We are witnessing widespread closures of yoga studios and the highest unemployment levels of full and part-time yoga teachers since yoga became a thing in Western countries.
Did it take a pandemic to make the insatiable, multibillion-dollar yoga industry hit the brakes and start returning to yoga’s core values?
As we see the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths rising and the economy dropping to new lows while more and more people struggle from paycheck to paycheck, it seems a tad vain to lose sleep over yoga’s perceived decline.
But yoga has been part of my life for more than 15 years. It is how I make a living, so I can’t help but ponder the question and wonder:
Is this pandemic, perhaps, the best thing that could have happened to yoga in contemporary society?
I’ve had COVID-19, and although I recovered and am COVID-negative, I continue to struggle with long-haul symptoms. I don’t take this subject lightly. And is not an intellectual reflection on yoga—this is a call to action.
Yoga can and should be seen as an ally to public health instead of a glossy image of someone’s superhuman flexibility set against the cliché backdrops of amazing sunsets in Bali or Costa Rica.
Yoga can and should be used, explored, and shared as a reflection of who we are, not only individually but collectively. So many of us have thrived on a particular distribution of power, wealth, status, and privilege at the expense of those who lack it.
Yoga can and should be practiced with an eye toward social justice and equality, as a practice that unites us not only by chanting Om but by actually getting off our mats and connecting the dots and realizing that other people’s struggles are our struggles too.
Yoga can, should, and must be seen as a potent toolbox of methods for reducing the insanely high levels of stress we are all experiencing. At this point, stress reduction is one of the main tools we have for diffusing the coming mental health pandemic that will follow in the footsteps of this physical pandemic.
Since I launched my own foundation, I have increasingly adopted an approach to yoga that is more inclusive; one that recognizes the limitations of Hatha and commercial yoga as we knew it before March 2020. I’ve been working diligently to make yoga more available to those in our society who are marginalized, segregated, and forgotten, at the same time as I continue teaching my long-time students.
Perhaps taking a completely new look at how yoga is consumed, digested, practiced, bought, shared, received, and learned is all part of a much-needed purge. It forces all of us to see the practice as a practice, without expecting too much from it.
A purge that is giving a new voice and a new sense of agency to many who were, until now, struggling under the constraints and bias of an industry dominated by a few privileged voices and a few extremely wealthy companies.
A purge that is only happening because of the pandemic and its impact on the yoga industrial-complex.
Will yoga emerge from this pandemic in a better state than the one in which it entered the pandemic? Only time will tell.