Yoga is Not Convenient

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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.

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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.