is school out on old school yoga?

copyright OmTapas

I posted this blog post on my Facebook page yesterday:   Is Old School Yoga Becoming Extinct?

The blogger — who owns a studio  in Lewisville, Texas — makes many excellent points.  When I lived down the road from that area, 1989-1992, I think if I would have mentioned the word YOGA to anyone I would have been run out of town on a rail.  People did not appreciate this very left of center Yankee gal in that area back then, but that’s another story.

If you’ve read this blog since 2005  (yes, I really was one of the first yoga bloggers to critically question and comment on the status quo of modern American yoga), you’ll know how I feel on the subject.  I’m an old school teacher and am not afraid to use the phrase “real yoga” (you can also read about that somewhere in these 400+ posts.)

Another old school teacher and I had a Facebook discussion on this topic:

HER:  The yoga boom has not been good for those of us who have been teaching a long time. I’m also “old school,” and have seen a drop in attendance as studios that offer trendier yoga styles have sprung up all over town. While my classes retain students quite well, they don’t attract a mainstream clientele.  Like you, my students are dedicated. Many have been coming to class for 20 years or more, partly for the yoga, but also partly for the lovely sangha that has evolved over the years.

ME:  exactly. I also find that most people I come in contact with in my area have no idea what yoga therapy is about.  when people ask what I do I mention about working privately, one on one, with yoga therapy and they always ask, “what’s that?” so I explain.  and the ONLY thing they know about yoga is using it as a work out, sweating, and pretzel poses.  I have been blessed for the last 2 months to work with a trauma survivor of sexual assault who truly gets it, her progress has been phenomenal.  but she is only one.  and she is moving out of state.  so I am back to square one. 😦   it is depressing for me and I have thought about quitting teaching many times.

HER:  I’ve thought about giving up many times. When I hear about packed classes where a fresh-out-of-a-200-hour-training teacher is putting people in harm’s way, it makes me want to throw up my hands. But over the past few years I’ve come to realize that the kind of yoga I teach, and I suspect the kind of yoga you teach, is never going to attract a mainstream audience. The people who come to my classes are an out-of-the-ordinary group of people, and because my classes are not huge, I can get to know them as fellow humans. I count this as a blessing, even though I struggle to survive financially.

I am unapologetically old school which means I don’t make a lot of money (it’s actually becoming less and less every year, so much so that I’ve thought about working for lawyers again, part-time), but my students are very dedicated practitioners (most of whom have been with me since Day 1 of my teaching, going on 11 years now), and it definitely is a sangha in the true sense of the word.

All I can say is thank the Goddess I don’t own a studio because I probably would have had to close the doors years ago.  I still believe all this is dependent on geography, on where you live.  If you are a teacher/studio in an area with little yoga, you are a big fish in a little pond.  If you live where I live, Chicagoland, where the city has a studio on every other block and the suburbs have studios within a stone’s throw from each other, the story will be different.  Supply, demand.  As I’ve written before, studios make money on their workshops and teacher trainings, not on their group classes.  OR, by selling memberships now.   The owner gets the money up front, every month, no refunds on that membership charge, so if a student only goes a few times and switches to Zumba, it still ca-ching for the studio.

But I keep sticking it out.  I will still go to India to study for as long as I can (every dime I make goes to that), I have partnered with a friend to teach what we believe is a paradigm shifting therapeutic yoga training because the world needs healing, and for the first time I will bring a group to India for old school study at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram and retreat next March.  And I believe I am being called to amp up my energy healing work (but not necessarily for humans) — I’m learning two new practices at the end of the year

In the meantime, I just keep on keeping on.

11 thoughts on “is school out on old school yoga?

