just an old-fashioned girl

Last night in class I only had two students. Believe it or not, this no longer bothers me — I show up and I teach. Despite how “mainstream” yoga people love to believe yoga is nowadays — and I would really like someone to explain to me what mainstream is — the number of students in class is diminishing. I’m not the only teacher in my area who finds this to be true. More on that later.

So since it was a loosey-goosey class, we yakked for the first 30 minutes, me and my two students about the State of Yoga in America. I will add that this was totally unsolicited by me, these two gals just wanted to let loose. Of course this is not a scholarly study by any means, merely anecdotal, but interesting just the same.

One woman told me that she was glad she found my class — this woman is older like me, I would say in her 50s. She told me she was glad she found a “real yoga” class — her words, not mine, unsolicited. By “real yoga” she meant not “power yoga” (her words) as is taught in her gym where she takes Pilates. My class is the first yoga class she has ever taken (because her chiropractor recommended it), so she had nothing to compare it to. In spite of knowing nothing about yoga other than it was supposed to help calm her down, she somehow knew she wanted to take a “real yoga” class.

She was dismayed at the lack of commitment from the drop-in students. She asked why students feel that a yoga class is supposed to be convenient for them, instead of making it a priority like anything else in their lives. She asked me why students feel they don’t have to support a yoga class, that they can just show up whenever they want to. We recalled the couple who came once and said that they “maybe” do yoga once a month. Uh…why bother? Was it a night they were bored and wanted to spice up their evening with my class? OK, I’m kidding.

I shrugged. I have no answers anymore to questions about yoga in OMerika. But I smiled and thanked her for calling my class “real yoga” and thanked her for her commitment to herself.

The second woman, younger, 30s maybe, was also dismayed at the lack of students in my class. She had been coming to this venue for yoga for a long time and told me the class used to have about 20-30 students in it. I was asked to take over this class to try to build it back up — I had heard that the class had too many subs and people had stopped coming.

The younger woman told me — again, unsolicited and her words, not mine — that I was old-fashioned. I smiled and she laughed. She told me, “I think your class is the way yoga originally was before it became mainstream. You know…real yoga.” Ahhhh….there are those words again.

I asked her what she thinks “mainstream yoga” is. I said to please explain it to me because I’m stuck in my little ol’ boring box of asana-pranayama-meditation, so I am out of touch.

She said this: that the more mainstream yoga becomes, i.e., yoga taught all over the place, the more people will lose sight of what yoga really is. She said that yoga right now is trendy and popular, it’s merely “the thing to do”, just another fitness trend.

It was her belief that mainstream yoga has been dumbed down (her words) to cater to this culture rather than trying to change this fast-paced culture.

I will let that sink in because it is a very powerful statement.

She believes that people are so used to moving fast in their daily lives, that that is the type of yoga people want instead of yoga to slow them down, to go inward. She told me that to her, that’s not “real yoga.” She said, “if I wanted that, I’d go to an aerobics class.”

I smiled. I told her thanks for saying I’m old-fashioned, but I prefer the term “old school.” “Now let’s do some old-school yoga,” I said, as I started the vinaya krama class.

Out of the mouths of students.

I found the exchange interesting. According to my student then, “mainstream” merely means “popular.” But is popular always a good thing? This student also believes that with the popularity of yoga nowadays, the sheer number of yoga classes being offered outside of yoga studios (her emphasis) actually devalues yoga and cheapens the real message of yoga, which is personal transformation. This student lives in a suburb that is far from my class. She told me that there is plenty of yoga around her house but it is the “fast food yoga”, as she calls it, and will have none of it.

“Fast food yoga.” I like that description. Sure you can survive on a diet of fast food, but how healthy is it for you in the long run?

And now for another real life yoga teaching experience….

A yoga teacher friend has a small studio, trying to make a yoga buck as is every other local studio. A chiropractor in her area organized a lecture on living a holistic life via healthy eating habits, exercise, meditation, things like that. About 200 people attended.

I will say that again: 200.

