MindfulnessGymnastics, contortion and social media are changing yoga – and not in a good way

While yoga began as an ancient art to prepare the body for meditation, these days many people associate the practice with extreme flexibility and the perfect handstand.
Melanie Swan Melanie SwanFebruary 25, 20196014 min
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Simon Borg-Olivier yoga

You wouldn’t know it to look at Instagram, but yoga is an ancient art designed to prepare the body for meditation. Yet these days many people associate the practice with extreme flexibility and the perfect handstand. In the age of social media, the lines between yoga, gymnastics and contortion have definitely blurred. So what has happened along the way?

Australian Simon Borg-Olivier, who will visit Lifestyle Yoga Dubai from March 27 to April 1, is a decades-long practitioner and lifelong student.

He has studied under some of the yoga greats, including Ashtanga Vinyasa creator Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar. He also believes that modern yoga has lost its way, becoming separated from both its essence and original philosophy.

“In the ’70s and ’80s, people perceived yoga to be boring, as meditation,” he says. “I wanted to show people it could be a bit exciting, but in retrospective it went a bit out of control. I knew at the time that asana was a small part of it but I thought I could at least attract people.”

Borg-Olivier is partner in Yoga Synergy, a yoga school in Sydney that has been running since 1984. His spinal flow, inspired by Asian martial arts and his background as a physiotherapist, is designed to be a pain-free way for people to move while gaining all the benefits of the yogic tradition. 

“We’ve swung from one way to the other,” he explains. “People do want fitness and long-term health, but what’s being taught now is short-term gains with long-term potential damage to the nervous, reproductive and immune systems.”

Much of the yoga being taught now, what Borg-Olivier calls “the aerobics of the 2000s,” is having a negative impact on the musculoskeletal system. And Iyengar, with his obsessive attention to alignment, and Jois, who encouraged practicing all of yoga’s eight limbs, would likely not approve.

“There are so many people teaching nonsense yoga,” says Borg-Olivier. “It’s taken the place of aerobics. If you practice in a way that causes pain, injury and stress, you’ve missed the point of yoga completely.”

The packed classes of today are a world away from the way Borg-Olivier learned, during a time when teacher-student relationships were sacred and maintained for years.

“The teacher-student relationship was lost years ago,” he says. “You can’t have it in a group class. How can a teacher have a one-on-one relationship in a class of 50-plus?”

One of the biggest flaws in the system are the plethora of too-short teacher trainings that enable the newest of practitioners to be qualified in a sacred art.

“You can’t learn to teach in 200 hours, you can’t even learn yoga in 200 hours,” he says. “It’s an insult to real yoga teachers to give them a certificate and say, ‘Here you go, you can teach along with everyone else.’ We’ve got to know what yoga is. Most people don’t know. It takes decades to even get a hint of what it is but people are trying to do this with just a brief amount of experience.”

The massive emphasis on promotion through social media also doesn’t help — “It’s not about knowledge.” He continues: “It doesn’t matter if the posture isn’t fantastic, provided the picture is nice.”

Cristian Brezeanu Dubai
Cristian Brezeanu, Olympic gymnast

Cristian Brezeanu, a multi-medal-winning Olympic gymnast who competed for Romania and South Africa and is based in Dubai at Fly High Fitness DXB, agrees that social media has been a powerful force – and not always for good.

“In this age of Instagram and social media, people are looking for quick, shortcuts to fame, fortune and publicity,” he says. “There are yoga teachers out there trying to attract followers, publicity and in order to do that, there is this reaching for more and more visually impressive skills. Whether these skills are gymnastics or extreme flexibility, borderline contortion, they tend to focus on the physical aspect because they think it’s a quick and easy way to attract attention.”

Many people are moving into yoga from dance or gymnastic backgrounds, easily adapting to the flexibility and contortion aspects, he says.

“The other yoga teachers have begun to almost compete with this, as if bending into a pretzel or doing a perfect handstand makes you a good yoga teacher,” he says. “It’s become a game of ego.”

Along the way people have become confused about what it means to be a good teacher, or even a “good yogi,” which is another matter altogether, he says.

“Those skills have nothing to do with how they live their life or their ability to safely teach others — how to achieve such skills,” he says.

All this showing off on social media – which for a lot of people has become a primary source of information  – creates a misguided perspective for those who want to practice. There is a big responsibility on teachers to convey the right message, at a time when many of the misconceptions are being conveyed by the teachers themselves, he says.

“You’re so bombarded with this information, there is to some extent a sense of confusion about what yoga is,” says Brezeanu. “It’s very intimidating for many people. For the people spending time in studios, working with good teachers, they’re the ones who realize how much more to it there is.”

Melissa Ghattas yoga Dubai
Melissa Ghattas teaches at Zen Yoga. Photo: Katie Vickers

Melissa Ghattas, who has 500 hours of training and teaches at Zen Yoga in Dubai, has experienced the influx of teachers from the worlds of yoga and dance. That is mixing up the yoga world in other ways, too.

“You have these pretty, aesthetically gorgeous girls who can do these amazing things with their bodies, and we have created this culture that is no different to what we spoke about in the ’80s with skinny or airbrushed models, as if this is the role model for young girls,” she says. “Yoga is supposed to be a holistic approach to life.”

Instead, an ancient healing system that is supposed to be good on a physical as well as mental and emotional level is doing the opposite, by emphasizing handstands and contortion.

“Not only do such extreme postures have nothing to do with yoga,” says Ghattas, “the average person can’t do these things with their bodies.”

It is this deeper level of yoga that Ghattas strives to teach and embody. It’s also what helped her get over bulimia, during 15-year journey that took her down many avenues in her quest for healing.

“Yoga was the only thing that actually penetrated a deeper level of my consciousness, to have this healthy relationship with food,” she says. “This is what yoga is about. It helped me discover self-love and self-acceptance. I’m not an ex-gymnast or dancer, so for me it’s been about the journey and the realities that your body doesn’t necessarily move that way.”

