Brave New Yoga World


It’s hard times for yoga teachers. That may be hard to believe to outsiders who see more money being made off yoga than ever before. But, for anyone attempting to make a living at it, the aftershocks of economic mores have certainly narrowed the field of opportunity. And industry aside, it seems the shiny new romance between yoga and modern culture is fading and the nitty gritty of a long term relationship is being hashed out, not without difficulty.

Carol Horton, co-editor of 21st Century Yoga, has been a clear voice considering the changes happening in the yoga world. She cites the work of Thomas Kuhn and the concepts of “Model Drift”, “Model Crisis”, and  “Model Revolution” leading to a paradigm shift. Certainly, we are at least in a “Model Drift.” Which means that the established models are being questioned in ways that they have not been previously. As we have seen even more scandals, and the passing of eminent yoga figures, practitioners and teachers are letting go of long held views and assertions. So much so that, at a certain point, there is no longer a clear sense of what the case is or where we stand. Thus, we find ourselves in a “Model Crisis.”

When hierarchies fall and delusions are laid bare, a strange void is left to be filled.

This time two years ago, I wrote a piece called: Not Your Parents Yoga. I observed tectonic shifts that were occurring with public failings of established teachers, the booming industry for yoga related products, and a new turn of the news media towards the benefits and detriments of yoga practice. I was optimistic and humbly prodded that, despite misgivings, the yoga community at large “can and will do better.” In some respects, people are meeting that challenge. More than ever, folks are organizing to utilize yoga in furthering positive social change and promote causes that look to address issues of body image and income disparity.

But the “Model Revolution” is in its earliest stages. We continue to languish in our crisis of identity and purpose. Matthew Remski, author of Threads of Yoga, has been conducting extensive research into "What Are We Actually Doing in Asana?" His WAWADIA project is ruffling all kinds of feathers and drawing out some untold truths regarding the experiences people are having in yoga practice, the ideas that they are based on, and the pros and cons of all the effort that is being made in the name of yoga. Serious and uncomfortable questions are being asked that we have yet to fully answer for ourselves.

Reevaluation is taking place on both personal and professional levels.

Not only are teachers taking a harder look at what they are teaching and practicing but on the viability of yoga as a profession. The once coveted spots on the convention and retreat circuit have lost their appeal. Fact is, clamoring to teach workshops to larger groups of people for a chunk of money that turns out to be less than imagined is not a reliable long-term financial plan. After a few years of teaching and still struggling to make ends meet, many are feeling the need to abandon their yoga plan and explore what else might be possible. Only those with a life situation that can support it and the deep inspiration that teaching is a calling are able to survive long enough to make it work, but sometimes not even with that.

Yet, there is no love lost for yoga. On the local level, more people than ever are enjoying and benefiting from yoga practice. Huge gaps left by other allopathic means of addressing life’s pains and difficulties make cultivating a self-empowered vehicle for healing a particularly attractive prospect. And it really is working for a lot of people. The statistics continue to show a steady increase in people practicing yoga and there is no shortage of anecdotal evidence to support the many wonderful things that yoga is providing for individuals around the world.

In this new wild wild west that is the current state of the yoga world, value and purpose are the only sustainable things to build a homestead on.

The other day, someone who has been on the yoga scene for longer than myself said to me: “That you are able to have your family as a yoga teacher is amazing.” And I have been thinking about it ever since. I wonder if the lifestyle I led for more than ten years that enabled me to develop my teaching and open a center is even possible anymore. When I look at the landscape for those who have graduated from my teacher training program in 2014, my story feels like an antiquated tale.

It seems that the “Model Revolution” is really more of a devolution of sorts. That the new direction of the yoga world is not being determined by the charisma of a few, or the marketing strategies of corporations, but has scattered into many fractured trajectories, like shrapnel off exploding statues. The upshot is that, in the aftermath, there is new room for innovation and things look to be less caught in the trappings of our forefathers and premised more on a sense of personal integrity. Perhaps my optimism that things will continue to evolve and improve gets the best of me. But I figure that, given the wonder of life that yoga embodies, the benefit of the doubt is deserved.



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.