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I Love Yoga And Hate Everything About It

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by J. Brown

Pop culture continues to enjoy a glossy-eyed love affair with yoga. But many long-time practitioners and professionals are discovering that, somewhere along their journey over the last decade or so, either yoga or they have changed. As once die-hard yogis attempt to discern what, if anything, of their practice has stood up against the test of time, their relationship to yoga needs to be allowed to evolve or they’ll likely feel compelled to part ways.

Complaints about the proliferation of yoga teacher training and over-saturation of the yoga market have been commonplace for years. Only recently, the economics really started to catch up and bear the prognostications true. For humble yoga teachers hoping to make a livelihood out of their passion, the current landscape often feels hued with a frightening sense of scarcity that is in sharp contrast to the abundance of the boom times enjoyed by earlier generations. Add to that the emergence of new scholarship suggesting a tenuous basis on which charismatic gurus originally garnered their authority, the harsh reality that a lot of what was taken on faith has proven unsound, and it easily starts to feel like things are falling apart.

Separating the chaff from the wheat.

Now that yoga no longer seems ruled by a few masters, and well-funded data-driven entrepreneurship and technology have entirely changed the game, transparency and authenticity are the new ground on which to take a stand. Earnest aspirants who have seen the shit hit the fan and now unwittingly view the world through newly colored lenses are not just questioning the cues that come from the mouths of teachers and the shapes they encourage us to assume, but the images and myths that have come to characterize a storied lifestyle that only really exists as a dangling carrot, convincing us to consume the swill being served.

I have certainly been examining what I do as a teacher more than ever before. And I feel like my sometimes too principled stance, which I’ve enjoyed in the past, no longer holds up to scrutiny. Who the f*** am I to tell anybody else anything about their yoga? Regardless of the approach or purpose that someone adopts, if the wants of those being served are truly being met without harm, and there is some perceived or actual benefit being had then, I say, more power to whatever floats someone’s boat. Of course, most people will agree that there is a distinctly different feeling when a teacher’s driving purpose runs deeper than the immediate gratification or financial reward of meeting expectations.

Who are you going to trust, you or your lying eyes?

Few of us think of ourselves as being whole and perfect beings, already imbued with everything we need at birth. Even those who would embrace such a notion often find it hard to hold onto when so much of the external world communicates otherwise. Consequently, most of us are naturally susceptible to outside influences that easily cloud our perceptions and can taint our sense of self as a source of wisdom or insight.

More confusing is when our experience of healing through practice is a mix of both deeply positive experiences and misgivings that fall somewhere on a spectrum from innocent to nefarious. Yet, most people who develop a dedicated practice over an extended time have found a genuine benefit from doing so. Even when practice goes awry and results in injury or abuse, we still often cannot deny a sense that all was not for naught. That despite our dysfunction, there remains a magic to this thing that we sometimes call yoga.

Self-empowerment goes both ways.

As avenues for individual teachers to make yoga their primary financial means are becoming fewer, sincere students emerging with 200-hour certificates and a calling to share will face some stark choices. It’s difficult to make sense of the disconnect between the transformative power that some people experience through yoga, and the demoralizing presentations and conventions that still characterize the industry and media sphere. If you don’t really love teaching yoga to the degree that the question is not if but how, then it’s probably not worth asking.

For me, there is a distinction between yoga and the commercial yoga industry. In practice, I feel an unexplainable something that shapes my perceptions in profoundly helpful directions. Offering my understanding of this process as a service in exchange for money, while greatly informed by my practice, is an entirely different pursuit. I sometimes wonder if it might be better to satisfy my worldly demands through other means and keep the money away from yoga. But if the benefits of yoga beyond fitness are going to be passed along in our capitalist societies then they will need to find a way to compete in the marketplace, or be relegated to obscurity. If we feel compelled to take this on, it behooves us to recognize the disheartening trends not as an indication of yoga’s failure but as the ongoing work of humanity reckoning with the challenges of our times.

p.s. Thanks to Zack Kurland for the title.

p.p.s. For a more nuanced consideration, listen to this week’s podcast with Sadia Bruce.


J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer, podcaster and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and across the yoga blogosphere. Visit his website at jbrownyoga.com

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38 comments… add one
  • Thanks for sharing great blog i like it.

  • As I have said before in this forum, my intention and drive for becoming a yoga teacher was not to make money, but to share the practice. From my reading on the history of yoga, the practice of yoga was not bought but shared to student by guru. This is definitely a different time in history. But does that make the exchange for teaching, direction and wisdom sharing now a commodity to be exchanged for money?
    Reality is, very few people make a decent living teaching yoga alone. It is possible, but not something you see everyday. I respectfully suggest that we(as teachers of yoga) need to own up to our desire to spread the commodity of yoga vs the sharing of the tradition of yoga (as we see it in the 21st Century) before we can begin to find our way out of this conundrum.

