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?