• Simon Borg-Olivier is coming to Lifestyle Yoga Dubai March 27-April 1.

Featured photo by Alessandro Sigismondi.

Melanie Swan

Melanie Swan

Melanie has been practicing yoga for 11 years and teaching for nearly six. She discovered the practice at a time when work life-balance was at its lowest, living a busy life in London working for national newspapers. She teaches at Fairmont The Palm and Zen Yoga Dubai Media City.

60 comments

  • Avatar
    Noelle Zerr

    February 25, 2019 at 7:33 pm

    What a great article! I completely agree. So many people think you must be able to do extreme positions or be very flexible to practice which yoga is not about. Very well written.

    Reply

    • Avatar
      admin

      February 26, 2019 at 3:29 pm

      Thanks Noelle! We liked it too. Nice one Mel Swan.

      Reply

  • Avatar
    Sanela Hasanovic

    February 27, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    Thank you again Simon B Oliver.
    I was told that the tongue is connected to the heart,
    and it reminded me that sometimes we have to speak these truths, and you’ve done it very well.

    Thank you for inspiring those that are on the road of truth and thank you for sticking up for yoga!

    Reply

    • Avatar
      admin

      February 28, 2019 at 8:31 am

      We couldn’t agree more Sanela! Thanks so much for visiting and for your comment. Best, Ann Marie (livehealthy editor)

      Reply

  • Avatar
    Dimitrios Dibelo

    February 27, 2019 at 6:37 pm

    This was one of the most acurate articles about yoga I have read lately. I really appreciate Simon Borg, he is an inspiration for me and he has helped me a lot during my yoga journey. What is written above is actually what I think. Many people from rhythmic gymnastics and other disciplines are turning in yoga instructors and only focusing on the body and fashion, while leaving behind the really significant aspects of yoga. I started practicing yoga 14 years ago when I had to stop Basketball because of a lower back injury and, as I was strugling to recover my lower back pain, I realized several years later that yoga is not about the body, but about our minds. Thank you very much for this article. Dimitrios Dibelo Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Instructor 500hr YTT by Yoga alliance.

    Reply

    • Avatar
      admin

      February 28, 2019 at 8:30 am

      Hey Dimitrious, I felt exactly the same way when I read it! I’ve done yoga for 18 years now, and Mel’s piece put into words the feelings I’ve been having in classes lately. Thanks so much for your comments. Best, Ann Marie (livehealthy editor)

      Reply

  • Avatar
    Keri Mangis

    February 27, 2019 at 8:15 pm

    The only problem with this article is that it wasn’t written 10 or even 20 years ago, when the trend to make yoga popular, cute and appealing to our senses was just beginning, back when, perhaps, something could’ve been done to stop it.

    There is no yoga anymore, only “yoga-based exercise.” It was stripped down to the physical so Westerners would try it, because we desperately needed it. Sadly, Westerners today still need yoga, and think they’re getting yoga, but are only ending up worse off than before. Best to give up on trying to bring yoga back to its roots at this point. Too much money, too much power, too much hierarchy, and too much patriarchy is involved.

    Reply

    • Avatar
      admin

      February 28, 2019 at 8:29 am

      Hey Keri, thanks so much for your comment. Too bad we weren’t around then! We will be bringing you more stories about how to get back to yoga basics in the coming months, finding more real yoga in the UAE. Best, Ann Marie (editor)

      Reply

    • Avatar
      Dimitrios Dibelo

      February 28, 2019 at 12:27 pm

      I can understand your disappointment, but real yoga exists, but you have to restart and find an inspiring teacher wich his motivation isn’t fame and money. There are plenty of good teachers out there and still are giving their knowledge and share the aspects of yoga. Hope to see you one day on the mat ?

      Reply

    • Avatar
      megha sharma

      April 24, 2019 at 11:17 pm

      hi plz don’t give up hope Bhagwaan Sri Nithyananda Paramashivam is reviving this ancient science of yoga and its power plz visit our website kailaasa.org which aims at building an enlightened ecosystem where its taught that yoga is just not abt your physical postures buts union with divine cosmic geometry.and how important it is to strengthen our nervous system and what are secrets behind every asana. I would urge you to plz watch Nithyananda yoga linkhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goT-rbCkXIc

      Reply

  • Avatar
    Arnaud Kancel

    February 28, 2019 at 12:21 am

    Really amazing. M. Borg-Olivier is himself a yoga shame, showing of all time, without knowing anything about philosophy. And saying this, he uses a tremendous photo of himself. It would be fun if it was not so sad.

    Reply

    • Avatar
      Simon Borg-Olivier

      April 10, 2019 at 10:16 am

      Dear Arnaud Kancel
      Thank you for your feedback. I am not sure if we have met in person. I would love to know where you got your impression of me. I was also not happy with how the article across in the final print. I gave a long interview for the article but only 5 of my sentences were included and I believe these can be easily taken out of context.

      99% of the article was not written by me and I did not choose the photograph as such, but I can honestly say that this is actually a very lovely posture that I can feel very relaxed in and gives me a lot of internal benefits. However, I mainly only teach the simplest of practices in my classes.

      I have posted a long response to your comment and other similar comments, below. If you can not see it please let me know here and I will send it again.

      Reply

  • Avatar
    Juju

    February 28, 2019 at 9:31 am

    Loved your article but if you are going to cover, the “real essence” of Yoga versus what it has become in the Western world, it is a pity that you confuse Yoga with its most “physical” aspect in an article that criticizes just that.

    The article starts with this inaccurate statement “You wouldn’t know it to look at Instagram, but yoga is an ancient art designed to prepare the body for meditation.”

    Yoga is not designed to prepare the body for meditation… Asanas are. And they are only one of the eight limbs (as prescribed by Pantajali) of Yoga.

