February 17, 2011

The Evolving Role of Yoga Studios.

Cappuccinos 3…..Ustrasanas 4

Today, it seems there are more yoga studios than coffee shops. On a block here in Pittsburgh the scoreboard reads:

Coffee shops 3

Yoga studios 4

and 1 (with a lowercase “l”) lululemon.

Is this a good thing, a great thing?

Of course it’s good, great. One style, one teacher, one studio will never connect with every student. Given our beautiful uniqueness, yogis need options. (If only the yoga world would set aside its’ ridiculous my style is better than your style wars. Isn’t yoga suppose to be a unifier?? but I digress and that’s a topic for another day…) The bottom line is this: the more yoga the better.

“Yoga Journal” estimates that 15 million folks in the US practice yoga.  According to YogaFinder, there are some 12,000 yoga studios and that number is still growing. When we opened Amazing Yoga in 2000, we were only the 2nd studio in Pittsburgh—now there are at least thirty. This growth is fantastic: more people are taking care of themselves.

The question is this:  Is all this yoga making an impact in the world? I hope so. I’d like to think it has. All these yoga studios and yoga students seem like a golden opportunity to make a positive change in the world. But to be honest, I think we are under-performing, not yet realizing our potential: Yoga studios, teachers and students alike, need to stretch beyond their studio walls. Stretch more than their hamstrings and groins.  The stretching needs to evolve into reaching, as in community out-reach.

So what is the role of a yoga studio, in the local community, in the global community?

Yoga studios have the potential to become centers for action. They can affiliate with local farmers, women’s shelters, schools and at risk youths. They can be places where information concerning the environment is shared, models of business conducted differently. Yoga studios, in other words, can become forces for change.

As yogis—studio owners, teachers, and students alike–need to remind ourselves that yoga is not about who can lift her leg the highest, who can pick his ears with his toes. Yoga is not about losing weight or looking good.  There are no trophies for doing the most beautiful dancer’s pose.  (Well, then again. . .)

The winner of the most magnificent Natarajasana in town!.......Dorothy

We need to remind ourselves that yoga’s power lay in changing our perspective, changing how we make decisions, little and big.

What can be done?

As studio owners, we want to give back something that evolves, grows, and spreads beyond the walls of our own studio. Here are just a few suggestions of things we’re doing at Amazing Yoga.

1.  Get out the information. This year, we’ve made a commitment to focus our energy on the action we, as yogis, can take after we roll up our mats.  First, we’ve outfitted all four studios with “Community Action Boards” with information on movements like CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) and the damage plastic water bottles do to our environment.  We remind people when it’s time to vote.

That's a lot of effing plastic....

2.  Donate to a charity with time and/or money. If there is not a charity near and dear to your heart, find one. Or better yet, create a new one. We are in the process of doing that ourselves.  It may take a little extra time and work, but if the cause is personal and you are passionate about it, it will thrive!  Fund raising yoga classes are also a great way to create awareness, they are easy to set up, and they can galvanize the community.

3.  If you run a Teacher Training Program, require your graduates to teach a minimum of five yoga classes in the community. Encourage them to pick a place that has little or no access to yoga.

These are just the start.  The possibilities are endless!

On an Anglican Bishop’s tomb in the crypt at Westminster Abbey, written nearly a thousand years ago, are these words:

When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world.  As I grew older and wiser I realized the world would not change, and I decided to shorten my sights somewhat and change only my country. But it too seemed immovable. As I entered my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I sought to change only my family, those closest to me, but alas they would have none of it. And now here I lie on my death bed and realize (perhaps for the first time) that if only I’d changed myself first, then by example I may have influenced my family and with their encouragement and support may have bettered my country, and who knows, I may have changed the world.

Next week, a follow up to this article.  “The Question: Donation Yoga or Not Donation Yoga.  The Answer?  The world needs both!”

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Sean Conley  |  Contribution: 1,000