Daniel Ingram, when writing about Western meditation teachers who have "gone wrong," says essentially that these people become teachers because they really need to remain students, and that they wind up sort of sadly trapped in the inability to attain the very mysticism (or whatever it is one seeks) they claim to teach.
I'm seeing this now in the (local) Western yoga scene, and it explains things I was complaining about a couple posts ago: "combination of all of these styles" and so forth. In particular let's return to the commenter on the Norman Blair piece, who really set me off with words about ashtanga being dogmatic and so on. Some followup made its way to my eyes, and I think now that said commenter is dedicated as much (or more) to cardio and weight rooms as yoga, which means that all of the talk about "combination of styles" and "multiple traditions" is really just a kind of surfing, like research. "Oh, there are numerous pranayamas, they go like this."
There's a certain sadness to that, because it probably even extends to sacred texts (although one hopes it doesn't): and so you get blog posts on things like "non-dualism refers to not saying always or never, to being able to change your mind" (I'm not, for the record, making that up; that riffs on a real live blog post I saw this week).
And from this, we can feel the "general affirmation" mode of Western yoga, which is so omnipresent that I think I don't have to explain it. When David Swenson talks about being a yoga teacher, he says, "Don't be this guy, who says, 'welcome....to.....yoga!' like it's from another planet, you know?"
I think it's about a lack of intimacy with the practice, as when Sadie Nardini posts on Facebook that one should deepen the crease in the back hip of Warrior 2 and gets comments like "I love her, she knows so much!" Dude, hell, I WOULD TELL YOU THAT in my own damn class, but see the difference? If a celebrity you've workshopped with tells you that from a great electronic distance, it's like she cares about you, not like she's giving all-purpose good information to everyone over the widest spectrum. This inside-out intimacy is everywhere in yoga, and thus all the pithy quotes from everyone from Tolle to Kino to Mother Teresa and so on.
As a now-private blog once said, regarding people being afraid of the ashtanga, "Maybe they're afraid that it will ACTUALLY CHANGE THEM." It's like any intimacy with the self: an experience that REALLY TAKES YOU THERE will take you into the dark right after it opens the door. That's what awaits first. When Owl recently posted about people who are FINALLY over the darkness and the conquest and the conflict, she's talking about well-advanced practitioners, who truly have gotten past the darkness that awaits on the other side of the door marked, "SELF."
So I think that a lot of Western yoga invites us to go there "if we want to" but none of it really pushes us into that door. I can only speak for ashtanga practice, because it's what I do: the ashtanga will push you into the dark, but doing the practice is the only light, the only way to see, unless you have some other kind of life event or breakthrough. That said, seventh series taught me a thousand times more about darkness and transformation than ashtanga vinyasa yoga has.
When we refuse the intimacy of the dark (and is THAT perhaps in part what a Cormac McCarthy book is about? Or Maggie Nelson's recent ideas on the "art of cruelty"?), we refuse a certain intimacy with the self, and I think that that refusal colors a lot of Western yoga. Please note that there are teachers of every stripe who have this from either practice or life or tendency, and so they will maybe be able to tap it when teaching, and it will provide a real depth even if that depth does not come out in Sanskrit names or Sutras quotes or any typical, easy-to-spot "yoga" vocabulary.
Sure, you want to be affirmative and promise people happiness, smiles and joy, and so you can teach easy entrances to advanced postures, you know? But like any real depth in life, any REAL acquisition of intimacy with self or with universe (and the body is the tool we're given for cosmic understanding, no?), darkness lies just inside the door. Many times in looking through yoga blogs you can see practitioners hinting at this, something about self-discovery, and many times (certainly in my own writing and for almost all of my writing pre-divorce in 2002) you can also see the practitioner fall back to pithy quotes or rationality rather than walking in.
So one can hardly blame a given Western yogi for not having confronted the dark (or for not having processed the encounter as part of life), or for teaching in a way that is marked by shallowness of not having done that encounter to the bottom. I think that if you've had that encounter, you can tell instantly when a yoga teacher has and has not been there, or has been there and refused it.
For me there's something energetic, in presentation, in adjusting, that is marked, changed forever, by the encounter with the dark, this intimacy with the cosmic which is the self which is the cosmic. Type of yoga practice guarantees nothing: you can't just cross out vinyasa or choose ashtanga, you have to measure the teacher and yourself. It's like any other relationship, you can't just stereotype redheads or decide that skinny people are (whatever, any quality you want).
No amount of reading can create that intimacy if it's not there; neither (for my money) can bending, until that bending cracks open some emotional container (in a hip, a shoulder, et cetera) and that emotional breakout gets reckoned with, surrendered to, until the ride is taken.
Our problem, and not just on the yoga mat, might just be that we're not intimate enough with ourselves (personally, nationally, at work, in classrooms of all sorts, on every level).