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Take a walk through the city — or perhaps just across campus — and you’re bound to see them. They all march in uniform (think spandex Lululemon attire) with their sacred scrolls tucked under their arms (think soothing-colored rubber mats). Today, 18 million Americans, including many Penn students, practice yoga in one form or another. Naked yoga, Wii Fit yoga, P90X yoga … the different ways you can combine a downward-dog pose with a roundhouse kick seem infinite.

McYoga, as it is sometimes lovingly called, is a far cry from the mental discipline the practice once was. Yoga has transformed from a spiritual practice to a kickboxing alternative in order to cater to eager Americans. While I shamelessly take full advantage of new-age, yoga-esque styles, I also worry that the trend could lead to bad karma for yoga in its purest form.

I admit, I’ve tried a few of the videos myself and I’ve been to more than one studio in the city, but it wasn’t until I signed up for an Indian Philosophy class that I realized the disparity between what I was doing and what yoga founders intended.

Yoga dates back over 3,000 years to the Indus River Valley civilization. Originally, the practice was centered on the intrapersonal quest for self-awareness and supreme consciousness. The emphasis on fat burning and strategic stretching is a new addition. In the olden days, yogis treated the words of the Upanishads and their gurus as the authority, not the words of Yoga for Dummies or the latest 20-minute flab-to-fab video.

In today’s society, we’re used to instant oatmeal and instant messaging, so the pursuit of instant enlightenment via yoga-themed workout videos shouldn’t come as a surprise. College sophomore Lily Gomperts said, “I like to do the Jillian Michaels: Yoga Meltdown because it’s so convenient.”

A multi-million-dollar industry has sprung up to outfit newfound devotees. Absolut Vodka even ran an ad in women’s magazines depicting a handle of vodka stood on its head above the logo: “Absolut Yoga.” Penn’s own Pottruck Health and Fitness Center also has caught onto the trend, offering five varieties of yoga classes.

However, there are issues with the commercialization of yoga.

“Ultimately, yoga is about meditation and people should try to remember that,” College junior Neil Dubey said. He fears that the secular business of selling could potentially water down yoga’s fundamental spirituality.

And he isn’t alone in his thinking. “It is a bit disappointing to see some short-sighted people trying to ‘copyright’ yoga,” South Asian Studies professor Deven Patel, who teaches my Indian Philosophy class, wrote in an e-mail. Though Patel doesn’t think authentic yoga should be policed, he added that “seeing it fundamentally as a business to make money and move product seems to be a very unhealthy way to grow in one’s own practice.”

Tension in the yoga community is already beginning to appear. In 2002, yoga guru Bikram Choudhury obtained a copyright for his sequence of particular poses. He has since issued cease-and-desist letters to teachers offering classes that he believed were teaching his style.

And earlier this month, Self sent a text message to its subscribers that read, “Vinyasa yoga torches more than seven calories per minute, making it twice as effective as Pilates in terms of sheer calorie burn!” Perhaps I’m being presumptuous, but I don’t think this is the type of self-awareness that the Bhagavad Gita calls for.

Is the price of going mainstream too high? Can yoga remain genuine despite the vodka ads, specialty merchandise and … nakedness? In my wannabe-yogi opinion, it can. But achieving this balance requires adherents of McYoga to recognize the existence and importance of pure yoga. Making aspects of yoga more accessible is a good thing, but the McYoga-Special should never be thought of as a true substitute for pure yoga’s meat and potatoes.

Kensey Berry is a College sophomore from Little Rock, Ark. Her e-mail address is Berry Nice appears on Tuesdays.

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