There are two basic ways of approaching relaxation and stress – one is to relax as much as possible away from stress – this is the basic jacuzzi/spa/oasis model favoured by many yoga and meditation teachers. This approach amounts to providing regular holidays away from unpleasantness, because let’s face it we all need a break sometimes. Yoga classes, retreats and “therapies”, etc as escapism and recharge. A problem with this approach is that the skill of relaxing in the face of difficulty (when chilling out is most needed) is not taught and addictive reliance develops upon the external relaxants. There can also be an element of fantasy as exotic locations, words and clothes remove people temporarily from the reality of their lives but help very little when back there.
The other “cold shower” approach is to develop the skills of relaxing under pressure using a manageable gradient of pressure matched to growing skill. This is possible in intelligently designed martial arts and more intense yoga classes if self-regulation techniques are also taught and intensity scales with full choice are given (eg postural variations). Usually, however, a lack of “bridging” practices will still mean that the practices largely stay on the mat and don’t transfer efficiently into outside life – eg to a verbal social context – but some skill will still be acquired over time and this can be used by the student independently anywhere.
Both models can become complicit in an unhealthy lifestyle on an individual and political level as fundamentally sick ways of being are merely coped with, and accepted as manageable. In this way modern yoga and mindfulness allow people to handle the insanities of an alienated modern existence providing just enough self-connection for survival and continued productivity. The veneer of spirituality is coated over capitalist madness and narcissism disguised as spirituality to boot. Note too, the former approach requires ongoing resources and wealth to practice so will largely be the domain of the rich (yoga holiday in Bali anyone?), which means that the poor are relatively even more stressed and the rich find inner peace with their exploitation.
The latter approach however does allow for a sober non-reactive “being with” the inequalities and abuses of our world as a basis to change them, and I’d argue that as bodymind teachers we have a responsibility to both our students and the wider planet to encourage this, rather than just acting as faux-spiritual anaesthetisers, exoticism pornographers and avoidance fantasy travel agents. The hard question I ask myself and would challenge all within the field is this: “In what way am I now part of the problem?” and “in what way can my yoga be a Molotov cocktail?”