November 11, 2013

It’$ all About Ahim$a: How Yoga, Inc. Need$ to $tart A$king $ome Tough Que$tions.

It has become the elephant in the room, the question yogis fear, at the risk of sounding critical, judgmental or ‘unyogic.’

How does a more ‘traditional’ hatha yoga teacher or studio owner stay financially afloat in a Western yoga market increasingly dominated by the large, corporate studio model, uber-expensive designer apparel companies and the cult of social media ‘yoga-lebrities’?

What is authentic anymore? What is real? And, conversely, what are the opportunities of modernity?

I read with great interest the recent Elephant Journal article by Robyn Parets.

I wanted to applaud Parets for her brave piece (Gasp! Yogis discussing the shadow side of the industry?! Sheesh! What is world coming to?)

Like Parets, I am a yoga teacher who prefers a more ‘traditional’ hatha practice (with some vinyasa sprinkled in).

I am a new-ish teacher. I was certified in 2008. I love yoga and love to teach others yoga. I love to read about yoga, learn about yoga and practice yoga. To feel the mind and body working together is sheer bliss.

Yet, I am currently taking a break from yoga teaching.

I had, in retrospect, been foolhardy in my yoga teaching expectations. I had assumed that, with enough chutzpah, hard-work, and intention-setting, that I could pay the rent with my teaching.

I was ‘oommed’-out. I was starry-eyed, particularly about the yoga community. (Some ‘yoga people’, it turns out, are fully capable of greed and egotism, especially when there are profits to be made. Shhhh!)

My decision to take a break was based on the principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence towards myself.

I was forcing myself to be a square peg in a round hole, to ‘succeed’ in a yoga rat race that I didn’t believe in. In doing so, I had begun to doubt the very practice I loved, perhaps squandering the precious truths that yoga had taught me.

I realize what I say may not be popular here. I think yoga—true yoga—teaches us to respect our limitations. We must, at times, turn inwards beyond what is popular and acceptable. We must love our shadow to appreciate our light.

1. Like the Buddha says, “Everything changes.” For good or ill, we live in a consumer society. How do we explain the current yoga conundrum? Fads will come and go.

We are a yang-oriented society. Bigger, better, faster. For many Americans, being over-stressed and overworked and trying to ‘have it all’ is a badge of honor. We need yoga. And, yet we’re so afraid to turn inside. What might we find? That the shibboleths of success and achievement and ‘having it all’ might crumble in the wind?

As individual practitioners, we have the opportunity and responsibility to determine what kind of ‘yoga’ is appropriate for each of us. Does a certain style of yoga make you cringe? Find something else!

There are a lot of ‘yin’-sters still out there. I think.

Like Parets, I prefer ‘traditional’ hatha yoga. I want to move, to stretch deeply, to quiet my mind. I’m not into glow sticks or techno in the yoga room. Others may enjoy it. I think hot power yoga is risky. (How can one teacher provide adequate instruction or adjustments to seventy or eighty students packed into one room? ) Others may enjoy it.

I don’t like the current obsession with pricey workout wear. I think it creates a have and have-not mentality best left back in junior high. Others may feel good about themselves by adhering to a certain brand loyalty. Me: If I spend $98 on stretch bottoms, I would at least hope not to expose my students to see London, France and maybe more.

2.) ….but we live and work in the present.

Let us not cling to some ideal world, where the conditions for achieving equanimity, harmony and stillness of mind were more perfect than they are now. Yoga has been around for thousands of years. It has survived war, pestilence, economic collapse and disaster.

We will endure YogaRave, Twittering ‘yogalebrities’, Kim Kardashian and the sheer yoga pants debacle. Like Gloria Gaynor says, we ‘will survive’!

3.) It is tempting to think we yoga professionals can overlook the financial side of things and ‘tough it out’ indefinitely. The grisly truth? We cannot subsist on love, light and happy vibes indefinitely. We love our students, but we must practice ahimsa financially.

In ancient India, yoga students studied with a master and exchanged help or services in exchange for instruction.

In modern America, yoga professionals need to eat and pay the rent/mortgage just like everybody else. We must, therefore, make smart financial decisions. Practice ahimsa, or non-harming with decisions relating to your yoga teaching passion. Consider how your decisions will impact your family or significant other.

Do you have savings? Is your partner willing or able to support your family financially, at least at the beginning of your yoga career? What about costs like health and accident insurance, continuing training seminars or transportation to classes around your city or town?

4.) Be realistic. Be realistic. Be realistic.

According to a study released by Yoga Journal and conducted by Sports Marketing Surveys USA, 20.4 million American yoga practitioners spent $10.3 billion dollars in 2012 on “yoga classes and products, including equipment, clothing, vacations and media.” In 2008, 15.8 million Americans spent $5.7 billion on yoga.

Let me be blunt: Unless you’re Bikram, you ain’t gonna see much of this.

As a newly minted teacher, emerging onto the scene in an urban market where supply of teachers exceeds demand for teachers, you will struggle. You will encounter saints and people who make Attila the Hun look like Mother Teresa. Economies of scale have come to dominate. Large, corporate studios and gyms are de rigeur in most urban areas and many smaller community-based studios have been forced to close. It’s like the Wild Wild West out there. Buckle up, partner, because it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Love what you do and seek to learn from the darkness as well as the light. Develop a strong personal practice. And, remember, you don’t need any of that stuff they’re trying to sell you.


Like Ganesh, elephantjournal.com’s int’l yoga community on Facebook.

Editor: Catherine Monkman

{Photo: Wikimedia Commons.}

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