  • Scott Campbell

    If one is concerned about, “making a living at yoga,” then one is probably not practicing Yoga, and certainly not teaching Yoga. Whatever confusion exist about this could probably be clarified by in-depth study of the Yoga sutras, Advaita Vedanta or even Buddha’s Four Noble Truths.

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  • Well Said… I too feel the same. Thanks For Sharing.

  • New age yogi

    Providing free yoga classes is a great thing to accomplish. However, the reality is that people need to make money to live. Some people would rather make money doing what they love rather than working a full time job. Others might strive to work full time and teach in addition, either for money or for free. Some people might be so privileged as to inherit a trust fund per haps and then teach as well. Either way, I do not see a right or wrong path for teaching yoga.

    • Dan

      I am a 44 year old normal bloke and I am happy to pay for my classes. Yes it should be free because it is sacred and spiritual. Even Jesus went away to pray and meditate heaps of times it is mentioned in the bible. East and western therapeutic practices can be combined but I only worship one God. Even catholic versions of yoga are springing up here in Australia..
      My yoga teacher works full time as a marketing director and provides two sessions oh “Hatha” yoga. This is the best because it concentrates on breathing. The power of mindful controlled breathing is invaluable.
      I have learned to control my panic attacke without reaching for Valium.
      My teacher would love to teach yoga full time but she has a family to provide for…She offers it for free if you are broke.
      An amazing women..Jody…
      If you live in Melbourne Australia get in touch with me and I can introduce you to Jody and enjoy a few classes together…

      Love and kindness to all in the world..even my enemies…

  • The above statement are quite clear up our knowledge to gain different views about yoga.

  • The above statement gives us more clear concepts about yoga.Thank you

  • Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines. There is a broad variety of Yoga schools, practices, and goals in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Among the most well-known types of yoga are Hatha yoga and Rāja yoga.

  • Nice post

  • Emily Jenkins

    As much as I love yoga, there are times it seems I love the idea of being this perfectly toned yogi more than I love it in practice. In my mind, successful yogis have ideal, flexible bodies. During yoga classes, I sometimes feel like an imposter in my boyish, skinny, inflexible figure. In these moments, I hate the recent explosion of media attention to yoga; I get stressed about having cute yoga outfits and keeping up with the most experienced yogis in the class. However, I agree with this article in that self-empowerment is a necessary component of yoga and can help to combat the negatives pressures of the commercial yoga industry. It’s okay if I wear old gym shorts and a t-shirt to yoga instead of the newest leggings and fancy sports bra. It’s okay if my forward fold is still wobbly and bent-legged. The beautiful thing about yoga, in my mind, is that it does not judge and does not ask for more than one’s practice. Despite the overwhelming chaos of the commercial industry, I still find my refuge in sweaty, hand-me-down work out clothes doing vinyasa after vinyasa.

  • As a yoga teacher, I always tell people when they ask about my income, that “it’s not enough to pay the mortgage and live the good life at the same time but I sure do love what I do.” Sounds all “Aw-Gee-Willickers-ish” but it’s true that I haven’t raised my rates for my classes in three years.

    The yoga itself is enough for me in so many ways. However, when I schlepp my studio props around for classes outside of my studio and put in many hours of prep time to plan, I do feel the money has been earned. If you stripped the income away that I earn, I would still teach yoga. (Maybe for exchanges like a free massage or a movie pass. lol) We yoga folks teach and try to practive our aparigraha/non-attachement to things, but we are human, too, and earning a living is rewarding especially when we love what we do.

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  • yes i love yoga it really helped me to loose some calories and relax my mind and doing it everyday and making it habit is one of the great things i myself a fitness addict and its important to maintain perfect and balance your body

  • Great blog its very informative thanks for sharing.

  • It’s an amazing information, Thanks for sharing this article !

  • “But if the benefits of yoga beyond fitness are going to be passed along in our capitalist societies then they will need to find a way to compete in the marketplace, or be relegated to obscurity” Well, maybe yoga doesn´t have to “compete in the marketplace”. The “mindfulness” trend came from people who took it “for free” from Eastern teachers, and surely it´s not relegated to obscurity but quite the opposite.

    • Nicole

      Thank you for bringing attention to the fact that “traditionally” yoga was never a service, as a noun, paid for with money or trade. Rather, a service, as a verb, given and shared from a place of love.

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  • Yes! What an article. When gaining my certification I hope to emerge as someone who is genuine, not someone who is trying to gauge my way into the practise in order to make money or do it for the aesthetic. Yoga is a lifestyle!! Great post, love it.

  • J.Brown – Great insights, as always. If you’ve been practicing as long as we have, the yoga world has evolved and morphed into a multi-billion dollar industry. Purists find it sickening; opportunists find it enthralling.

    I think the most important thing is to stay focused on yourself, and your teaching. I’ve never been one to follow the latest trends and you know what? I’ve done OK! I believe there is an audience for every teacher who genuinely has love and compassion in their hearts, and a TRUE desire to help others. The other stuff just falls away. I see too many purists get incensed about IG yogis, wasting their energy on jealousy and resentment. Where will IG yogis be in 30 years? Don’t worry about them!

