by J. Brown
Exposure to and understanding of yoga are often being shaped by business interests and market forces. When someone who holds yoga dear sees yoga being portrayed with dubious purpose or in a less than sacred light, it’s easy to feel disheartened.
I have often derided the “yoga industry” or “commercial yoga” as though it were a boogie man that is out to get us. The emergence of new anti-establishment voices in the yoga blogosphere has spurned even harsher scrutiny of “yoga culture.” Expansion of the internet and social media has led to more of a real dialogue about yoga than at any other time since it became my life pursuit. However, some of these new voices have caused me to question my own.
When we criticize the “yoga industry” or “commercial yoga”, who exactly are we referring to? Yoga Journal? Yoga Alliance? Lululemon? Big name yoga teachers who have managed to make a buck? Or perhaps, it’s really just the commodification of yoga that presents us with an unresolvable dilemma and no place in particular to point the frustration. Fact is, regardless of the commodity, industry only exists where there is a consumer to be had. So, it stands to reason that a predominance of educated and informed consumers can reflexively shape an industry.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not so naive as to believe that a bunch of high-minded yogi’s are going to somehow magically refute supply side economics. But we certainly do ourselves a disservice if we simply cede to the corrupting forces of greed and advertising. And while bitching about it may make us feel better temporarily, it’s not all that useful in the long run.
As discussed in a previous post, Yoga Alliance Approved, My Ass, there is no proper trade organization to represent or provide leadership to the grassroots professionals who make up both the underclass and the backbone of the yoga industry. Consequently, corporate interests are entirely framing the equation and often well-intentioned people are forced to bend to the pressure. For those who wish to see Yoga presented with greater integrity and authenticity, our best bet is to offer some form of proactive empowerment directly to the yoga consumer.
Recently, I was in the back of a NYC taxicab and happened to take notice of the prominently displayed: “Taxi Rider’s Bill of Rights.” I can recall a time when this required sticker did not exist and there were a whole lot more taxi riders getting taken for a figurative ride by shady drivers. Perhaps a public service announcement for yoga students might also encourage better discernment of disreputable operations and a more thoughtful consideration among the industry.
Here is a proposed first draft:
Yoga Student’s Bill of Rights
As a yoga student you have the right to:
- Be personally introduced to your instructor
- A safe and courteous instructor who is attentive to your needs
- A knowledgeable instructor who instills confidence
- Decline to be pushed into anything that feels wrong to you
- Not be compared to anyone or made to feel small
- Ask questions and get sufficient answers
- Feel comfortable and that you are among friends
- Be discerning and make your own determinations
When we talk about the “yoga world” or the “art world” and what we are referring to is the cold influence of money on these pursuits, we discredit all the honest and sincere people making art and teaching yoga in their communities who are merely living out their passions and doing their best to get by. We are part of “the industry” too. If there were not people like us just banging it out everyday then there would be no market to exploit.
My point in this has less to do with social activism and more to do with needing to feel that everything is not entirely rigged to only benefit the proverbial bottom line. Even if it is rigged that way, I want to encourage the sort of thinking that at least makes it seem possible for human beings to still do right by themselves.
A lyric by Mos Def about hip-hop comes to mind:
“People be asking me all the time, what’s getting ready to happen with hip-hop? You know what I tell them? You know what’s going to happen with hip-hop? Whatever is happening with us. If we smoked out, hip-hop is going to be smoked out. If we doing alright, hip-hop be doing alright. People talk about hip-hop like it’s some giant living in the hillside coming down to visit the townspeople. We are hip-hop. Me, you, everybody. We are hip-hop. So hip-hop is going where we going. So the next time you ask yourself, where hip-hop is going, ask yourself, where am I going? How am I doing? And you get a clear idea.”
In the spirit of consumers making informed choices, this video blog, offers some philosophical distinctions between different approaches to yoga practice and discusses why attempting to standardize yoga curriculum is inherently problematic:
J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy in Practice, Yoga Therapy Today and the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. Visit his website at yogijbrown.com