The Rise of Yoga in America, by Ki McGraw

Discussion in 'Yoga Forum' started by Speechless world, Dec 27, 2015.

  1. Speechless world

    Speechless world New Member

    My mother introduced me to yoga in 1970 in St. Louis, Missouri. As a divorced mother of two, she was a force of independent feminism and as such explored all radical alternatives including the ancient science of life. A nimble, nubile nine year old, I took to the postures with ease. I especially enjoyed the vision of my mother and her girlfriend in their purple and orange leotards and tights which they called their pumpkin suit and eggplant suit. Both of them were relaxed and full of lightheartedness as they cared for their body-mind-spirit. It was great to be allowed to tag along for that groovy grown up experience.

    Yoga continued for me at the end of my dance classes during our stretches. It was always my favorite part of dance. By the time I was 18, I was asked to teach the stretching part of dance classes for my friend who conducted the rest of the classes. Jill still says I started teaching yoga with her back then in 1978, but we just couldn’t call it that then because it wasn’t “cool.” So between disco class and gymnastics, I taught yoga at the YMCA in the small midwestern town where we went to high school.

    Adult teaching started in 1985 when I was on retreat at a women’s fitness camp in Wisconsin. The regular yoga teacher was called away for a family emergency, and it was either I step up, or there was no class. In my pajamas, barefoot, I began teaching on the lawn at dawn. I pulled from the few words of encouragement from my teachers, as well as what I had learned from the few books on the subject at that time.

    Twenty-four years later, I can say I had no idea I would still be teaching. I’d continued dancing and was with a post-modern company, as well as having become a psychotherapist. Yoga helped me immensely heal from injuries dancing, as well as help me keep my center as a therapist. It facilitated my integration of these separate aspects of my self and as such I always approached teaching as an opportunity to be an undercover angel of transformation, whether the students knew of the vast path they has stepped onto or not.

    At first, dancewear clad moms tried to get their bodies back in shape in church basements or those exotically inclined sat cross-legged in baggy pants in the name of yoga. Large cities had a few yoga studios with diverse practices from gentle Sivananda stlye to the challenging rope walls of Iyengar style without much interface. In myself I distilled the best of what the practice offered me and blended it together with my demeanor as a psychotherapist and my presentation as a dancer.

    Having benefitted greatly from yoga coming to America, I felt strongly pulled to go meet it in its home- the mother continent of India in 1992. After practicing one-on-one in a sari with a teacher named Padma, I had a greater understanding of the authentic practice. Only afterward did I fully enter and inhabit the role of yoga teacher. Subsequent trips to India have deepened my awareness of the part yoga practice may play in the life of a householder.

    In the early 90’s students were starved for the powerful practices that yoga offered as an alternative to the joint jarring aerobics popular at that time. I taught the only regularly scheduled yoga classes on the remote island of Kauai in Hawaii for years. In the late 90’s on Guam I did the same. These experiences had me teaching at athletic clubs, in new age book stores, privately in fabulous homes, in science classrooms, for the opera, at the jail as well as in my own studio.

    I started Yoga Teacher Trainings in Bali as a way for me to replace myself so I could return to the mainland to be nearer my aging (gracefully) mother. I met Bob Smith there and continued to teach YTTs with him in Seattle as a bridge for my return to the mainland. No culture shock has been as great as what I faced upon coming “home.”

    Yoga studios seemed to spring up on every corner like the Starbucks which seemed to fuel them. Everywhere there were consciously clad cool yoga students carrying yoga mats in specially designed bags. Yoga props were for sale at the big box stores. Yoga videos were at the checkout stands at the supermarket. Yoga music, clothing, jewelry, and furnishings were available at every bookstore or studio as if the whole lifestyle were something one could buy. Yoga magazines and books filled shelves with ads and “expertise.” It was dizzying and a little scary considering what the pictures were showing as correct posture, often contradicting themselves from one page to the next. Bob Smith says the yoga trend “turned into a physical exercise program lacking the rest of the limbs” referring to the eight limbs of yoga as stated in the Sutras. Heated rooms burning fossil fuels to franchise spirituality needs “to reconnect to the root of the practice.” I concur wholeheartedly.

    During my 10 years at the Hatha Yoga Center (HYC), I have continued teaching YTT as well as regular daily classes, private sessions, retreats and workshops. I’ve stayed with my daily practices which inform my service to others. I’ve watched while yoga hybrids have come and gone. Strip Yoga, Yoga with your Dog, YoPi, swirl around in the greater yoga community here in Seattle, yet I stay to my eclectic and consistent practice and enjoy the reports from others who are checking out the trend. Mostly, withdrawing my senses from all that external focus so I can practice asana, pranayama, and meditation based on the yamas and niyamas with concentration and contemplation on the Divine Within keeps me enriched on this infinite path. Regardless of how many clothes anyone is wearing or the presence of other species, we all need the authentic practice during this time of challenge on the planet.

    Here at the HYC there is space for sacred practice for true seekers who ritualistically come together to form a caravanserai of community carrying yoga forward while the material world around is crumbling. America may be the cutting edge of yoga and as such we have a responsibility to bring through the authentic spirit and not just capitalize on the trendy commercial opportunity it once was. HYC has offered 20 classes per week for over 30 years and all are welcome to drop by and share the open and attentive classes we offer.

    I’ve been blessed by being able to ride the wave of yoga in America, a small ripple at first, and then gradually crest its big face. Then there’s the Ocean.
    By: - Ki McGraw
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