    “Keep your ear down close to your soul and listen hard” -Anne Sexton

    Namaste, Catherine

    • Nicole

      Hi Catherine,
      I am enthralled by this blog post and by the discussion that I am reading.
      Please excuse my ignorance, but what is an IG Yogi?

      • Nikki

        I just googled it too! Instragam yoga peeps

  • today was my first yoga exercise lol im trying to read about it wish me good luck

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  • I was listening to a Podcast with Krishna Das a while back, and in it he explains the money aspect of the West vs. the Teacher/Student relationship in the East.

    In the West, we accept money for services because that is how our society works. In the East, they have a much older tradition of the Student/Teacher relationship – where the Guru usually only takes on a small number of students.

    An example would be Swami Sri Yuketswar Giri & Paramahansa Yogananda; & Krishnamacharya and his Tibetan Teacher Sri Ramamohana Brahmachari as traditional Teacher/Student relationships in the East. For payment, Paramahansa Yogananda’s teacher told him to go to America and teach yoga (we all know how that worked out). When Krishnamacharya studied with his Tibetan teacher in the cave – the requirement from his teacher was that Krishnamacharya return to India, marry, start a family, and teach yoga.

    In those times, yoga teachers didn’t exactly make a ton of money. When the teachings moved to the West, however, money was made. In our modern times, yoga teachers earn money, although the amount of classes having to be taught per week isn’t a very good income, nor does it allow for a very high quality of life – in accord with the value of services rendered. That’s why we see more retreats, workshops, Private Sessions, Festivals, Podcasts, & Instagram Yogis branding themselves, etc.

    Some who are really making money are – and just a small example here: Clothing Brands (Spiritual Gangster, Lulu Lemon), Corporate Studios (CorePower Yoga), and health food/supplement companies (Vega, Health-Ade Kombucha, etc). Instagram Yogis branding themselves, and Yogis offering those services mentioned above.

    Of course, the true teachings of the Yoga Sutras are watered down (I’ve only met a few teachers personally – at Bhakti Fest Yoga Festival in Joshua Tree, who knew anything about the siddhis and the Third Chapter of the Yoga Sutras). The Western teachings are a mixed bag of yoga philosophies. One example, is that nowhere in the Yoga Sutras are the Chakras mentioned, that is an aspect of Tantric Yoga teaching. So, pretty much everyone who’s ever heard a Chakra mentioned in class, is also a Tantric Practitioner (puts an end to the argument that Tantric Yoga is solely used as a sexual teaching pretty quickly).

    Having the discipline, drive, and authenticity to really practice the teachings of Yoga, and passing them onto our students, would be fantastic. Then I wouldn’t get so many blank stares when I try to share information!

  • Thank you for the article! It brings to the table so many of the thoughts I’ve been having about Yoga, going to studios, and teachings–particularly in the last few years.

    I have never found a good ‘fit’ in a Western Yoga studio, primarily because the focus on money and fashion floated to the top, while the teachers I encountered often seemed to be tailoring their classes with physical exercise in mind. This has always made me uneasy, as that hasn’t been my personal experience of Yoga. For me, it is a door through which I make contact with healing, and with God. At the same time, I believe that anyone practicing Yoga, pretty much regardless of gimmicks or approaches, is doing something potentially positive. A sweaty power Yoga class that blasts Britney Spears could be someone’s introduction to their breath, and their body.

    I started leading small groups years ago, before I took my training. These classes were born out of my personal experience with Yoga, and my desire for training came from wanting to deepen my understanding, and then bring that back to the people I share Yoga with. I went to India, and immediately met countless slender, white, Western women all doing the same training as me. The training I received introduced some great aspects to me, but in no way felt like a comprehensive or supportive ground for learning. I came back to the States, and barely taught for the next two years. I was repulsed by the studios I had access to, and found myself somewhat despairing of the Yoga community in general.

    Over the last few months, I’ve started leading a donation based class at a local community center, and a Seva class at a local spiritual center. The city I live in now is oversaturated with “Yoga teachers” and training classes. I have firsthand experience with a wide array of people teaching fresh out of training and it is often appalling, and occasionally inspiring. I suppose that can be applied to people in general, though.

    Leading Yoga classes and meditation classes has presented to me an experience of feeling fully present, deeply connected, and like I am doing one of the things I was sent here to do. Navigating the Yoga community online and in the physical world leaves me feeling frustrated and ill, a lot (not all) of the time. “If you don’t really love teaching yoga to the degree that the question is not if but how, then it’s probably not worth asking.” This is why I keep on keeping on, even when I’d rather move to the mountains and practice by myself on a big rock in the middle of nowhere. It is not if I can navigate these disparate experiences, but how.

  • I think that finding a yoga teacher who works for you in terms of your wellbeing, is the key

  • Great post. Articles that have meaningful and insightful comments are more enjoyable, at least to me. It’s interesting to read what other people thought and how it relates to them or their clients, as their perspective could possibly help you in the future.

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