Every yoga business guru will tell you that is the perfect opportunity and place to advertise yoga. I have heard that suggestion time and again — that in order to get your yoga name out there you must hook up with chiropractors or other holistic businesses.

My friend spoke about her studio, what yoga can do, handed out flyers, and spoke about the yoga fundamentals class series she was offering. She asked me, “and how many people do you think signed up or even asked a question?”

None. Zero. Out of 200 people.

Do you want fries with that?

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12 thoughts on “just an old-fashioned girl

  1. i teach a few classes at home my max imum is 6 people for one class and minimum, 2, it is ok for me like this i dont like to go as a student to a class with too much people i prefer small very small group

  2. Thanks, Linda, for another engaging post. I'm also old school in my approach to yoga. I teach hatha yoga—asana, pranayama and meditation, and have been doing so since 1986. My classes are not huge, and I prefer that they not be. I'm very grateful that my classes are like sangha. We have gotten to know each other over the years, and not just each other's asana. It's a very caring, welcoming community.

    You touched on a point about drop-in classes at studios. I taught a class at a studio last year. I loved the space and its owner, but the drop-in mentality wore me out. There was a small core of students that came most weeks, but every class I taught had at least a few new folks that came simply because the class fit their schedule that week. So I had to repeat preliminary information in every class so that the new folks could be up to speed. Studios do make it easy for people to fit a yoga class into whatever space is in their schedule, but this type of practice lacks continuity.

    What you said about 21st-century yoga being a mirror of our regular busy lives rings true. I feel that the fast-paced classes with music and non-stop instruction are a continuation of what we're doing in our lives. Slowing down and quieting down is far more challenging and radical.

    I appreciate your willingness to discuss today's yoga as you see it with such clarity and honesty. Thanks!

  3. Hmm. I consider myself fairly new to yoga (even though I've been practicing for a few years). Maybe I can give another view point.

    One of the main things that kept me from starting the yoga path is…yoga teachers. But, it wasn't their fault. It was where my mind was and what I was focusing on.

    Let me explain. For the longest time, when I went to a particular yoga class, I focused not on myself, but on the yoga teacher's limber body, long hair, calm attitude and overall positive vibe. I thought to myself, “I could never, ever get to that point.” I would compare myself to her and become demotivated. I eventually stopped going to class.

    But something happened about two years ago that changed my mind: I saw my yoga teacher getting dressed. She had cellulite. Cellulite. A yoga teacher with cellulite.

    Oh. My. Gosh.

    All of a sudden she became human to me. That's when I realized that the person I was looking at was merely a little further up the path than I was. Perhaps, possibly, maybe…by focusing on my journey instead of my butt, I could achieve the same calm and control that she did.

    And then something else clicked. I realized that yoga wasn't just about having yoga body or being able to put my legs behind my head. It was about using the movements, which are just part of an entire system, to be the best Rashunda I can be.

    You know, sometimes I wish yoga teachers would post pics of themselves falling out of a pose or something.:-) That may help some of us realize that yogis are humans too.:-)

    Again, these are just my two cents. Your mileage may vary.

  4. Great post.

    When I was in Seattle I made a happy life for myself teaching Yoga in the gyms. Here are two examples of why:

    First: a dedicated group I saw twice weekly and was working on some more detailed/advanced poses with was one day suddenly bombarded with a heap of newbies. After checking with my regulars I went ahead and taught to the beginners because I'd been told by the familiar crew: if we can't be present doing the basic poses, we really aren't that advanced are we?

    Second (and actually, this was a common occurrence): being told by various students that they loved the slow, breath and meditation focus of my class because if they wanted any 'power' out of their time at the gym they'd be on the equipment or in an aerobics class; they came to Yoga to compliment all that physically, but to get a rest from it energetically.

