March 29, 2013

Moving Beyond the Business of Yoga. ~ Harmony Lichty

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Today I woke up with the marketing blues.

It seems that in many ways yoga has become all about marketing.

From the newest “learn to” DVD or yoga book, to the latest yoga teacher scandal or “stretchy pant crisis,” we are obsessed with the superfluous.

There is a beautiful, glowing, tantalizing, nymph-like monster called “The Business of Yoga.” This monster erotically dances circles around shops, studios and retreat centers everywhere. If you’re at all interested in yoga, I’m sure you have already come face to face with her. She is obvious and yet somehow still deceptive. Agitating our minds and seducing our desires, she is invoked whenever business mixes with yoga, which is pretty much unavoidable these days.

Recently, I’ve been bombarded with messages from various sources all saying that, as a yoga teacher, you need to find some angle to market “your unique talents and abilities.” Lessons on using the right catch phrases and how to sell yourself will help to create more buzz.

Of course, everyone has the miracle solution on how to do this, and for only $9.99 you can download the latest e-book that will change your life!

Whether it is YouTube or Facebook, what seems to matter most is how you brand yourself and I fear that all of this advertising is merely another distraction that keeps moving further away from the essence of what yoga is supposed to be about. To be honest, I really loath the idea of having to market myself like some kind of new and improved running shoe that can be bought or sold at a discount.

On top of that, what really dampens my spirit and exhausts my enthusiasm are all the spin-doctors out there who are more than happy to use the popularity of this ancient art for mass commercialization and flat out self-promotion.

It disturbs me that the latest fad seems to be taking pretty much any word and combining it with “yoga” to invent a new twist on an old philosophy and create a tasty pseudo-spiritual item for the hungry masses.

I find myself questioning whether there is any real meaning to be salvaged in the word “yoga” at all.

Even when the advertising strategy is smeared in good intentions and disguised as a delicious gluten-free-vegan cupcake, it still promotes large-scale, empty-caloric consumption, which really goes against the inherent wisdom of this bona fide tradition.

It’s not that the products or self-promoters are altogether sinister or completely off track. For the most part, I can see that they are honestly trying to spread positive ideas and ideals while making a living doing what they love. Yet, the continual emphasis on image makes me wonder if there is anyone looking for a way out of this modern-day onslaught of marketing madness. And if so, how do we move beyond it?

As I’m pretty certain there are still some who are not so easily bemused by the wafting fragrance of Nag Champa coming from the hottest ‘Power-Flow-Yin-Yang-Shiva-Shakti-Sattva’ yoga class, so I find myself compelled to find a way out of this modern day dilemma.

I think we must not be mindlessly dazzled by the glitz and glitter of the latest trend or too busy rushing off to attend our next yoga class.

While on our way to spiritual enlightenment, we are hardly practicing yoga in our lives at all.

I have a suspicion that the answer will be found by going back to the roots, to dig down deep and touch upon the essence of yoga in an effort to untangle ourselves from this marketing craze and web of spiritual narcissism.

It seems obvious, but it must be said: yoga is not about the clothes or the mat, nor is it about the way we look or even the way we feel. It is actually not a hobby or an activity to keep you occupied in your spare time, and perhaps contrary to popular belief, it is not simply a class you can drop-in to or drop-out of.

Yoga is a way of life.

It is a commitment you make to your self, a daily practice, a way of relating to the world at large. It’s not limited to what happens on a yoga mat; it extends into how we interact with other people, animals and the planet itself. It is meant to permeate our entire existence and shine the light of awareness into every corner of our lives. That is, if we can just get out from under the pile of stuff we are hiding in.

Yoga is a process of self-transformation.

It happens on the inside, deep in the place that you cannot see. This process cannot be enhanced or brought about through any purchases, products, workshops or any external means. The uncomfortable truth is that we already have everything we need to practice and create yoga within. To realize this deeper union, right here, right now, we only need to make an effort in that direction and then relinquish our attachment to the results of this effort.

Yoga is primarily a spiritual practice.

If we let it, the practice of yoga will help us uncover that brilliant spark of infinity within, but it is something we have to actualize—put into practice. Not just once a week, but daily.

Let us not be fooled into thinking this is an easy undertaking. It takes courage to meet yourself, exactly as you are in this moment, day after day, again and again; it holds the possibility of leading you to uncover a boundless inspiration buried in the silence of your soul. This path of rediscovery is not an easy road, but if we have the boldness to begin this journey, it promises to be both rewarding and transforming.

Yoga is a discipline.

It is a discipline that works to renovate your mind, body and habits.

It can be challenging and frustrating.

Some days you won’t feel like getting out of bed to meet yourself on your mat or your meditation cushion.

Some days you won’t want to look in the mirror of your life choices to experience the veracity of how they are affecting you. Yet, when you do begin to clean the dust off your inner mirror through a regular practice, you will feel better for it.

As my teacher says, “Yoga is the science of experience, and the art of living.”

It demands both consistent effort through practice and also an earnest attempt to fully surrender.

It requires a desire to release the old and open to the new.

It is meant to weaken the ego and awaken the spirit.

It entices us to drink drop by drop from the infinite ocean within and experience the sweetness of what we truly are.

It teaches us to recognize authenticity both within and without, and to sit in an uncomfortable thought, sensation, or situation, and just breathe, without rebelling or reacting and to confront difficult relationships with compassion.

For all this, marketing is no use, it only makes us more lost in all the things that do not really matter.

Practice. Serve. Love. Repeat.

Try getting up and practicing without anyone watching, without fancy clothes or your favorite mat, without any goal in mind except to sink deeper into your own present moment awareness of breath. Practice as best you can on any given day, regardless of how you feel or how you look—this is the yoga.

I believe that there is one way to wade through all the distracting illusions that deceptively disguise themselves as yoga and that is to go deeper into our own personal sadhana, spiritual practice. We must clothe ourselves with the possibly that through our sincere intentions and consistent efforts we will, likely with a little help from grace, move beyond the business of yoga to experience the naked light of knowledge that awaits us on the other side.


Harmony Lichty is co-founder and director of Ashtanga Yoga Victoria, where she and her husband Jeff presently teach a thriving Mysore Program. Harmony has been teaching Ashtanga Yoga in the Mysore method for over a decade. After completing two degrees in Philosophy and Eastern Religion, she made her first trip to India to study with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath Jois. She spent the following five years living in Asia, traveling and teaching internationally, with long periods dedicated to practice and exploration in Mysore at the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute. Authorized by Sri Pattabhi Jois in 2006, she continues to return frequently to deepen and enrich her own practice. For the past decade, Harmony has also been a student of Sri O.P Tiwari and has expanded her studies of Yoga under his attentive guidance. Jeff and Harmony continue to teach workshops and intensives, and love to travel. With the birth of their son in 2011, life has become both full and sweet.

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Assistant Ed. Rebecca Schwarz
Ed: Brianna Bemel

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