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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Ed: Brianna Bemel

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anonymous Apr 24, 2013 1:50am

It’s actually a nice and useful piece of info.

anonymous Apr 15, 2013 8:27pm

I couldn’t agree more….you hit the nail on the head, yoga is all of this things. But I thought this article would go on to address how we would reconcile our place as yoga professionals and still be true to uor spiritual practice. And I didn’t feel like it gave any advice what-so-ever.

anonymous Apr 2, 2013 9:51pm

Nicely said Harmony. It's funny because I just posted my own version of the same subject…I guess we're all being forced to take a look at our relationship to the whole dynamic. There is so much to say about it, but ultimately I think all we can do is go day by day, keep our intentions pure, lead by example and wait for the collective consciousness to raise…
best of luck to you

anonymous Apr 1, 2013 9:06pm

Hi, while I can appreciate the foundation of your article, it felt somewhat disjointed. There can be a happy medium between the health community and what it represents, while still merging with a successful business model.

anonymous Apr 1, 2013 9:48am

Hi Harmony!

When I first opened my studio, I wrote an article about the business of yoga. Because unfortunately, we do have to deal with that side of it…or no studio to provide a place for others to grow. However, I found myself caught up in the "business" of it within a few months and practicing less and less which is NOT why I got into yoga in the first place. Thank you for this article. It really resonated with me. I am now practicing more and more and getting much more in touch with what made me fall in love with yoga in the first place. Getting back into the depths of myself, the real, service to others and a connection with a higher conciousness.

Namaste, sister!

anonymous Mar 31, 2013 5:26pm

Harmony, this is exquisitely said. I'd love for people to settle into yoga and begin to experience it. Good teachers are the only translators. We can only hope that the real seekers will seek a good teacher, one who is not on the yoga celebrity train. Because that train has left the station and will never lead to full realization for him or herself or for their students.

Thank you for writing this and keep on reminding us of what it's like to have a pure yoga nature, one that is always evolving.

anonymous Mar 31, 2013 8:56am

Amen! The prayer you have lifted up, landed softly with me. I’ll send it back up into the ether again soon:)

anonymous Mar 31, 2013 8:25am

rock on, yogini.

anonymous Mar 30, 2013 9:05pm

Enjoyed your article! I have been practicing yoga for 40 years. Started with Sivananda Yoga in 1974. Took my teacher training with Swami Vishnudevananda in 1976. Lived in the ashram for 3 mos. and lived the yogic lifestyle. And I have seen yoga change over these last 40 yrs. Or, should I say, what yoga really is, hasn't changed. Just the "outer" version of yoga has changed. True yoga is still the same, and I feel the roots of yoga are always with me. I practiced Bikram yoga in the 80's and 90's (talk about getting away from the spiritual roots of yoga!), did some Iyengar Yoga and then discovered Ashtanga yoga in the 1990's. Ashtanga yoga is my love now, and every breath takes me back to the roots of yoga. I began yoga before there were yoga mats, yoga pants, and a yoga studio on every corner. But, guess what? At age 64 I have a yoga butt!!! Ha!Ha! Yes, yoga has kept my body in excellent physical shape, so there's definitely something to be said about the physical benefits of yoga. Yoga is a miracle because it is physical, mental, and spiritual, it encompasses all of who we are.

anonymous Mar 30, 2013 8:26pm

sthiram sukham asanam……thanks for the article and the marketing too. yes sometimes marketing goes overboard just to get customers and cheapens the product. yoga is just one example. marketers and advertisers in general confuse the whole manner of creating awareness and gentle persuasion

anonymous Mar 30, 2013 7:15pm

I love what you wrote Harmony. But maybe we live in a time where transformation happens in many different ways at many different levels. Great Yogis like Swami Yogananda and Swami Rama come out from the Himalayans to spread the word. Yoga is like you said – a transformational path, witch means, it's not one path. Let people be and do what they want. Explore and experience. I'm sure that the yoga you and I do are not the same that great yogis practice. We all have unique journeys. Let the journey be their yoga.

anonymous Mar 30, 2013 11:08am

Thank you Harmony. Now if we could just see this lovely message without the flash ads scrolling down the side of the page. 🙂

anonymous Mar 30, 2013 10:15am

Right on Harmony!

anonymous Mar 29, 2013 4:09pm

Our culture is (fortunately or unfortunately) inundated with marketing, which should guide us to places that resonates with us. Careful marketing (or equally, lack of marketing, for lack of marketing can speak just as loudly as flashy marketing) by yoga teachers should help guide the right students to us. You and your husband have a thriving studio, but what does the individual yoga teacher have to earn a living from? Our classes. And the more people we can draw into our classes, the better living we can make. This is the paradigm the studios have set for us. Yoga also teaches us not to judge, not to be attached to the ideas of right and wrong. That includes not judging the path of others. If a student wants to practice yoga under the flashiest neon sign, that is where they are on their path, I am glad they found yoga in some form, and I acknowledge that their path is not mine, so I remain unattached. Equally, I trust that the students who find their way to your studio are there because that is what they are ready for. There is enough judgment in this world already. I prefer to allow the growth of everyone, right where they are.

anonymous Mar 29, 2013 4:09pm

Harmony, while I agree with your ideas , I also realize that each of us has our own path. For one, we were born into the culture we are in, and from there we make our way forward. Forward, meaning the starting point is different for everyone. Not everyone is ready to enter into the discipline of the yogic path as you describe it. For those who are not ready, marketing in just the right way can guide them to the right teacher for them. Once they have outgrown that teacher they will seek more.
(continued in next comment)

anonymous Mar 29, 2013 1:20pm

I agree with much of what this article states, but it isn't enough to reconcile the constant tug-of-war I feel between ethics and living comfortably. I would love to see someone comment on how teachers can remain ethical and teach yoga in today's world. Not another article making fun of yoga teachers- although I've seen some funny ones- but an article which suggests a solution to the problem we're all constantly talking about.

