Witnessing the Yoga Scene Around the Country Makes Me Consider Closing my Studio. ~ Robyn Parets

Via Robyn Parets
on Nov 7, 2013
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Photo: Pixoto.

Yoga Sutra 1.8: “Misconception occurs when knowledge of something is not based upon its true form.”

As Sri Swami Satchidananda explains it, “In the twilight you see a coiled rope and mistake it for a snake. You get frightened. There is no snake there in reality; there is a false understanding. But still it created a terror in your mind. It is not only valid knowledge that creates thought waves, but erroneous impressions also.”

We all have things we think to be real or true—our relationships, our careers, whatever it may be that defines us. But what happens when our truth isn’t quite as we thought it was or should be? What, then, is the truth? What is real?

I’m going out on a limb here and I will probably piss off some yogis and yoga teachers in the process, but I don’t care. Got to speak my truth.

And I know, I’ve probably already lost about half of you already, but stick with me here. It will all make sense in a moment.

I left home in April 2012, and I have been touring the U.S. (soon Canada) ever since. Pretty much the only thing that’s kept me somewhat grounded in this tour de force is my yoga practice. Not the sweating, twist-yourself-in-knots type of practice that many Americans consider yoga, but the breathing and simplicity of the practice. Sometimes I just stand in mountain pose so that I can truly feel my feet on the ground. Other times I roll out my mat and do what feels good. And still other times I go to a yoga class. That’s where the truth starts to become fuzzy.

In every city I go to, I search for a yoga class that isn’t hot or power or rock ‘n roll or in a sling shot. I look for the studio that’s been in town the longest or has a teacher older than 19. I’ve been to studios from Los Angeles to New York City and many places in-between including, in no particular order: Wisconsin, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas, Arkansas, Indiana, Vermont, Minnesota, and Nebraska. Some of the studios have been chains, others just small spaces.

I can say this for sure: yoga isn’t what it used to be.

Everyone has a gimmick and everything is fast. Yup, that’s right, fast. In all but a couple instances, the classes have been crammed with as many poses as the teacher can think up in an hour, regardless of whether he or she knows how to safely get students from one posture to the next. Music is usually blaring (not that I have anything against loud music, but sometimes it hinders the ability to quiet the mind). The students look like they are competing in a yoga fashion contest hosted by lululemon (sorry, it’s true). Teachers talk incessantly even when they have nothing to say. Most classes have next to no warm-ups or cool-downs. They usually don’t mention the breath or the mind. One had no savasana at all.

Here’s the thing: this is what people want—or at least think—they want. This is how teachers are learning to practice and instruct.

It’s a sad but honest reflection of our culture. As a society, we don’t know how to slow down, yet we want to do things that are good for us—so we do yoga, even if we don’t know what that is. We also teach yoga even if we don’t know how or even have an inkling of an idea of the centuries old healing practice that we are passing down.

Let me back up here for a moment.

I opened my yoga studio nine years ago. At the time, I was pretty much the only Hatha studio around. Since then, there are now studios within ten minutes of mine in every direction. All but one offer strictly hot, power yoga classes. I’m not even counting the gyms and YMCAs which all also offer yoga. In order for all these studios and classes to serve all those students, there have to be enough teachers. So almost all studios now offer training courses, many of which are franchised or canned (but the students don’t know this).

I am not saying these programs are bad or that all teachers don’t know what they are doing. I am just trying to lay it all out there.

Teachers are being pumped out faster than you can say “Patanjali,” and students are coming to classes in droves regardless of whether the class is good or bad. They hang on the teacher’s every word even if the teacher has no idea what he is doing or saying. Students think that if they do enough chaturangas, they are doing yoga. Heck, they might even think that 20 chaturanga push-ups will quiet the mind. They probably don’t know that stilling the mind and yoga are one and the same.

It’s not just happening in studios. Look at yoga conferences and festivals.

Students flock to these big events where the classes are taught by those I now call “rock star” yoga teachers. These are teachers who have become famous in the yoga world and have large followings of students. Some of these teachers are actually very good at teaching yoga, but most are just overwhelmed with their own egos and the large base of students who seek them out in a convention center packed with 150 other adoring students. Most of these teachers are under 35 years old and many have been teaching this ancient healing art for less than eight years (that’s my unscientific poll but I betcha I’m right on the money here). I’ll admit, there was a time when I aspired to teach at these big conferences where people pay money to come to your classes or workshops even if the money goes to charity. It feeds the ego, no getting around it. But after witnessing what I have over the past year, I want none of this.

It all hit home in Austin, Texas.

Michelle, one of my closest friends, lives there. We did our yoga teacher training together at Maha Yoga Center with a gifted and wise teacher. For the past four years, Michelle has been whining about the yoga scene in Austin. I keep encouraging her to teach because, well, she’s the real deal. She has tried but can’t seem to find a studio to teach at—somewhere she can keep it real. She said all the studios are hot or power or fast or gimmicky. She said all the studio directors and teachers don’t know a thing about anatomy and sure as heck can’t teach a breathing technique.