    Namaste 🙂

    Reply

    • Avatar
      akynos

      March 4, 2019 at 4:34 pm

      i agree. physical yoga, is physical yoga.

      Reply

  • Avatar
    Denis

    February 28, 2019 at 12:59 pm

    I learn hathaYoga in my 20,s now 64 yrs and basicly developed my own practice maintaining the origanl teaching . I developed the essence of my character into the posture, meet others practitioner who never interested in learning the awesome power of personal Yoga

    Reply

  • Avatar
    Nichi

    February 28, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    Thanks for this article it raises some very valid points. Shame it leads with a photo of yet another yogi doing a ridiculous pose though. You are doing exactly the thing that the article is saying is negative. I’d love to see healthy yoga poses that most people can do!

    Reply

    • Avatar
      Heinrich

      March 13, 2019 at 8:27 pm

      Thank you for this intelligent comment. I was going to write something similar, but assumed that someone already must have noticed this discrepancy.

      Reply

    • Avatar
      Simon Borg-Olivier

      April 10, 2019 at 10:50 am

      Hi Nichi,

      Thank you for your feedback. I was also not happy with how the article across in the final print. I gave a long interview for the article but only 5 of my sentences were included and I believe these can be easily taken out of context.

      99% of the article was not written by me and I did not choose the photograph as such, but I can honestly say that this is actually a very lovely posture that I can feel very relaxed in and gives me a lot of internal benefits. However, I mainly only teach the simplest of practices in my classes.

      I have posted a long response to your comment and other similar comments, below. If you can not see it please let me know here and I will send it again. In my posts I often show really safe and accessible practices. This is what I mainly teach.

      Here is a link to a good short version of one of my main spinal movements that I teach as safe, accessible effective yoga for almost everyone that most can follow (and I do have versions that are much simpler still as this version is quite challenging for some people). This version is more challenging than other versions where I move only one part of the body at a time.

      https://yogasynergy.com/video-from-simon-borg-olivier

      Here is where I move only one part of the body at a time.

      Rear View https://bit.ly/2yONPAW

      Side View https://bit.ly/2KoTF0m

      Advanced Demonstration and Philosophy (Ohmme Yoga) Video:

      Here is a nice video showing some of my personal more advanced fun yoga (that I rarely teach in public classes) and it was put together quite well with me talking about some of the philosophy of yoga.

      https://youtu.be/q0wfA3GYo58

      Lecture on Natural Posture, Movement and Breathing:

      This is a 30 minute talk with me explaining the essence of what I teach practically and why this is important in the modern world.

      https://youtu.be/vBtaQ5x4O-k

      What I am teaching:
      This is a short video that explains what i am teaching and the difference with yoga, exercise and therapy.
      https://youtu.be/vcPGNFtvCGg

      Reply

  • Avatar
    Sigi Kolbe

    February 28, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    Couldn’t agree more. A great piece by Melanie, thank you for formulating my thoughts into written context.
    I sometimes despair at the yoga poses I see on Instagram and have to remind myself that it is not a true reflection of a good teacher.

    Reply

  • Avatar
    Janice

    February 28, 2019 at 7:25 pm

    Brilliant I couldn’t agree more. Every day Instagram has yoga followers posting up doing head and handstands? Do they not do normal Yoga. Yoga is not a competition but a way of life ? x

    Reply

  • Avatar
    Magdalena Brnos

    February 28, 2019 at 9:48 pm

    I love the post but I wonder… Simon himself posts some of the craziest asanas on Facebook… Why would he do that if he disagrees with it?

    Reply

    • Avatar
      Nikki

      March 16, 2019 at 6:00 am

      I am wondering if maybe the point has been lost in this thread. I am learning to surf and three summers in, I can stand up but it’s mostly white water surfing and I stay safe on a foamy. I look out the back at the serious surfers and know that it’s a possibility. I’m not ready right now and I have no pressing goals particularly apart from enjoying my time out there in the ocean. Maybe one day I’ll feel ready to go out there and catch an unbroken wave. But I don’t care if it happens or not. I’m just enjoying surfing – another form of yoga – at the place where I’m at. No hurry and no biggie if I never get out there – so be it. I’ve known Simon for years. He is real, kind and genuine. A humble and gentle man and wonderful teacher and friend. He is passionate about yoga and has worked through to heal himself from and manage many physical issues and chronic conditions. A few years ago for example, he broke the same arm twice in different places in a short amount of time. A year later, he had built up the strength to handstand again and execute poses such as the one in the image. Sure, he was younger once and had an ego like we all do and now he has lived through different experiences and has evolved. Too many teacher training has diluted the whole subject and diminished those who really had to put the work in. But with regards to the fancy pose in the image, I choose to see these things as possibilities, not necessities. And that’s what life is full of.

      Reply

      • Avatar
        Simon Borg-Olivier

        April 10, 2019 at 10:57 am

        Dear Magdalena Brnos – thank you for your comment on the article.

        Dear Nikki – Thank you also for your comment. It is great to hear from you.

        I was also not happy with how the article across in the final print. I gave a long interview for the article but only 5 of my sentences were included and I believe these can be easily taken out of context.

        99% of the article was not written by me and I did not choose the photograph as such, but I can honestly say that this is actually a very lovely posture that I can feel very relaxed in and gives me a lot of internal benefits. However, I mainly only teach the simplest of practices in my classes.

        I have posted a long response to your comment and other similar comments, below. If you can not see it please let me know here and I will send it again.

        In my posts on social media I show a mixture of simple and complex postures. What I find is that if I show only simple postures then I get very little interest and very few people read what I have written. But if I show a complex posture at least people read what I offered. Most of practical teaching is of safe, accessible and effective posture movement and breathing practices as follows

        Here is a link to a good short version of one of my main spinal movements that I teach as safe, accessible effective yoga for almost everyone that most can follow (and I do have versions that are much simpler still as this version is quite challenging for some people). This version is more challenging than other versions where I move only one part of the body at a time.

        https://yogasynergy.com/video-from-simon-borg-olivier

        Here is where I move only one part of the body at a time.

