra: "Yoga is the suspension of the fluctuations of the mind (Yoga Sutra I.2)." Beyond that, I know it from experience. I have, many times in my life, practiced asana without the yoga to address discomfort in the body. I think it's safe to say I'm not the only one. Asana is what draws people to the yoga, asana prepares the mind; as my teacher says, "asana makes the ground fertile" for the real yoga to take place, but asana in itself, without the breath, without the meditation, is just exercise. Just gymnastics.
I can imagine myself in her shoes, and no doubt, this blog is littered with posts critical of "exercise yoga," capitalistic studio models, and the lack of meditation practice amongst North American yoga students. Odds are, if a yoga studio was focused on having teachers who all agree on "philosophy," they either wouldn't hire me, or would can me as soon as they found the link to DH.
What I found interesting, though, was how the teacher above spoke of asana (postures). She specifically argues that asana practice, "without the breath, without the meditation, is just exercise."
I tend to agree. So often, we "westerners" separate body and mind practices, even when we aren't deliberately trying to. This particular teacher seems to have a unified vision - especially if you read the rest of her post. Many others don't, and either keep the meditative limbs of yoga separate from the asana, or simply cut them off all together, in the manner that Black Swan Yoga apparently does. Even well respected teachers like Iyengar argue in favor of a focus on asana and pranayama practice - for years sometimes - before students should dive into meditation. In other words, they are practiced separately - until one is "ready," and then they are practiced together. Having read enough of Iyengar's writings, I'm not clear if this is a fixed position he holds, but it's something I have seen in repeated articles and books by him.
The body-mind practice split is something that most spiritual/religious traditions face, in part due to human ambivalence towards our place on the planet. A strand of hatred/aversion toward, or disassociation from, the material manifestations on earth can probably be found in most ancient spiritual traditions, including yoga. Add upon that the long standing mind-body split found in Western philosophy, which has influenced how we view our relationship with/to our planet, and you have a heap of trouble.
In terms of this discussion, that "trouble" manifests through our uneasy relationship with our own bodies. On the one hand, the worship of the "young, strong, and healthy body" that drives many yoga classes, even those with a holistic, spiritual approach. On another hand, the fear/shame/hatred of bodies that "don't hold together," get sick, and eventually die. I'd argue that this second set of issues also drives much of yoga practice in North America, in synergy with that worship mentality.
Now, it's really the case that these kinds of struggles are the fodder of spiritual life. So, in some ways, it's a given that this kind of stuff is going to show up. However, the way I see it, a lot of this stuff remains either unconscious or is treated solely in terms of individual practitioners. You hear stories about yogis with extreme eating disorders for example, but how often are those extremes linked together with the broader "body issues" I mention in the previous paragraph? And then moved from an individual level to a community of practitioners level? In other words, considering both the possibility that yoga studios and classes are filled with people who have various forms of mind-body separation, and that the ways in which yoga practice is being marketed and taught might be either maintaining, or even increasing in some cases, those mind-body separations.
That's a lot to chew on, so I'll stop there for now. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts or other comments.