I didn’t believe her. I mean, really, Austin? It’s a pretty progressive city with lots of yogis. Since I try to take a class in every city I visit, I was determined to hit a studio in Austin with my yogini friend Michelle. We picked a well-known studio. It looked hip and fun. Let’s just stop there.

We walked into a noontime class and had to restrain ourselves from laughing out loud. The skinny teacher in perfect yoga clothes had us rolling on the floor, literally. We rolled and then jumped up. Rolled and jumped up. Rolled and jumped up. We did a few fast poses in-between the rolling and jumping and then she bid us adieu. No rest for the weary. No savasana.

“That wasn’t even on the top five worst classes in Austin,” said Michelle as we walked out. I raced back to my hotel to roll out my yoga mat. My nervous system was completely out of whack.

I know, I know, to each their own. But really, call that what you want, but don’t call it yoga. To me yoga was and is about quieting the mind, breathing, finding stillness, feeling grounded and balanced. It’s about moving in a way that makes sense and is rooted in anatomy and yogic science. It’s about being honest with yourself and your students. It’s about knowing your limitations. It’s about slowing down so that you can listen and hear your own inner voice—the voice of intuition. It’s about finding stillness amid the activity. Try doing 20 poses on both sides in an hour; there’s simply no time for stillness.

Police give fast drivers speeding tickets. Who is going to slow us down in life? Ourselves.

Witnessing the yoga scene around the country has caused me to consider closing my studio on several occasions. I’ve become skeptical of myself. I mean, what is my purpose for being here when I’m losing the battle to hot yoga studios, fast classes, and DVDs/podcasts that promise results in 20 minutes? I have often wondered if perhaps I’ve got it all wrong, but then I come home and realize that what I am doing here is worth it. Regardless of whether I have five students or 500.

This is real.

 

Relephant:

Things Yoga Students are Dying to Tell Their Teachers (But Never Will).

Things Your Yoga Teacher is Dying to Tell You (But Probably Won’t).

What Does a Yoga Teacher Look Like?

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Asst. Editor: Jane Henderling / Editor: Cat Beekmans

{Photo: Pixoto.}

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About Robyn Parets

Robyn Parets is a certified Hatha yoga teacher and journalist, owns Breathe Joy Yoga studio in Massachusetts and has written for the Los Angeles Times, Inc. Magazine Group, and Investor’s Business Daily. She recently got back from a 15-month-long tour around North America with her son Noah, who was playing the role of Billy Elliot in “Billy Elliot the Musical.” She is spending this year blogging, reconnecting, and trying to figure out her next career!

 

Comments

119 Responses to “Witnessing the Yoga Scene Around the Country Makes Me Consider Closing my Studio. ~ Robyn Parets”

  1. Robyn Parets says:

    Hi there — Everyone is entitled to their opinion but I believe that yogis deserve to earn a living for the good they do in this world and if I can help people achieve that, I will. This article is an opinion piece (my opinion) on the changing face of yoga. When my studio was thriving, I made a good living and I don't feel guilty about this. That video with Sadie was a parody and I also believe yogis need to lighten up a little and have fun. It doesn't mean I feel any differently about the practice I seek. We all seek different practices. But this doesn't mean things haven't changed. Also, amphib1yogini: yogis talk about being "non-judgmental" which I think is pretty impossible. However, if you had any idea what we are doing over at YAMA Talent, you might consider taking back that comment. Only a thought. I wish you the best!

  2. elianaposada says:

    I agree that yoga studios need to be economically viable, but they all should strive to maintain and respect yoga philosophy

  3. elianaposada says:

    Dear Robyn,
    Thank you very much for your analysis on what ¨yoga¨ practice is becoming. As a teacher, this article reinforce my commitment to keep studying not only anatomy and asanas, but also the philosophy behind the practice.

  4. As yoga teachers age, they do not all turn into Tao Porchon-Lynch. Some become more like J. Brown (who is far from old, having turned 42) …

    What you promote now may some day turn their back on you, and the old-timey schools would find they hardly need representation.

    Reminds me of the dueling bumper stickers:

    "I'm Born Again"

    vs.

    "We Never Lost It"

    So, you will also know that this is a bubble you are riding. This too shall pass.

  5. Robyn Parets says:

    HI Eliana,
    Thanks for reading. I think we all need to keep in mind that yoga means something different to all of us. It's just that the lines have become blurred between yoga and fitness classes. I do both and sometimes my yoga is more "fitnessy" in nature but I was reflecting on the scene out there and that there is more of a focus on the fitness (in many studios) and less on the rest of it. So, if we are seeking philosophy, meditation and pranayama, it just takes a lot more looking around as many studios I visited do not offer this anymore (or very little of it). Best of luck to you!