        Rear View https://bit.ly/2yONPAW

        Side View https://bit.ly/2KoTF0m

        Reply

  • Avatar
    Paula

    March 1, 2019 at 2:45 am

    I keep saying this since the Insta ‘soft porn’ yoga started emerging! It’s not yoga, it’s selling images of beautiful bodies.

    Reply

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  • Avatar
    tite

    March 1, 2019 at 10:52 am

    For ever grateful to this man, the one and only Guru for me because he clears the way (light) for you to find your own Kaivalya with no words! . I can’t wait to practice again with him and with you all in Dubai soon!
    I translated this into ITALIAN on my website http://www.yogaxrunners.com and Facebook page Yoga da Tite .

    Reply

    • Avatar
      Simon Borg-Olivier

      April 10, 2019 at 11:03 am

      Dear Tite – thank you so much for your beautiful comment and your ongoing support and encouragement and also for your translation of this article into Italian. I have included it in my posts. You may wish to post my response to the article with your translation. Much love and best wishes to you

      Reply

  • Avatar
    Bea

    March 1, 2019 at 1:20 pm

    So great to read this and much mirrors my own thoughts on ‘yoga’ in our Western society. It’s wonderful that yoga is now out there but it has become trendy and often seen and practiced as a form of fitnes. Considering one of the aspects of yoga is to let go of the ego. Yoga seems to be more ego driven as you eluded too in your article. I also think that whether you study a 200 or 500 hour TT I think it’s where you start from and if you have regular yoga practice with a good qualified teacher. I know ‘good’ is hard to define but trying to keep it simple. ? We are are always learning and just like our teaching and practice we are always evolving. Loved reading your article. Thank you Keri. ?

    Reply

    • Avatar
      Simon Borg-Olivier

      April 10, 2019 at 10:59 am

      Dear Tite – thank you so much for your beautiful comment and your ongoing support and encouragement and also for your translation of this article into Italian. I have included it in my posts. You may wish to post my response to the article with your translation. Much love and best wishes to you

      Reply

    • Avatar
      Simon Borg-Olivier

      April 10, 2019 at 11:05 am

      Dear Keri,
      thank you for your lovely comment

      best wishes
      Simon

      Reply

  • Avatar
    René Joy

    March 1, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    What a beautiful post. It is always such a humbling experience reading what Simon has to say. His teachings and courses are at the heart of yoga (true yoga).

    I am going to be sharing this wonderful post.

    Enjoy your time with him when he arrives!

    Reply

  • Avatar
    Laura

    March 2, 2019 at 9:31 am

    I really enjoyed the article and see it as very relevant for the times. Yoga has become a fad in many ways to make it popular- adding wine, or beer, or a DJ to bring people in. One thing that was interesting to me was the choice of photos, especially the first two. Considering the article and its subject, would it have made more sense or would it make more sense in the future to have photos that aren’t people doing really athletic, almost impossible things, with an air of Instagram and airbrushing….maybe something a little more grounded and real?

    Reply

    • Avatar
      admin

      March 2, 2019 at 2:52 pm

      Hi Laura! Good point. We are just a startup and without access to photographers we must rely on handouts from the people we interview – and we all like to pick our best angles! Definitely something to bear in mind in editing future articles. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Best, Ann Marie (editor, livehealthy.ae)

      Reply

    • Avatar
      Simon Borg-Olivier

      April 10, 2019 at 11:02 am

      Dear Laura – Thank you for your comment.

      I did not choose the photograph as such, but I can honestly say that this is actually a very lovely posture that I can feel very relaxed in and gives me a lot of internal benefits. However, I mainly only teach the simplest of practices in my classes.

      I have posted a long response to your comment and other similar comments, below. If you can not see it please let me know here and I will send it again.

      In my posts on social media I show a mixture of simple and complex postures. What I find is that if I show only simple postures then I get very little interest and very few people read what I have written. But if I show a complex posture at least people read what I offered. Most of practical teaching is of safe, accessible and effective posture movement and breathing practices as follows

      Here is a link to a good short version of one of my main spinal movements that I teach as safe, accessible effective yoga for almost everyone that most can follow (and I do have versions that are much simpler still as this version is quite challenging for some people). This version is more challenging than other versions where I move only one part of the body at a time.

      https://yogasynergy.com/video-from-simon-borg-olivier

      Here is where I move only one part of the body at a time.

      Rear View https://bit.ly/2yONPAW

      Side View https://bit.ly/2KoTF0m

      Reply

  • Avatar
    Ann

    March 2, 2019 at 10:11 am

    I refer to myself as an “old” yoga teacher due to the fact that I began
    teaching before yoga was “a thing”. That said, the recent gain in popularity can help many people and that is why most of us have chosen to teach.
    Thank goodness for the training programs that teach more than asana! Yoga’s depth is so very vast and rich and it is sad to see that overshadowed by trends.
    Thank you for your article. Well said.

    Reply

  • Avatar
    Eternity

    March 2, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    The content of the article is true, yet you used images featuring contortionist gymnastics, the very thing the article speaks against.

    Reply

    • Avatar
      Simon Borg-Olivier

      April 10, 2019 at 11:09 am

      Dear Eternity,
      thank you for your comment.

      99% of the article was not written by me and I did not choose the photograph as such, but I can honestly say that this is actually a very lovely posture that I can feel very relaxed in and gives me a lot of internal benefits. However, this is simply not possible for most people to do and perhaps only possible for me due to decades of experience. I mainly only teach the simplest of practices in my classes.

      I have posted a long response to your comment and other similar comments, below. If you can not see it please let me know here and I will send it again.

