DVDs and Real Yoga

I recently came across this article: The Poverty of DVD Yoga.

I agree with this essay, that DVDs are a product, but do feel they can be a “mode of instruction”, just not where Yoga is concerned.

Yoga is one-on-one teaching, where the teacher and student (guru and chela [1]) form a direct line of communication.  Human to human contact is the bedrock upon which the foundation of Yoga is built.

Watching a DVD can never replace the direct experience of the teacher, and the individual unfoldment of the student.  During a Yoga class, ideas burst forth like mushrooms after a rain; and over time, individual dawning of conscious expression reveals itself in every aspect of being.  So no matter where the student finds themselves – driving to work, dropping the kids off to school, doing the dishes, cooking supper, walking the dog – they will gradual manifest the presence of mind that is Yoga.

A Yoga DVD is not a teacher.

Because Hatha Yoga in the West is primarily a physical practice (in some cases, a sole practice), DVD sales have sky rocketed.  And because personal lessons can be learned from them, those who buy DVDs have concluded that they are learning Yoga through them.

They are mistaken.

They are indeed experiencing physical fitness, and so a physical benefit, but this is but one facet – the least of which – that is Yoga.  In fact, any physical practice learned from a DVD – dance, aerobics, Chi Gung, and the like – will have a similar effect when the student’s mind is receptive to the subject.  But simply being receptive to a thing does not make one a student of that thing, let alone able to expand past the perimeters of that thing.

For example, when my students ask what DVDs I recommend I tell them ‘none’.  DVDs are strictly physical, so that when watching, the owner of the DVD simply mirrors the movements seen.  This can be harmful in several ways.  Not only can the watcher hurt them self in a singular pose, but they may also create injury through repeatedly making the same mistake.  Then, through repeated mistakes in movement, they create habit, which as we all know, are difficult to break free from.  So when the DVD practitioner meets a Yoga teacher, they must first be taught to break free from a harmful habit before they can learn the correct way of movement.  This can create mental turmoil in the way of ego, where the student feels they are doing it right and the teacher is wrong, so they will resist the one-on-one instruction either consciously or unconsciously on both a physical and mental level.

And this is just one example – a physical one that but briefly touches upon the realm of mind.

So when my students ask me to recommend a DVD for home practice, I suggest they do at home what they learn in the Shala.  When they relate that they cannot always remember the many steps that are necessary in the correct approach to any given pose, I tell them to move freely, to follow that feeling they get while at the Shala.  I tell them to follow that intuitive sense of ‘rightness’ they experience when they are in a pose under my keen eye.

This cannot be had from a DVD.

Hatha Yoga is a physical practice, as seen in the word hatha [2], but this should not be mistaken to mean that it exists outside of Yoga; hence the inclusion of the word.

Hatha Yoga has, from its timeless past, been a teacher-student practice.  It was meant from its beginning to be a means of building an interpersonal relationship.  First, teachers must be capable, which means identified by their teacher as ready to teach.  Then the student must be capable, which means receptive to learning, to include situational constraints where applied by a teacher.

What most in the West fail to realize is that only through a teacher-student relationship is the student able to work independently.  Instead, the student may think, “I can do it myself, I don’t need a teacher to show me how.”

If Yoga was a practice that one was literally born to – that one was as familiar with as the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the food they eat, then they would know the need for a teacher.

The one-on-one approach in the teacher-student model is not just advantageous for the student but for the teacher as well.  At the most basic level, the teacher learns from the student.  This happens when the teacher listens to the student, considers what they (the teacher knows), then relates that in a way the student can understand.  For myself, I have explained the same concept hundreds of different ways, all to aid the individual student I am speaking with understand the basic concept I am relating.  Simply put, we all do not learn the same way, so being a teacher means being fluid enough to adapt and adjust their knowledge in such a way to make it understandable to any given student.

A DVD cannot do this.  In fact, after a few viewings it becomes repetitive, so boring to the student; and before long, sits on the shelf collecting dust.  Perhaps next to the other objects the student has bought in an attempt to learn something.

This cannot happen in a teacher-student relationship simply because there is no repetition in a true Yoga class.  Sure, the student may come in and expect to do certain things – such as Surya Namaskara or Ujjayi Pranayama – but between the keen eye of the teacher and the ever growing receptivity of the student, coupled with their mental ‘frictive / hatha’ force, what may look the same on the outside is far from it on the inside.

