Yoga is Not Convenient

tree-rock.jpg
 

There is nothing convenient about yoga. In order to truly grasp it, you have to be willing to risk everything. You can’t buy it for $3000. It has to come from a deep inquiry inside yourself and no one else knows what that will look like except you. And if you do manage to gain some wisdom, be prepared to face serious repercussions. Because once the chains of acquiescence have been broken, it becomes almost impossible to to do anything but disrupt.

Yoga challenges the prevailing narratives about who and what we are. By creating yoga “content” as a luxury good that can be consumed, we have obscured the transformational benefits and become complicit in the very dysfunction that yoga is meant to undo. If we can stop treating yoga like just any other commodity, and let the money we charge and spend represent a real commitment to facing the unknown in ourselves, then we might stand a chance at embodying the truths that yoga encompasses.

Innovation in yoga is largely a sham.

The biggest misconception about yoga these days is the notion that teachers are inventing new approaches and methods. In truth, the titles and descriptions and video promos we see in our feeds are a means of selling us on something. We are given the impression that teachers have modules of material that comprise a knowledge base of understanding that we can acquire if only we have the dispensable income and time to spare. And, of course, the more enticing the advertisement, the higher premium price it commands.

If they’re honest, even teachers who draw the largest groups will readily admit that the choices about what their workshops will cover have more to do with getting people in the door than anything else. It’s not that teachers don’t believe in what they teach, only that there is a rationalization that needs to happen in the marketing so we can justify the subtle manipulation of touting our insights in order to make a living. Real yoga teachers don’t teach lots of different things, they teach yoga.

It’s the teacher, not the teachings.

Despite what many people assert, you can’t separate a teacher from what they teach. Yoga transmission happens in the space that exists between a teacher and a student. Without the teacher acting as a mutual participant in the relationship, investing of themselves in the same way that the student is being invited to, there can only be a presentation of information that lacks necessary shared experience. Ultimately, the only thing a teacher has to offer is who they are, not what they can do or say.

When people come to a yoga event because they are interested in learning from the teacher, rather than wanting to hear about the topic on the flyer, the expectation of what they are paying for changes drastically. Catering to the whims of the market and those who can afford to pay, instead of requiring a commitment from both sides of the yogic-learning relationship, is the problem. Most earnest teachers struggle to stay true to what their heart is telling them to teach when the rent is due and people are willing to pay more for something else.

Can we move past a mentality of selling and consuming?

The distinction between selling something and exchanging value is subtle but important. On paper, there is still a fee for a service. But the experience of both the payer and payee are vastly different. When the student is paying not for what they think the teacher might give them but for the time to engage their inquiry with an informed outside reference, the hard work of delving into yoga is placed more rightly on the shoulders of the student and the teacher can better focus on serving that inquiry instead of attempting to give people what they’ve been sold on.

Changing the dynamic from paying for yoga to supporting the teachers who help us will require the fortitude of both teachers and students to go against the grain. Not everyone is going to be on board. And it means challenging the conventional sensibilities around marketing for yoga teachers. We can’t just keep doing what works when it undermines the very thing we supposedly stand for. Of course, there will continue to be people capitalizing off of insecurities because “that’s the way things are.” But it has to start somewhere.

Some would have us believe that people are not capable of escaping the consumerist mentality that has become so ubiquitous. Being aware enough to see how susceptible we are to the corruption of our system, and having the courage to sacrifice monetary gain in order to set new precedents, is no small task. For those who care enough to call ourselves teachers though, we must be so bold as to believe that we can move past the same tired stories that disempower us. If we are going to be the leavening of the masses we intend, the spirit of yoga compels us to chart a course that better serves humanity.

9 Comments

J. Brown

J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer, and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, New York. A teacher for 15 years, he is known for his pragmatic approach to teaching personal, breath-centered therapeutic yoga that adapt to individual needs. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, Elephant Journal and Yogadork.

Dark Night, Soul's Direction

Dark Night, Soul's Direction

I am experiencing all the makings of a mid-life crisis but without the cliche response that I grew up with. I am not going to destroy my marriage and buy a red sports car. All that would do is increase my already overwhelming debt and doom me to the debilitating loneliness of my bachelorhood. Unlike my father’s generation, I have dedicated myself to the sorting my internal landscape. The world outside of me is what too often feels untenable.

