Are We Yoga Students or Customers? How the Yoga Business Compromises Yoga Principles.

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Yoga class

Much ink has been spilled on the commercialization of yoga, and rightly so, but I want to talk about one aspect of the “consumerization” of yoga that is fairly controversial: the impact of the overly-solicitous orientation of studios toward their students as clients.

I will start with something we can all agree on: a yoga class should offer a safe, supportive environment in which to perform physiological and sometimes psychological exercises. The yoga teacher’s job is to make sure the student is not practicing in an injurious way. The teacher’s job is to also be professional, in the very widely-accepted use of the term (on time, ready to work, courteous and interested in the well-being of the student) and to be knowledgeable about alignment and sequencing principles.

The teacher’s job, I argue, is not to ascertain we have a “good time.”

Why not? Well, because a “good time” is subjective and not quantifiable.

Let me offer you some analogies. You go to the movies; the film you see is really disappointing. You don’t go to the box office and request a refund, right? You go to a Cross Fit class. You don’t complain that the class is too “easy,” even if it is, do you? You are in a restaurant and find the music obnoxious; you don’t actually demand the restaurant stop playing the music altogether, right?

So why is it that we would complain about any variations on those themes in an yoga class?

Last Thanksgiving, a studio I go to offered a number of extended, 2-hour long classes for free to the community. There was a student in the class who, throughout the entire practice, did not do what the teacher cued up once. Instead, she was rolling her eyes in a clearly exasperated fashion and doing aggressive asanas. Where we were all lying down in child’s pose, she was doing nose-to-knee with her leg fully extended in front of her. When the class ended, the student turned to her neighbor and asked, “Is this class always this easy!?”

The question that every yoga teacher has heard in each of its permutations: “Is this class always this…?”

Easy, difficult, sucky music, awesome music, too hot, too cold, too vinyasa-y, too restorative, too many adjusts, too little adjusts. But too whatever is subjective. And because instructors are human, their classes also vary week-to-week and class-to class.

Studios listen intently to student feedback. That survey we fill out at the end of class? Our teachers are hearing about it, rest assured; and they often have to account for things. I am not saying this to place blame with anyone, but I am saying that what could have been a student having a bad day can very quickly escalate into a teacher and a teacher’s boss having a bad day. A lot of emails will be exchanged and a lot of conversations will be had.

Why, then, do we pay lip service to an attitude of non-judgment (and we actually mean it; we don’t just pay lip service to it); yet, by encouraging a “the customer is always right” mentality, we foster judgment, hierarchy and close-mindedness.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not advocating suffering through insufferable classes. I am simply suggesting that yoga, being an ideally egalitarian culture, lends itself particularly well to the ol’ adage about “voting with your feet.”

Class annoys us? Teacher annoys us? Vote with our feet. Complain about it? That’s certainly our prerogative. Ask for a refund? Sure; this is a business, after all. But maybe let’s save ourselves some teeth gnashing and vote with our (eight) limbs of and on yoga. Find the right path for you. But don’t assume your teacher or anyone else is a human jukebox version of instant fun, gratification or enlightenment.

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Author: Toni Tileva

Editor: Caroline Beaton

Photo: Flickr

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anonymous Apr 13, 2015 8:12am

Dear friends, the objective of yoga is to connect with yourself. Be aware of your true nature of abundant love. Most of the views mentioned above have an outlook of a commercial society ( unfortunately that is where the world is moving towards).
Each Yoga class should be a session of self discovery with each participant even though doing the same asana but at different level. So the question of easy and difficult doesn't arise.
When we approach the asana with an attitude of humbleness and deeper meanings rather than the physicality only we loose the track and the purpose of our practice. And need to remind ourselves of the Yama and Niyamas.

anonymous Apr 11, 2015 4:54am

I must agree with Jimmy. This is very confusing and unclear.

anonymous Apr 10, 2015 12:57pm

Hmm,

I find this article confusing. First off, it is common practice to ask a restaurant to modify it’s music, especially the volume. I know this from experience working in the industry for many years.

Certainly a crossfitter would complain if the class was too easy, those people are nuts. In much the same way, demanding a refund for a bad movie is an exulted tradition not practiced nearly often enough, if it were, perhaps the studios would pay more attention t the quality of their offerings.

You say that studios read feedback, and seem to think that is a good thing. Then you seem to be suggesting it would be better to not give feedback, and just find another class.

You also say that easy and hard are too subjective, yet if 55-70% of students in a beginner class think the class is too hard it may well be. If they followed your advise the yoga studio would only realize that when they stopped coming. This seems odd.

Further, I can’t tell what any of this has to do with business. Even the spiritual gurus needed to eat. If they did not receive support from students. . .

And more broadly, as it is oft repeated in yoga circles, how exactly is yoga egalitarian when it arose out of a culture that still supports a caste system. I much prefer my exercise based dvd (I am not interested in the spiritual side, I take care of that myself)program, brought to me by a yoga business!!, to the hero worship promoted by Bikram, John Friend, and to a lesser and less criminal extent Richard Freeman and others.

If Business weren’t involved with yoga I would not have that option.

In the end, I don’t see what your message is, since you seem to be saying that feedback is both good and bad. Maybe you just don’t like business?

anonymous Apr 10, 2015 12:27pm

What You pointed out is correct Toni but, on thing I will try to point out here- There are still genuine and ethical teachers present but, people don’t like them because they feel bored in their classes. Remember money follows the demand, these studios are just ripping the benefits.

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Toni Tileva

Toni Tileva is into all things creative and social justice-y—writing, teaching, verbal tomfoolery, DJing, cookifyings, arts’n’crafts, DIY-ing, sticking-it-to-the-manning, crossword puzzles, Tarot-reading, and general subversiveness. Don’t challenge her to a hip hop lyric quoting contest because you *will* lose.
She came to the United States from Bulgaria 24 years ago. Like your typical transplant, she is a girl without a home. Still on her “geography of self” journey, sans Don Quixotian flights of fancy. She has taken her Visigothian “upending the system” approach to everything she does–from yoga and onwards. Expect the unexpected–drum’n’bassana, for example.