where is yoga going, lessons for pk?

a question came up recently in pk circles about the future of parkour. a few years ago you, dear reader, had probably never even heard of parkour. but then came this sequence from casino royale, and now everyone and their dog knows about parkour/free-running. or as they describe it: ‘that thing with the running and the jumping between buildings and those guys that do tricks over things.’

so the question was posed (and i’m paraphrasing for my own purposes): where is parkour/free-running going? what will it look like in 10 years? how does the pk/fr community get Joe Public to understand that this isn’t just cool tricks, but an organized form of activity accessible to anyone with the discipline and dedication to give it a go.

this made me think of the current state of yoga. no, not the practice of yoga as a path to enlightenment- the billion-dollar-a-year-industry of yoga. because some of us yogis are asking the same questions. so here are a few parallels between the history of parkour and yoga using my limited understanding and a few references from wikipedia.

if we go way back, the original yogis covered themselves in ash, dreaded their hair, and lived in caves in order to attain enlightenment through physical austerities and meditation. the original traceurs were hunter-gatherers or agriculturalists using their bodies and minds, interacting with their environment to survive. i think in both cases these guys didn’t smell great, but they had awesome bodies and quick minds because both yoga and hunting/gathering require strength, discipline, patience, and focus. they both also had a deep understanding of and respect for their current, natural environment.

let’s pause for a moment and ask ourselves: would we rather be living in a cave, hunting down our next meal to improve our general well-being, or do we prefer  om-ing in our cozy yoga studios or running around modern architecture? that’s what i thought.

someone then decided that yoga as a way to unite the body, mind, and spirit needed to be shared with everyone. most people blame this guy for introducing yoga to america in 1893. you know what you’re in for when americans get their hands on anything: hamburgers, pizza, beer: LOOK WHAT HAPPENS! (to the beer especially). parkour had been around a long time before casino royale, and even before david belle and sebastien foucan brought the practice to a larger, younger, more visually-orientated (and rurally-impaired) community. with pk it was George Herbert who started putting the basics of parcour together just after 1900. his belief was that strengthening physical, moral, and energetic abilities, in partnership with greater awareness of one’s environment brought about significant personal development.

wait, this sounds familiar. the combination of body, mind and spirit? awareness of environment and place in the universe? can you see why i’m thinking yoga might not be such a bad model?

yoga in the last decade has grown from small, independently-run studios to a massive industry of studio chains, videos, product, celebrities, etc. if you want to know more about yoga’s underbelly watch Yoga, Inc. it’s kind of sickening and sad because a thousand-year-old philosophy is now being used to sell clothing that makes your ass look great in down-dog.

and now we’re at the point where (thankfully!) i don’t have a good comparison to parkour. yes pk/fr is getting bigger, receiving more exposure, and becoming more commercialized. so here are my thoughts on what you traceurs/free-runners (and yogis) should consider:

1. for the love of god don’t let americans get their hands on it or you’ll end up with McParkour! dang, it’s too late! did you see that tempest video (everyone has- i’m putting the link here to get hits)? it’s all Super Mario Bros. and stuff! why wasn’t that space built to emulate nature? trees, boulders, tire swings into rivers… ok, maybe not entirely natural but a few uneven surfaces? yes, i understand that pk/fr is an ‘urban’ art form, but even the wall i ran up the other day wasn’t perfectly straight and smooth. anyway- the next thing you know you’ll be seeing ‘yoga for parkour’ classes (coming to Ekam soon!) and ‘free-dancing’, ‘tae-kour’, ‘free-lates’, etc. americans haven’t registered that pk/fr originated in france, but when they do look out for a new style of urban movement called ‘freedom-running’. the message: keep it simple, keep it pure!

2. respect your teacher and your lineage. when teaching yoga i try to ground students in the lineage of the style i teach and emphasize this combination of practices has been passed down from guru to student for centuries. that’s a lot of accumulated knowledge! yoga today has forgotten its beginnings and every yogi wants to create their own style and name it after themselves. find your roots before you go flying off into the future; wherever your parkour goes, don’t forget where it came from. and when you have the opportunity, be a good teacher! in such a small community we all have to take responsibility for passing along our experience to the next generation. the message: don’t forget your roots!

3. be present. find your practice- what kind of traceur or free-runner (or yogi) are you going to be? and through being present in your practice, be a representative of the practice (see how ‘present’ is in the word ‘representative’?). the future of parkour (and yoga) will take care of itself, what are you going to make of it right now!

4. adapt, which is our response to any new environment (natural method, anyone?). always be willing to try something new or adapt what you know to a new setting. don’t let your brain and your body go soft or your spirit will never evolve! always be looking for that perfect union, that sweet spot in your practice that brings enlightenment- you all know what i’m talking about! the message: keep learning, and remember sharing is part of the learning process.

this is only the beginning of this discussion, let me know what you’re thinking, though it might be better to discuss on a pk-fr board somewhere- if you’ve got working links let me know!

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