    I admit I was lucky with the commitment and integrity of the students I had the majority of the time. Because the rest of the time it was just as your student said: people wanting to do the popular thing in a way that completely matches how they live the rest of their lives: fast and loose and at their leisure. And I quickly realized that while studios are fantastic spaces with props and an environmental sort of support for the practice, the people coming in the door brought their lives with them and at the end of the day, I couldn't be bothered with the clothing and prop posturing. Ratty sweat pants in a studio? A very rare occurrence.

  5. “if we can't be present doing the basic poses, we really aren't that advanced are we?”

    love this! so true….

    “advanced” does not mean putting your leg behind your neck.

  6. Given all the recent brou-haha over the importance of “American Yoga” vs traditional yoga etc, this is positively refreshing.

    To date I've only taught smallish classes – the most I've had in a class is 7 or 9 I think. And I have to say I like it like that. I enjoy the intimacy and the more personal way it's possible to relate in such a small group.

    And as you know, I'm right with you in the “old-fashioned” yoga stakes… ;)

  7. I read your entry yesterday and meant to comment, then spaced it out! I'm glad I did because I was going to mention that my blog entry was about convenience and how it can mess you up, but as the day went on I kept finding more and more entries by other people about how modern living is making us miss so many points. Is this the collective mind sharing? Thanks for writing so eloquently.

  8. This is an issue that gets under my skin regularly. I don't teach. I am a student who regularly attends one teacher's “Level II” class at a large studio. There are a few of us who are regulars, but many just drop in. The thing about this class that I love is that it is not about doing difficult poses but about doing basic yoga poses very mindfully, connecting with the breath, and noticing what comes up. The emphasis is on doing what you can while still being able to comfortably and smoothly breathe. To me, this is REAL yoga, and I love it. It seems like this is foreign to many of the students who drop in from time to time. My teacher has to spend so much time getting everyone to slow down and become mindful that there is not much time for pranayama and meditation. I like going to a class and the feeling of the sangha, but I do get frustrated that most who come to class are resistant to real practice.

  9. Thank you Linda, for your post. You are very eloquent and I so relate to what you wrote, especially the idea of so many “gym yoga” classes teaching to the pace of our society rather than asking busy americans to conform to the true s-pace of yoga. I teach yoga at my own small studio and find that what your student described as “old school” teaching is exactly what I aspire to be. I love the bare-bones approach to yoga, in a small group, no props or pomp. Long live the OLD SCHOOL teachers!

  10. Oh wow… How TIMELY your posting is… I am a yoga teacher and, yes, there are times I have only 2 students… and I teach them with enthusiasm, however much I wish there were more people there. The wonderful thing about smaller classes is that we can lavish attention on those students. But I do teach to larger groups, 10-20+ students and LOVE the energy in those classes. Perhaps I have the Yin and the Yang of teaching experiences?

    Every class is different. Every class has its personality. Sometimes “old school”, sometimes “mainstream”… depends on the makeup of the class… and my mood!

    And Jessica Powers…. LOVE your posting! I also teach at a gym and have a similar experience. Despite the fact that people “dis” yoga at health or sports clubs, there are a great group of people that frequent our classes!

  11. The 200 people who showed up for that lecture where probably honestly wanting to change their lives, but when it comes down to getting to work and actually doing something different . . . well, that's another story. In the past I've worked for a motivational speaker and the crowd ate every word, bought all the products, and went home super-charged, but I've always wondered how many people, once back to their regular lives, did anything different. I doubt it's very many–which is great for business because it keeps them coming back or moving on to the next thing! I joke of course, I do not think that's a great thing (but then I wasn't the one getting rich either).

    Mainstream yoga seems to be more about how you can make your life better (often in a superfical way)while neglecting how you can make the world better. Yoga is not the only thing that suffers from too much “navel gazing.” Sure there are lots of global yoga-based actions where people are supposed join in and send out their positive vibes or something to improve the world, but I don't really put a lot of faith in that. Wouldn't it be better to use that time planting a community garden or something? I know I could certainly do less navel gazing. Although it's probably also true that the more compassionate you are to your self, the more compassionate you will be to others. So maybe in maintstream society, we have to start with ourselves?

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