      In my posts on social media I show a mixture of simple and complex postures. What I find is that if I show only simple postures then I get very little interest and very few people read what I have written. But if I show a complex posture at least people read what I offered. Most of practical teaching is of safe, accessible and effective posture movement and breathing practices as follows

      Here is a link to a good short version of one of my main spinal movements that I teach as safe, accessible effective yoga for almost everyone that most can follow (and I do have versions that are much simpler still as this version is quite challenging for some people). This version is more challenging than other versions where I move only one part of the body at a time.

      https://yogasynergy.com/video-from-simon-borg-olivier

      Here is where I move only one part of the body at a time.

      Rear View https://bit.ly/2yONPAW

      Side View https://bit.ly/2KoTF0m

      REPLY

      Reply

  • Avatar
    Mike

    March 7, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    This article is ridiculous. There is literally no authentic yoga tradition that is accessible to anyone today. A hundred years ago, Krishnamacharya had to go to Nepal to find a guru he considered authentic. Whatever he learned there, he mixed it with Western exercise and random stuff he made up, unless you think “Yoga Kurunta,” the secret manuscript the teachings supposedly came from, is an actual thing (some gurus say it was eaten by ants, and that’s why no one can check it out from the library; I say, yeah right). So people think they’re smart for turning their noses up at power yoga and listening to gurus who are literally just pulling “tradition” out of their butts. I appreciate the sincere search for truth, but seriously, you’re more likely to get to something helpful to you by taking the best aspects of modern yoga, and cobbling them together with the help of an amazing thing called your own brain power, as you are constantly begging at the feet of Indian gurus to give you something authentic, when they have nothing to give that you can’t get out of some powe yoga DVD. Think I’m exaggerating? I do realize there was at one time a hatha yoga tradition, but it’s dead, and no traces survive in a form accessible to any of us. I assume serious yogis have read the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. So if authenticity is something we can access, where are the gurus teaching those practices, which basically amount to doing some basic asanas, smearing yourself in cow dung and having tantric sex? Iyengar struck those passages out of the version he approved, while other gurus tried to claim the detailed physical sex practices were metaphorical, you weren’t really supposed to slice your tongue in two, and so on. So maybe I’m ranting now, but I’m saying this as someone who’s been to India, studied with famous teachers, and read all the classic texts: there is NOTHING at the bottom of this thing. No one is smart for hurling themselves down that bottomless hole and thinking there’s something at the bottom. Oh, and Ayurveda is mostly made-up crap, too. Sorry, gotta tell it like it is!

    Reply

    • Avatar
      Simon Borg-Olivier

      April 10, 2019 at 11:17 am

      Dear Mike,
      I really appreciate your comment.

      I was also not happy with how the article across in the final print. I gave a long interview for the article but only 5 of my sentences were included and I believe these can be easily taken out of context.

      I mostly agree with you re the teachings and interpretations of Sri Krishnamacharya, Sri Iyengar and what is said about the yoga korunta and even the misleading teachings of khechari Mudra in the hatha yoga Pradipika.

      I have posted a long response to your comment and other similar comments, below. If you can not see it please let me know here and I will send it directly to you.

      Best wishes and thanks again for what you have written

      Reply

  • Avatar
    Daniel

    March 8, 2019 at 1:15 am

    Yes, but if you do your homework you will know that some of yoga came from Danish Gymnastics and Contortionists not to mention the British army training manual. As far as Social media goes. well, I guess we all have to do yoga in bikinis now and that DOES NOT WORK for me. Thanks for posting.

    Reply

    • Avatar
      Peter

      April 24, 2019 at 11:37 pm

      Yoga does not come from danish calisthenics. All the original asanas are from manuscripts that are thousands of years old. If you REALLY do your homework you can find them. Those who perpetuate the myth that authentic yoga asana has anything to do w danish calisthenics are just further denigrating a sacred and ancient practice. Which is what the West has been doing to all aspects of Hinduism for hundreds of years.

      Reply

  • Avatar
    Miguidet hernandez

    March 9, 2019 at 11:43 pm

    Thank you so much for the article.
    It is how i feel many times when i look all yogis in social media.
    At the end we all try to do what it seems “impossible “ for the body but with practice we discover that real life is what really matters and not how deep you could go into a pose.
    That is what we try to share to all new people who join our retreats in Malaga!

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    Rua

    March 13, 2019 at 3:01 pm

    “Much of the yoga being taught now, what Borg-Olivier calls “the aerobics of the 2000s,” is having a negative impact on the musculoskeletal system” Is he preaching that from the height of his featured flying peacock pose?
    ‘Cause from what I hear he is himself in agonising pain due to, possibly, too many side crows, but it doesn’t look to me like he’s stopping. Not hypocritical at all, mr B-O…
    I’ve frankly had enough of these blanket statements: “Yoga” – whatever that may mean, is changing, just like everything. Humans are changing. (To a terrible lifestyle too, I must say, that doesn’t serve our genetics at all.) What “aerobics” and what “negative impact” on the musculoskeletal, first of all? I know one thing that has a “negative impact” on the musculoskeletal system, also known as the locomotor system – **not locomoting it** ! Aerobic? Well, what else is yoga gonna be? Anaerobic? It’s not sprinting or weight lifting!
    During his time “teacher-student relationships were sacred“? You mean, Iyengar whacking people in the head with the stick? Both him and P Jois were teaching groups, not one-on-ones (see P Jois going to YogaWorks where Maty Ezrati and 80 students were waiting for him 30 or so years ago).
    “Melissa Ghattas […] “You have these pretty, aesthetically gorgeous girls who can do these amazing things with their bodies,” – you mean, like you, Melissa? Should we also talk about how yoga is not fancy pants that release microfibres into the ocean, like what you’re wearing, but no one wants to consider that ‘cause they’d have to give up the big fad of the moment – the activewear fashion?