Read More

Reimagining Yoga Teacher Training

Reimagining Yoga Teacher Training

After twenty years of providing yoga teacher training at premium-priced 200, 300, or 500-hour increments, the yoga profession is beginning to reckon with the unintended consequences of relying so heavily on this deeply flawed economic instrument. The initial boom that heralded the expansion of yoga teacher certification has subsided. If we can muster enough courage, we might escape the entrenchment that undermines our purpose.

Read More

Truth and Yoga in Spreadsheets

Truth and Yoga in Spreadsheets

Yoga has long since become also a business but yoga teachers are still catching up. Probably because those inclined to dedicate their lives to the subtle art of self-inquiry rarely ever get into it with money in mind. Only later, having fallen into a profession without a strategy, does knowing your numbers become imperative. If there is to be yoga in business then we will need to overcome the emotional blocks and shuck industry pressures.

Read More

My Pain is Circumstantial

My Pain is Circumstantial

Over the last twenty-five years, my yoga practice has served different purposes. But if I were to boil down the primary role it has come to play in my adult life then it most certainly is a means of lessening my pain. To many, that means that I have become a “restorative” or “gentle” practitioner. However, the notion that doing poses correctly is the key to unlocking yoga’s pain-relieving boon often becomes the obstacle to a more subtle process.

Read More

Real Yoga is Smart Business

Real Yoga is Smart Business

I suppose it’s a natural impulse to want to feel relevant, to feel that the efforts I make are worthwhile and that something I produce will outlive this fleeting body. This last year I poured a lot of myself into a weekly podcast not just because I find it a fulfilling process of learning but out of a genuine hope that others might also benefit from listening. I have attempted to ride a delicate line between self-inquiry and promotion.

Read More

The Yoga Police Are Coming

The Yoga Police Are Coming

The charismatic CEO of the Yoga Alliance, David Lipsius, hired to overhaul the failed industry standards for yoga teacher training just over a year ago, has departed his position right at the very moment his master plan is set to be implemented. Lipsius’ unexpected farewell aside, the proverbial writing has surreptitiously appeared on the wall: The organization is planning to assert new power, but whose interests are being served is not clear.

Read More

Fear and Purpose Amidst a Narrative Collapse

Fear and Purpose Amidst a Narrative Collapse

I’ve had a particularly hard time bringing myself to write. That’s unusual. Two other articles on various topics have already been penned but both feel so entirely inadequate to the moment that I can’t bring myself to publish either. Looking for insights into humanity through an examination of what is happening in the yoga industry has its limitations, and my usual sort of musings seem a trifling contribution given the larger shifts taking place.

Read More

Are We Entering a Yoga Desert?

Are We Entering a Yoga Desert?

Having grown up in the eighties, I have no memories of fresh produce at our dinner table, much less anything organic. Often, my whole family sat around watching tv with individual fold-out trays in front of us, eating Chun King frozen Chinese hors d’oeuvres that were heated in a microwave oven and served in the plastic container we bought them in. Back then, convenience and economy were valued over nutrition….

Read More

Yoga Teacher, Heal Thyself

Yoga Teacher, Heal Thyself

There is a performative aspect to teaching and promoting group yoga classes that sometimes leads to a denial of the teacher’s actual state. The conventional dynamics at play between teachers and students, both interpersonal and economic, are presenting obstacles to the kinds of exchange that encourage effective yoga transmission. Maintaining integrity often means having the courage to buck trends.

Read More

Shell Games Keep the Myth Alive

Shell Games Keep the Myth Alive

Nothing exemplifies the false narratives perpetuated by the yoga industrial complex more than a recent Yoga Journal headline that read: “How to Make $5 Classes Sustainable.” These stories, often well-intentioned, are the product of outdated modes of thinking that turn earnest people into unwitting hypocrites. Challenging the status quo by returning to an earlier stage in the evolution of yoga transmission might be the best way forward.

Read More

Proper Alignment in Yoga

Proper Alignment in Yoga

Generally speaking, when someone sets out to learn a new skill there is a natural human impulse to want to get it right. Being able to do a yoga pose in a certain way often becomes an extrapolated question of safety. Doing it right means safety. Doing it wrong means injury. Unfortunately, anyone who has engaged in a deep inquiry of yoga knows that looking for rights and wrongs to follow when it comes to practice is not a unhelpful context.

Read More