  6. Your arts talent agency does represent Kirtan artists. Hopefully the yoga raves they now perform/instruct at would someday be replaced by more meaningful (to some of us) venues … some of us who are the far side of 30.

  7. http://www.itsallyogababy.com/vancouver-reaches-p

    You could discuss this all you want. For my part, I got a little too chronically ill and preoccupied to care about if it is a bubble or not.

    "[…] 'yoga business expert' from Simon Fraser University who has closely studied and taught about Lululemon’s business plan. “There’s only so many people who want to do yoga, and we probably just have too many studios,” said David Hannah.

    "Is it more complicated than this? Has the current business model to thrive in the yoga industry (open a studio / start a teacher training to generate revenue / train more students / saturate the market) created a vicious cycle? Does this rash of closures say something about the excess of supply over demand for yoga in other North American cities? And is it possible that as the economic rewards of studio-based yoga diminish, that this phase in the cycle may actually benefit the passionate, committed teachers and students?"

    The question will then be, when and how does a yoga artist talent agent become a sort of yoga fine arts impresario … because even old school would return and go all Brahmin on ya …

  8. Amy Wenzel Martin says:

    My first experience with yoga was with the kind of class that you offer… it was upstairs above an Indian food restaurant in Dallas. I loved it for the physical and spiritual tranquility that I came away with. I have never found another class like that in the various parts of the state I have lived in since then, and have subsequently been annoyed or disappointed with each one I've tried since. Keep doing what you're doing. I don't have much expertise or experience but I know there are people looking for what you have to offer.

  9. Mgd says:

    no need to mention about "the SKINNY yoga teacher had us blah blah blah" I was enjoying your article up until that point. Would you have said "the fat yoga teacher blah blah" doesn't matter her body type if she sucked she sucked leave it at that.

  10. Maybe by "skinny", she actually meant "unrelentingly stern" …
    So easy to pin a bad character trait on one's appearance.
    I do it, too.

    Except I probably would use the words "short, sneering; young and wiry" because I am referring to a man who has a plastic, transparent and dramatic face, in this case–someone so very young they couldn't even yet be called "sinewy". Not a sizeist or sexist thing alone.

    Not saying that it's a good or kind thing to do.

  11. Wendy says:

    We're so grateful for our Hatha Hoga community here in Kissimmee Fl. There's a beautiful, peaceful studio, New World Wellness, where judgement and competition are left with the shoes, where we honor our bodies and pranic intelligence . I am so thankful to be part of the first janasanga of Yoga Teachers trained there. NWW is exactly the studio you missed in those 40 cities. Come breathe with us, Namaste.

  12. Nora says:

    Come to New World Wellness in Kissimmee FL. While it's true that many modern yoga studios are as you describe, there are still studios who do yoga with a pureness of intent. Unfortunately we have not done a great job at providing participants with education about yoga and what the practice off yoga is meant to create for the participant. It makes it that much harder when you are trying to make a living and are trying to hold true to this most beautiful practice. Nicole Georgi Costello and her husband Craig Costello are the owners of New World Wellness and if you stop by, I promise you it will be a breath of fresh air. They also offer 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training so there will be many more of us to practice yoga as it was intended.

  13. yogibattle says:

    This is a beautiful post. Keep teaching yoga whether it is profitable or not. This storm will pass.

  14. heidi says:

    thank you! i just found this article after explaining to a friend that i do not want to teach yoga anymore for exactly the same reasons you are describing here. i am from austria and the yogascene is starting to explode here in the same hectic, lound and gimmicky way. thank you for speaking out! 🙂

  15. Robyn Parets says:

    Hi Heidi,
    Thanks for reading! Keep teaching even for only one. I practice what I teach 🙂

  16. Linda says:

    Yes, first thing that came to my mind after reading Robyn's article was – "Has she ever been to any Iyengar studios?" Obviously not.
    I stopped giving group classes few years ago, and now teach only one on one. The way it was taught in the very beginning, the only way to teach yoga 🙂

  17. Linda says:

    I don't understand a teacher who gives up teaching because of the things happening around us. That is actually one reason more to continue teaching, so please do. We need more of you 🙂
    Namaste

  18. chantal says:

    To true brother, at least people are trying to find inner peace whether or not the teacher is good or not this is all part of the yoga journey, well written article made me laugh ☺

  19. amy says:

    Even though it's true that there are all these new yoga styles around it's very unyogalike and highly judgemental to consider them in the way you have. People need yoga, and anyway they come to it is fine. Its a journey remember. It might start like fitness and at some point later along the students may or may not wish to go more profound into the mindfulness of the practise. And when they do spiritual teachers will be there for them. I'm thouroughily enjoying seeing yoga become a mass market product. It means humanity is evolving albeit slowly and adopting yoga within its own way.