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I Love Yoga And Hate Everything About It

in Featured, YogOpinions

yoga-industrial-complex

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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13 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.

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  • 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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