Waylon Lewis, this website's owner, commented on this situation a while back when he asked who among us is studying yoga to the degree of our predecessors? I took that very seriously and decided to study, seriously. I practice daily (at home and with my teacher) meditate, study yogic literature and texts, write, reflect. I put many unpaid hours into developing sequences and considering my language (cuing, etc). I already know yoga is more than commercialism, I already do many of the things that these periodically released "reform yoga" opinion articles suggest. I would like to teach yoga as my main job because I am in love with it. But how do we live comfortably without compromising our ethics? Is self-promotion always shameful, or does it sometimes guide students to class? Is it wrong to have a Facebook forum in which people can, GASP, stay up to date on your offerings? Someone, please, produce some useful advice on how to salvage the community that is clearly wrought with ethical dilemmas, commercialism and consumer values.

    anonymous Mar 29, 2013 6:11pm

    This will not help you directly answer your question, but here is some free advice that is worth every penny.

    Life has a way of always getting in the way of our plans and desires, imagine having a terminally ill daughter or son, or being caught in a war zone, or being sold by your parents into childhood prostitution. Just to put our comfortable lives into perspective.

    I have always defined my success to be measured by how many of the minutes in my life I spend doing exactly what I most want to be doing. Sometimes I have to change what I want in order to arrive at this state, other times I have been able to arrange circumstances so I am able to do more of what I dream about. I have gone out of my way to arrange things so that I could indulge my passions only to discover, after a while, that it really wasn't all I thought it would be and I started going in a new direction after climbing down.

    Each of us is faced with the same dilemma and how you solve that riddle defines who you are. It is only when we author our own path through life that true meaning emerges. You've described your present challenges pretty well, now you get to go out and solve them and tell us how you did it. Forging ahead requires humility, an open mind and the ability to appreciate your small advances. Retaining your humanity in the face of these challenges feels REAL good and the further you get along the more important that aspect of the journey becomes. Authenticity is always more powerful than marketing. We were not promised anything in this life and we must avoid thinking that we deserve better than what we wound up with.

anonymous Mar 29, 2013 12:28pm

Nice to read your words, Harmony <3

anonymous Mar 29, 2013 10:55am

Ah yes. To paraphrase a line from Karate Kid 2 "yoga lives in everything we do. It lives in how we put on a jacket it lives in how we treat people it lives in everything." We have only one practice and that is living yoga or living torah what ever you want to call it. When I get up in the middle of the night for the 30th time and I feel anger swell and I want to lash out at my terminally ill disabled daughter for calling me again I relate to the feeling from my asana practice, the compassion I have for myself, reach deep for me past all my attachments for sleep, rest, etc and just let the love flow. I tell myself caring for my daughter this is yoga this is my practice it's all a practice (ok i know pass the granola). I was told by a wise woman not long ago just make it to the mat every day that is the practice. That in itself has taken the practice to a whole new level. I completely agree with your perspective. The only positive aspect of all this marketing is that it does put Yoga into everyone's consciousness and that will surely peak someone's interest and bring yoga philosophy into their lives. I guess yoga marketing is somewhat better than fast food, alcohol, gambling and cigarette marketing but it's still marketing and the outcome most of the time is material. I'm sure this article is going to resonate with lots of people. The other day I noticed how the founder of lululemon has just built a home on 3 lots on point grey road in Vancouver (we're talking huge money) is this yoga? I'm sure there's books on the yoga of business and the yoga of money. Renunciation looks more appealing all the time. With love and respect to you, Jeff and the little one. Hari Om Tat Sat

anonymous Mar 29, 2013 8:26am

Your article resonated with me. Crossing an individual yoga lifestyle with a money making venture leads many (young, and not so young) people onto a slippery slope. Beware of a 'little knowledge" because it can be dangerous; many young people tend to overplay their hand and soon find themselves chasing fame and fortune. I watched John friend and a couple other talented yogis crash and burn as they tried to turn their yoga and teaching into a system that would support their lifestyle but the world would not play along with them indefinitely.

I have walked the householder path, I have lived abroad for over 30 years, I am close to my large family, my children have moved away, I am becoming more active politically, I have a meaningful sitting and yoga practice and all of this informs my understanding of what life is all about and where the 'goodies' can be found.

The learning that has taken place as a result of my experiences is valuable: it cannot be bought and sold but only acquired through living. This makes me impervious to the marketing of yoga and spirituality and I will raise the BS warning flag whenever I suspect someone, however well-meaning, is trying to sell their way as something with intrinsic value. You can find meaning anywhere as long as you are looking for it.