    And the title! Conflating social media with contortion (a circus performance art) and gymnastics (a different movement discipline) as causes for the “bad” alterations to yoga. Has this article been proofed at all? Or is this just another buzzwordy sham meant to actually sell Simon B-O’s worshop at Lifestyle Yoga Dubai? (I’m not saying there’s not some truth to it, but the whole comes as a ridiculous, over-pretentious mumbo jumbo.) If the author – or anyone – has a problem with yoga, and they want to go holier-than-thou on its contemporary declensions and teach that, maybe they should start with the yamas and nyamas – applying them first themselves.

    Reply

    • Ann Marie McQueen
      Ann Marie McQueen

      March 14, 2019 at 8:28 pm

      Hey Rua! Thanks for your comments. We’ve had a tremendous amount of feedback on this article, which went viral worldwide and clearly struck a nerve – perhaps because there are so many people doing yoga and so many who are passionate about the practice and how it is changing and evolving. There’s room for all viewpoints here at Livehealthy.ae. We will be covering more yoga stories as we move forward. So do let us know what you’d like addressed. Best, Ann Marie (livehealthy.ae’s editor)

      Reply

    • Avatar
      Simon Borg-Olivier

      April 10, 2019 at 10:09 am

      Dear Rua – thank you for your feedback – I was also not happy with how the article across in the final print. I gave a long interview but only 5 of my sentences were included and I believe these can be easily taken out of context.

      I have posted a long response to your comment and other similar comments, below. If you can not see it please let me know here and I will send it again.

      Thank you for concern for my body. I did not damage myself in my practice. Rather in 2011, I fell off a building on work site and broke many of my bones and dislocated a number of joints. I am mostly recovered now thanks to the practice that I have gratefully received from my many wonderful teachers over the last 50 years.

      Reply

  • Avatar
    Alejandro Quiyono

    March 14, 2019 at 6:38 pm

    Borg may be a great teacher, but there is no need to judge other teachers or teachings. He minimizes himself by doing that. You may know a big bunch of information, sutras, and all the sacred words. But when you use them to separate, it shows there is no wisdom behind them. Only the enormous need to justify your little self, your hurt self.

    You hace the priviledge of the written word. Use it to love not to hate. Evel though light and darkness are part of this world, do try to be love. That will make you happy. Hate will only bring you a lot of likes, but no smile al the end of the day.

    Work to unite not to separate. Be a lover not a hater.

    Reply

    • Avatar
      Simon Borg-Olivier

      April 10, 2019 at 11:22 am

      Dear Alejandro Quiyono

      I was also not happy with how the article across in the final print. I gave a long interview for the article but only 5 of my sentences were included and I believe these can be easily taken out of context.

      99% of the article was not written by me. I agree with what you have said. I have come across as critical of others in this article with my limited quotes. But that does represent my true feelings.

      I have posted a long response to your comment and other similar comments, below. If you can not see it please let me know here and I will send it again.

      Here is part of what I have written in my response. I believe this is in harmony with what you have accurately said and what I agree with.

      I resonate with idea that the main philosophical principle of yoga is that ‘yoga is the realisation that our individual consciousness is one with the universal consciousness’. I think the best way of appreciating this idea is to recognise that we are all connected as one family, and therefore we should treat each other in the same caring and loving way that a mother treats her new baby, by the sharing of good energy and loving information. The way I like to practice and teach this philosophy in a physical manner within the body is as follows. I strive to ‘share good energy’ in the body by increasing blood flow, and generally enhancing the activity of the circulatory system. I aim to ‘share loving information’ within the body by maintaining low heart and low minimal minute ventilation (hardly breathing at all), and generally increasing the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest, rejuvenation and relaxation response), during my practice.

      Reply

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    Sense Studio

    March 17, 2019 at 12:17 pm

    Hi Melanie ! Love this article! We have our website in Chinese sharing Yoga inspirations too! Would love to share some key ideas from Simon Borg-Olivier to our Chinese readers too! If you dont mind, I will send you the link once we done the sharing + backlink to this posts too !! It’s really important to spread such good thoughts!

    Reply

  • Avatar
    Michaelle Edwards

    March 18, 2019 at 6:24 am

    I totally agree with Simon and have been actively involved with helping people with yoga injuries and warning others about the dangers of becoming hyper-mobile doing yoga. The numbers of FAI (femoral acetabular impingements) in the hip joint and hip replacements in yogis is increasing at a high rate that coincides with the rise in the popularity of yoga.
    Over 20 years ago I created a safe system of yoga and neuromuscular re-patterning called YogAlign after getting injured trying to contort my body in an Ashtanga yoga class. Now i teach posture alignment over pose alignment. Here is a link to an article I wrote back in 2013 warning people about the liabilities of flexibility. https://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/07/when-flexibility-becomes-a-liability-michaelle-edwards/

    Reply

    • Avatar
      Simon Borg-Olivier

      April 10, 2019 at 10:01 am

      Thank you very much for your kind words Michaelle. I love you work and would love to meet you in person one day.

      Reply

  • Avatar
    Simon Borg-Olivier

    April 10, 2019 at 9:59 am

    Hello everyone. Thank you all for your comments.

    I’m glad that this article inspired some conversations. I am sorry if it has unintentionally given some of you the wrong impression.

    Firstly, I did not write the article, but was one of three people who were interviewed for the article. Secondly, although the main photo is of me balancing on one hand in a bound lotus, I didn’t actually select that photo, and I was not really aware of the content and general feeling of the article when the photo was chosen. Otherwise I may have suggested using another photo. This is because it may appear that, and some people have actually commented that, I am being hypocritical by demonstrating an advanced posture. Others actually commented on my photograph not reflecting yoga, without realising that I was one of the people speaking against this sort of thing in the article.

    The article suggests that much of what is being portrayed as yoga on the internet is physically similar to contortion or gymnastics. I believe this is true.

