Pop culture continues to enjoy a glossy-eyed love affair with yoga. But many long-time practitioners and professionals are discovering that, somewhere along their journey over the last decade or so, either yoga or they have changed. As once die-hard yogis attempt to discern what, if anything, of their practice has stood up against the test of time, their relationship to yoga needs to be allowed to evolve or they’ll likely feel compelled to part ways.
Complaints about the proliferation of yoga teacher training and oversaturation of the yoga market have been commonplace for years. Only recently, the economics really started to catch up and bear the prognostications true. For humble yoga teachers hoping to make a livelihood out of their passion, the current landscape often feels hued with a frightening sense of scarcity that is in sharp contrast to the abundance of the boom times enjoyed by earlier generations. Add to that the emergence of new scholarship suggesting a tenuous basis on which charismatic gurus originally garnered their authority, the harsh reality that a lot of what was taken on faith has proven unsound, and it easily starts to feel like things are falling apart.
Separating the chaff from the wheat.
Now that yoga no longer seems ruled by a few masters, and well-funded data-driven entrepreneurship and technology have entirely changed the game; transparency and authenticity are the new ground on which to take a stand. Earnest aspirants who have seen the shit hit the fan and now unwittingly view the world through newly colored lenses are not just questioning the cues that come from the mouths of teachers and the shapes they encourage us to assume, but the images and myths that have come to characterize a storied lifestyle that only really exists as a dangling carrot, convincing us to consume the swill being served.
I have certainly been examining what I do as a teacher more than ever before. And I feel like my sometimes too principled stance, which I’ve enjoyed in the past, no longer holds up to scrutiny. Who the f*** am I to tell anybody else anything about their yoga? Regardless of the approach or purpose that someone adopts, if the wants of those being served are truly being met without harm, and there is some perceived or actual benefit being had then, I say, more power to whatever floats someone’s boat. Of course, most people will agree that there is a distinctly different feeling when a teacher’s driving purpose runs deeper than the immediate gratification or financial reward of meeting expectations.
Who are you going to trust, you or your lying eyes?
Few of us think of ourselves as being whole and perfect beings, already imbued with everything we need at birth. Even those who would embrace such a notion often find it hard to hold onto when so much of the external world communicates otherwise. Consequently, most of us are naturally susceptible to outside influences that easily cloud our perceptions and can taint our sense of self as a source of wisdom or insight.
More confusing is when our experience of healing through practice is a mix of both deeply positive experiences and misgivings that fall somewhere on a spectrum from innocent to nefarious. Yet, most people who develop a dedicated practice over an extended time have found a genuine benefit from doing so. Even when practice goes awry and results in injury or abuse, we still often cannot deny a sense that all was not for naught. That despite our dysfunction, there remains a magic to this thing that we sometimes call yoga.
Self-empowerment goes both ways.
As avenues for individual teachers to make yoga their primary financial means are becoming fewer, sincere students emerging with 200-hour certificates and a calling to share will face some stark choices. It's difficult to make sense of the disconnect between the transformative power that some people experience through yoga, and the demoralizing presentations and conventions that still characterize the industry and media sphere. If you don't really love teaching yoga to the degree that the question is not if but how, then it's probably not worth asking.
For me, there is a distinction between yoga and the commercial yoga industry. In practice, I feel an unexplainable something that shapes my perceptions in profoundly helpful directions. Offering my understanding of this process as a service in exchange for money, while greatly informed by my practice, is an entirely different pursuit. I sometimes wonder if it might be better to satisfy my worldly demands through other means and keep the money away from yoga. But if the benefits of yoga beyond fitness are going to be passed along in our capitalist societies then they will need to find a way to compete in the marketplace, or be relegated to obscurity. If we feel compelled to take this on, it behooves us to recognize the disheartening trends not as an indication of yoga’s failure but as the ongoing work of humanity reckoning with the challenges of our times.
p.s. Thanks to Zack Kurland for the title.
p.p.s. For a more nuanced consideration, listen to this weeks podcast with Sadia Bruce.