What actually is True Yoga?

Remember Hollywood newcomer Haley Bennet? She played a pop singer named Cora in ‘Music and Lyrics’?

To me she’s the hip incarnation of the never-ending New Age fever, with her love of faux Indian Buddha statue props.

The same attitude can be seen in the trendy yoga clubs of contemporary Singapore.

Two and half years ago, I signed up for a one-year membership at a sleek mega-yoga club occupying the entire floor of a stylish downtown shopping mall. Its interior was furnished modern eclectic minimalist style.

To up their sales, perks like showering facilities replaced the usually more basic amenities. Juice bars and complimentary massage services have all become typical features of these big-name yoga clubs.

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But there is a catch. Faced with regular classes of 15-20 people, sometimes even more, instructors can only teach by demonstration. I have a cautionary tale to tell about this method of teaching yoga. Six months into the annual membership, I began to feel pain in my lower back. At night I tossed and turned. I had to sleep propped up on cushions. My lower back had started curving inwards. Yoga lost its appeal.

So I switched from the corporate world to a private teacher who runs a small fitness boutique in Holland Village. With a solid grounding in physical therapy and Pilates, the teacher makes a conscious effort to introduce these disciplines into his yoga sessions. A smaller class size, never more then six students, enabled my teacher to give me more attention and aid my recovery. Finally I got my torso back to normal.

Granted, yoga is good for health, but only when it’s done the proper way. Most instructors forget that the human body is unique; they make all students perform the same rotations, occasionally causing more harm than good.

For instance, headstands are a definite no-no until you’ve built up strong abdominal muscles. At the big yoga club, instructors chanted in a mystical Buddha-like way that the fetus pose is good for the kidney. At the fitness boutique, my teacher explains that, more importantly, it helps balance earlier forward bends, which is why it’s saved for last.

At first, the movie character Cora was a pure commercial pop figure obsessed with chart ranking. But later she became true to her art, deciding not to sing a kinky yogic remix. Cora’s final rendition was straightforward – no more exoticism – yet her image was still captivating. Learning yoga should also be about discovering the genuine art behind the trendy obsessions.

Shantih, Shantih…