And it is only under direct teaching that this situation can occur, can truly be experienced (let alone understood by merely reading these words).

Another challenge with DVDs is that they are being churned out by fitness trainers (Jillian Michaels, Denise Austin, Kathy Kaehler or Mandy Ingber [3]); and not much better, those so called ‘yogis’ who have DVDs (Ana Brett and Ravi Singh, Trudie Styler, and Rodney Yee, to name a few [4]).

There exists a unique chatter within a Yoga Shala [5], one that both supports and ensures the learning process.  A true Yoga Shala is a place of learning, growing, laughing and crying, where topics range from why the ‘splits’ are named after Hanuman, or the internal application of ‘energy locks’, to the importance of what the students had for lunch, to the many applications of breathing outside the Shala, to how one’s pets do Yoga, to the Yamas and Niyamas, to the nature of illness, to Ahimsa and Tantra, to Kundalini and Raja Yoga, to the mass marketing of Yoga products, to the integral steps involved in every Yoga pose, and so much, much more.

And it is this level of intimacy which allows for individual interaction, or the rich soil from which the seed of true Hatha Yoga can be properly nourished and grown.

Likewise, from which a student becomes trapped / confused into thinking that their fitness instructor is the ‘only’ or ‘best’ teacher.  I’ve seen this over the years: Where a student takes gym yoga and thinks this is the only way, or that their fitness trainer is actually passing on Yoga wisdom to them.  They are mistaken.

Hatha Yoga’s ancient poses are seen today in marketing – from TV commercials to glossy magazine ads – and in cardio / fitness / martial arts / fat burning / muscle building DVDs.  So the general public is duped into thinking that if someone is dong a Yoga pose then they must be teaching Yoga.

This is grossly incorrect.

Yoga is not just a physical practice.  Even Hatha Yoga is not just a physical practice.

So simply striking a Yoga pose does not make a Yoga pose.

Overall, one gets what they pay for; and this applies to both DVDs and gym / fitness yoga.  For example, I’ve attended Yoga classes where the instructor is barely knowledgeable about Hatha Yoga – so almost wholly ignorant of its more sublime points (let alone application) – and so passes on their misinformation to their students.  Notably this comes via attitude; so that I’ve seen catty, back-biting, ego-driven teachers who stand at the front of catty, back-biting, ego-driven students.  They are, therefore, propagating a seed of ill-will upon the world around them.

Hatha Yoga is a tool that helps the individual mold them self into a strong and calm, resilient and peaceful, healthy and non-stressed, toned and fit, keen-minded and spiritual aware being.

And face it, this is what we all want our life to be.

Mutual Respect and Peace Out!


~ ~ ~


1-The essay uses the word shisya, which is often used synonymously with chela.  They both mean ‘student’, but shisya specifically means one who has been initiated.  In the Western approach to Hatha Yoga, students are not initiated by their teachers, so chela is more accurate here.

2-Hatha means ‘friction, force’, meaning surface resistance to relative motion; as in the movement of muscle with ligament and/or tendon, or the movement of muscle with bone, or muscle to muscle.  It is also indicative of sliding or rolling (as opposed to bending, as in, there are no ‘backbends’ in Hatha Yoga).

3-Jillian Michaels, Denise Austin, Kathy Kaehler or Mandy Ingber, all, are fitness instructors who are now branching out into Yoga poses.

4-“Yogis” who have DVDs who are actually fitness trainers:

-Ana Brett and Ravi Singh: “Teach a system of exercise and meditation.”

-Trudie Styler: “actress, film producer, director”, “Pilates and dance instructor.”

-Rodney Yee: “gymnast, ballet dancer.”

-Beth Shaw: “fitness instructor.”

5-Shala, a Yoga teaching center; a holistic place of learning traditional Hatha Yoga.  As opposed to the Western concept of a ‘yoga studio’, where the physical practice of Yoga is taught.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. YogaGirl
    Mar 01, 2011 @ 17:34:52

    So, so true dear Yogini. The intimacy of the one-on-one brings forth true learning and appreciation.


  2. ann
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 09:32:13

    I must agree with you, Yogini! I love the community in a packed class where it can be sensed that we are being “cheered on” and the spontaneity of my awesome teachers– the inspiration keeps me in poses longer than possible while watching a DVD!


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