    I agree that this can make some people erroneously believe that it is only possible to achieve yoga if you can do these types of postures, and that perhaps achieving these types of postures is an important aspect of yoga. Such beliefs are of course not true, and application of these beliefs can have negative results on many levels. I have no problems with anyone doing good gymnastics or contortion as it can be really fun. But for most normal adults it is really difficult to do challenging gymnastics or contortion without risking damage in the short-term or long-term future on a physical, physiological and/or mental level. However, it is possible for some people to do advanced contortion or gymnastics and still be in yoga. But for this to be possible their practice needs to enhance, as oppose to reduce, health, well-being and longevity on a physical, physiological and/or mental level.

    I believe that yoga can be obtained in any posture, movement or activity. Yoga, which literally means union, has many facets on many levels, including physical, emotional and social levels. But to me the most important principle of yoga is to recognise that everything is connected as one, and to treat everything and everyone as one, by making loving and balanced connections within yourself and in your life. One personal and physical example – that I feel reflects more accurately what yoga is – is to be able to do a stressful activity while still feeling relaxed and engendering well-being on all levels. Conversely, I feel less yoga is reflected if you are being stressed out while doing a stressful activity. Intense exercises such as gymnastics and contortion can be physiologically stressful and/or physically dangerous if performed inappropriately and/or if practiced by someone who is not suitably qualified to do so. However, the posture I am shown doing in the article (the one-handed bound-lotus peacock), which is a fairly advanced practice to master, is actually very relaxing for me and very therapeutic on many levels. I use my entire body weight to press my elbow into my very relaxed abdomen. I thus ‘massage’ my internal organs in a way that enhances digestive, immune and hormone function, while releasing my psoas muscle and lower back. Practicing this posture in this way, I can talk and breathe naturally. So even though it is a fairly advanced posture, I am doing it in a very relaxing way, and except for doing a relatively simple bound lotus, it is not even a very contorted posture. However, I could not have done this posture in a relaxed, safe, and effective manner without having done a regular incremental practise over five decades, from an early age, under the supervision of the many excellent teachers I have had.

    I totally respect the writer of the article and I regard her as my friend, but I fully agree with what many people who know me well said, regarding how the limited number of my quotes in the article have been taken out of context, and therefore the article does not fully or correctly represent my thoughts on this subject. The interview for the article was done a long time ago, and although I may have said, for example, that there are people who ‘are teaching nonsense yoga’, which, if said without context, might offend some people, there are lots of other things I said that were not included in the article, that would have made what I said clearer, more rational, and sound less offensive. I would like to clarify some of those things here.

    All styles of physical yoga, and all types of posture, movement and breathing exercises are valid in my books. But to suggest that all styles are valid for every person is not true. That is perhaps the most important thing I was trying to say. Also, I don’t consider any one exercise or instruction to be wrong or right. I believe everything can be correct in the right situation.

    PROBLEMS WITH THE MODERN PRACTICE OF PHYSICAL YOGA:
    In my decades of experience as an exercise-based physiotherapist, who has been observing the world of modern yoga over the last four decades, there are many problems with the way yoga is being represented in the modern era both physically and philosophically. There are indeed people who teach and/or practice posture, movement, and breathing in a way that ends up being potentially unhelpful, ineffective or even dangerous to bodies that are not really suited to these practices. And this may cause unintended damage on a physical, physiological, and/or mental level to the practitioner either at the time of practice or at some future date. There has been much written about this by other physiotherapists and doctors over the last ten years, but this was something that had become obvious to me way back in the 1980s when, after 10 years of teaching yoga that I had learnt from Sri BKS Iyengar and other senior teachers, I realised that many physical problems that people came to yoga classes with were not addressed adequately, and were often made worse by some of the posture, movement and breathing exercises that are taught in modern physical yoga classes.

    PROBLEMS WITH THE MODERN PRACTICE OF THE PHILOSOPHICAL ASPECTS OF YOGA:
    I believe that the essence of the philosophy of yoga is not generally what is being represented by the physical practices of posture, movement and breathing that are being taught in many modern yoga classes.

    I resonate with idea that the main philosophical principle of yoga is that ‘yoga is the realisation that our individual consciousness is one with the universal consciousness’. I think the best way of appreciating this idea is to recognise that we are all connected as one family, and therefore we should treat each other in the same caring and loving way that a mother treats her new baby, by the sharing of good energy and loving information. The way I like to practice and teach this philosophy in a physical manner within the body is as follows. I strive to ‘share good energy’ in the body by increasing blood flow, and generally enhancing the activity of the circulatory system. I aim to ‘share loving information’ within the body by maintaining low heart and low minimal minute ventilation (hardly breathing at all), and generally increasing the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest, rejuvenation and relaxation response), during my practice. In this way I progressively work towards practicing:
    *** potentially stressful activities (like balancing on one hand) in a relaxing and beneficial way,
    *** potentially dangerous activities (like contortion) in a safe and beneficial way, and
    *** potentially boring activities (like seated ‘meditation’) in an engaging, exciting and very beneficial way where my blood is flowing effortlessly.

    Now in principle this all sounds very lovely, but one may ask if it is physically possible to have a physical practice that is able to do what seems like two opposing things at the same time.
    QUESTION: Is it possible to get flexible without doing strong stretching?
    ANSWER: Yes!
    QUESTION: Is it possible to get strong without consciously tensing muscles and feeling tense?
    ANSWER: Yes!
    QUESTION: Is it possible to get improved blood flow and circulation without increasing heart rate?
    ANSWER: Yes!
    QUESTION: Is it possible to get more energy without having to breathe so much?
    ANSWER: Yes!

