Today you can download apps with yoga postures, or whole flows. You can subscribe to videotaped practices that teachers create with iphones and upload to their personal web pages. You can scroll through thousands of you tube clips, or subscribe to whole channels. You can get podcasts. You can get it on facebook. You can get yoga on your laptop, your ipod, your ipad, your smartphone, or your game console (think wii). And yes, you can still buy yoga DVDs, and books (and decks of practice cards, and calendars, etc...)
Forty years ago you would have had choices if you were not able to make the trip to India to spend months or years with one of the master teachers. There was yoga on TV; but you would have to watch it when it was actually being broadcast. And it was a few teachers, rather than thousands. I can remember doing yoga watching Lilias on a tiny fuzzy black and white TV. Now you can get her on you tube and facebook, and lots of other ways.
I think you know where this is likely to go. I am going to say that all these ways to commoditize and share yoga are fine, but that they do not replace fully the experience of working directly with a teacher. And, yes, that is true. Just as reading a wikipedia entry on intestinal parasites does not stand in for a diagnosis with a doctor actually examining you, a teacher can see where your form is off, and help you align, can see where you are holding tension, and help you learn to release. I find I may have an idea of how a class might go, but that always flows the second I step to my mat and feel the energy of those in front of me; see what they need. More than that, yoga done alone in front of a screen closes off the human interaction piece, and therefore sacrifices one of the dimensions of our human condition. And yoga at its core is about binding together those parts.
I do not mean that a solitary practice is bad. I would hope many of my students practice on their own. There is a lot to be learned there, including the focus to make such a practice happen, and the ability to flow without external direction. But it is like climbing to one level of an observation tower. You may see a great distance more than from the ground, but without climbing the next level it is hard to realize how much more there is to see.
However. And there is a however. Not to use the new and exciting ways of exploring yoga is to cut yourself off from a lot of the view as well. As though you had new areas of that observation deck built, but you boarded them up and said “this is a great view, so I will keep climbing only on this side, rather than walk around and explore”. All these digitized bits of yoga allow you to experience great teachers without making those long travels. As a youth with few economic resources my understanding of yoga would not have been able to grow without Lilias and my public library. Imagine someone living in a rural area without the corner yoga studio. Imagine the person for whom buying a class pass is an economic hardship, or who works so many hours it is hard to get to one when they are open, or has no good transportation. Modern technology offers a chance for the love, and compassion, and physical well being that are at the heart of a yoga practice.
All of this digital matter is very new, but the road to open access to such ideas and options was paved a long time ago. Today we can compare a time when we looked up phone numbers in the yellow pages, got news from a couple of papers, and three news stations, and bought books from a book store. The changes brought through the explosion of technology and the ways in which we connect has truly rewritten the methods of culture. But before the internet even a not very well off youth could go to the library and borrow a book for free, and read the newspaper while there. In the mid 1400s in Europe a middle class German from Mainz invented something that would shift the way people get and share information in ways that shifted the course of culture as profoundly as the invention of the internet. Gutenberg and his movable type paved the way for information and learning to be mass produced and shared among more than just the wealthy. Hand illuminated bound volumes found in museums today are often breathtakingly beautiful. They also could take years of work, that ended up asa single book in the hands of one person rich enough to pay for it. The printing press meant knowledge, and therefore power, could be for all.
This transition is apparent in the world of yoga. Once the great works of the masters could be printed and read widely, those ideas could spread beyond the few who were able to sit at their feet, even beyond the lands of their beginning. The publication of “Autobiography of a Yogi” was as important as the author's tours abroad. This explosion of shared information includes everything from very arcane texts, to the kind of thing both western and Indian youth might order from the back of a magazine picturing a well defined physique, and giving instructions for transforming oneself from the '90 pound weakling'.
“Well”, you might counter to me, “All very interesting”, but how do I use this explosion to further my yoga?” I think, generally I would suggest you pay more attention to the message than the medium. Pick a teacher who really speaks to you in a way that works for you, or a school of yoga whose principles and practices are meaningful to you. You could start with reading some good books (on your kindle, or on paper). Then, if you are someone who carries your cell phone or ipod everywhere, you might look for an app, or a podcast from that person or that school. If you prefer a big screen and no ads, go for a DVD. If you do not have a particular school or teacher you really like, there are a lot of generic aps and videos out there, and some will work just fine to help some people integrate some yoga into your life outside of going to class. I personally have two or three yoga posture aps, none of which I have opened since I got them. But I am not you, and each person needs to see what works for them. But I would encourage you to see those options as the sides, rather than the main course, and to try to get to even a few classes, if you at all can.