    I assure the reader that it is possible to do these seemingly opposing things, and that there is a relatively simple method to do them. But then one has to ask how can you do these things and what is this method? The answer to these questions is not straightforward. It is relatively simple to physically show and teach this method to people if you are with them, and this is exactly what I do in my live and online training. However, this method cannot be simply or clearly explained with words alone, especially in a few sentences of text, unless you have a comprehensive understanding of musculoskeletal anatomy, neurophysiology, cardiopulmonary physiology and psychology. Ideally to have this understanding you need to do the equivalent of a combined medical degree, a physiotherapy degree and a psychology degree. This level of knowledge cannot be obtained in 200 hours of training alone, or even in 1000 hours. You need at least 10,000 hours to learning to achieve what has traditionally been considered the entry level for any serious physical practice that involves dealing with other human bodies, such as medicine, physiotherapy and psychology. This is also true for anyone learning any personal physical discipline such as martial arts, dance and physical yoga as they have been taught for many centuries.

    When I was learning off well-known masters such as Sri BKS Iyengar and Sri K Pattabhi Jois, we were told we needed at least a decade of serious training before we could teach anything. Most people teaching physical yoga in the world today simply do not possess sufficient knowledge to teach anything but the simplest practices without risking damage in students. Even today, even though I may occasionally demonstrate something some advanced posture, movement or breathing, I always emphasise the prerequisites needed to safely perform these practices and point out that most normal adults simply don’t have these prerequisites. Then I mainly teach only the simplest and safest things in most my classes. Rarely do I even teach inversions or complex breath-control unless my students have achieved quite a proficient level.

    With a good understanding of anatomy and physiology, as well as the true philosophy of yoga, it is quite possible to teach and practice yoga using posture, movement and breathing, and have it totally in harmony with the principles of effective and health-giving exercise physiology and physiotherapy, as well as the most important teachings of the true philosyoga. When you apply these principles then it is quite possible to do a physical practice that makes you flexible, strong, healthy and fit, while feeling calm, peaceful and relaxed.

    To learn more about how to do this in practice, I invite you to read more of my blogs at …

    https://yogasynergy.com/category/simon-borg-olivier/

    … or join one of our live on online trainings …

    https://yogasynergy.com/upcoming-events/

    https://yogasynergy.com/online-courses/

    Reply

  • Avatar
    Simon Borg-Olivier

    April 12, 2019 at 7:28 am

    EDITING MY LAST COMMENT
    apologies my last paragraph in my long comment should have read as follows (I have replaced ‘philosyoga’ with ‘the true philosophy of yoga’ as it was meant to be:
    With a good understanding of anatomy and physiology, as well as the true philosophy of yoga, it is quite possible to teach and practice yoga using posture, movement and breathing, and have it totally in harmony with the principles of effective and health-giving exercise physiology and physiotherapy, as well as the most important teachings of the true philosophy of yoga. When you apply these principles then it is quite possible to do a physical practice that makes you flexible, strong, healthy and fit, while feeling calm, peaceful and relaxed.

    Reply

  • Avatar
    Bonnie zollinger

    April 18, 2019 at 8:13 am

    I really enjoyed this article. I’ve been teaching yoga for over 25 years and I’ve seen all the changes. Back in the day when I began teaching there weren’t any places here in the US giving out 200 and 500 hour certificates. Those of us who had been practicing on our own eventually found our own way into teaching which for me literally fell in my lap. I had been attending a group of practitioners and the leader of the group said she was going to Ireland for 6 weeks and could I teach for her. I said I didn’t think so and she said if I didn’t no one else could do it. So I reluctantly said I would try. She never came back and I’m still teaching. I’ve taught all different styles and came back full circle to what I started out loving. Hatha, is what I love most. So I call my style, Hatha with a Twist. I’ve come up with basics poses and then I tell my students to close their eyes and listen to their bodies and focus on their breath and move as they wish in the pose. I take the basic poses and create new poses within the pose. I tell my students “It begins with the breath and ends with the breath and everything in between is all about the breath. Yoga is all about keeping all the dots connected, the breath, mind, body, energy. I’m old school I make no apology to my students for that. I’be gone back to my roots from many many moons ago.

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  • Avatar
    Steve

    April 21, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    I imagine that Yoga is big enough and bad enough to look after itself. The remedy to any perceived problem may arise when Yoga catches up with other movement modalities. The major Ballet schools X Ray children and can then tell wether that child has the genetic granted hyper flexibilities that will allow them a career in dance.
    So far I have found that Yoga teachers are either unaware of this basic anatomical knowledge or perhaps not honest enough to share this with class members, preferring to keep an air of mystery?! Perhaps our ‘forward flexion’ society needs more back strengthening and stability rather than weakening and de-stabilising mobility, not so flashy perhaps but surely more therapeutic.

    Reply

    • Ann Marie McQueen
      Ann Marie McQueen

      April 23, 2019 at 10:11 am

      Steve this is such a great pov. Chrs, Ann Marie, livehealthy.ae editor

      Reply

  • Avatar
    Fernando

    April 25, 2019 at 10:17 am

    Great article. While I was never on board with the quasi-body demeaning view of a lot of famous yogis (that “this body” was something almost to be overcome) this new emphasis not in hatha but in extreme contortion misses the point just as much.

    I appreciate the reminder that when I do 20 minutes of yoga if I’m just focusing on stretching I’m missing out on a bigger lesson.

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    Karan

    April 25, 2019 at 1:57 pm

    Good points but you didn’t even touch on Hindu erasure…

    Reply

  • Avatar
    Margie

    April 28, 2019 at 12:17 am

    This is ridiculous. I grew up as a gymnast and can do amazing things with my body and have also travelled the world for 5 years learning the philosophy and deeper roots of yoga. I’ve practiced thousands & thousands of hours. I’m proud to be able to do the things i can do with my body and it challenges my mind in so many ways to understand my mind & takes me to the depths of my subconscious to rest with my spirit. No part of judging other people’s practice and depth of understanding of yoga, putting other people down is SPREADING THE LOVE of yoga. Maybe sharing the deeper knowledge will create less of a separation in the yoga community.

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  • Avatar
    Phil

    May 1, 2019 at 2:26 am

    Some good points here, but do please consider that Jois has had allegations of sexual abuse.

    Also, his approach to yoga was and is very damaging to the body.

    Reply

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