  1. I see your frustration. A few points in my humble opinion…..everything evolves. Exercise physiology has changed the way yoga is (or should be) performed from when it arrived from India, only a few decades ago. The people who bought it from India had changed it from the way it was practiced before their time, etc. Unfortunately we have SO MANY instructors with little and lousy training now that it is not at all surprising to hear someone on the street say “I teach yoga.” If you can sell well, in America you can sell anything so many studios crop up with “new fads,” which, it seems are just newer variations on the old styles and are making a fortune. This will continue ad infinitum and 25 years from now, yoga will no longer be the way it is being taught today; it may even be unrecognizable…maybe for the better, maybe for the worse. Yoga Alliance does NOTHING to regulate teachers as they are not tested on a regular basis on their knowledge of safety, exercise science, anatomy or even the history of yoga. I hate to say “if you can’t beat em, join em” but in a way, one has to adapt to the new “stuff” out there. In fitness centers, few people get on a weight stack and throw it around any more. Fitness has evolved to “functional training” now as yoga is evolving. Take the Ashtanga Primary series for example. The sequencing really makes little sense as it was created before exercise science was heavily involved in yoga (and that’s still fighting to find a place in the studio) but there are many yogis who started out with Ashtanga Primary series and have continued on in a safe progressive manner even though that series (particularly the sequencing) has not evolved at all. I believe you are right, there are more “boutique” studios out there now charging a fortune to give less just as there are in the martial arts. It’s unfortunate but they ARE catering to the need of the 7 billion people who inhabit this planet. Do you adapt to the needs/wants of the people or do you maintain your integrity and lose your shirt? Tough question. I for one am somewhat of a nostalgic. I wish I could have been around in the old days to experience the old blokes bringing it over from India, however, if yoga were today be as it was in the old days, then it would not be evolving as it has done for thousands of years now.

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  2. i am an old school yogi and this blog is so timely. I cannot find a class or a studio in all of Toronto where I can practice real Yoga. You know , the kind where one is able to practice meditation in motion and drop deeply into the body without striving or strain. I am so disheartened by this. My favourite teachers of 20 + years are no longer teaching, having been replaced by younger faster hipper well meaning undertrained teachers. There is no spiritual content, yoga philosophy, or guidance regarding safety in the asanas in these classes. I will continue my search for a real class…Namaste

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    1. thank you so much for reading. your comment makes me sad. hoping you find your tribe. in metta….hands together for you.

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    2. Teya, it was suggested on Facebook that you try the “Esther Myers Studio in Toronto. They base their teaching on the work of Vanda Scaravelli – which is the antithesis oif striving or strain.”

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      1. I second Esther Myer’s studio – I don’t live in Toronto but whenever I can get there, I do. Try a class with Tama Soble or Monica Voss – they are now co-owners of the studio and very experienced teachers who studied with Esther Myers before she died – I have been to both of their classes and got a lot out of them and they teach a very intelligent and reflective style of yoga – very different from regular yoga classes – I highly recommend it.

        BTW Linda with reference to “gym-yoga” (for want of a better expression!) I was at a teacher training event recently and the teacher running it said she had seen “a lot of strung out yoga teachers” (using yoga as a workout) – I thought it was such an apt comment for a lot of the current teaching ethos that’s out there.

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  3. Linda, I used to work at Walter Reed Memorial years ago in pastoral care. You cannot believe how much someone with your skill set and approach to healing and therapy is needed in an environment like that and with groups like returning vets, women in shelters or people coming out of addiction. You have the spiritual maturity to deal with people who are deeply traumatized , the 200-hour fresh from Anusara teacher training 1-starbucks-Latte-per-day-Lulu yimbo does not. They will be popular for the next little while, until yoga runs it’s course in the mainstream, unfortunately. In the meantime, old school teachers and instructors like yourself form the real backbone of the community.

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    1. wow, thanks so much for reading and for your kind words! I would LOVE to have my teaching practice solely in places like you describe. I DO teach in a domestic violence shelter, a volunteer, for free. I have really considered quitting my classes that I teach at home, continuing study for myself, and that being the ONLY class I teach because those women GET IT.

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  4. It’s a conundrum, isn’t it? Real yoga is falling by the wayside.

    I taught (as a sub) in a gym last night for the first time in ages. My students were men only, which is so unusual, but then it was a blokey gym.

    So I adapted what I was teaching for their stronger, less flexible bodies. But also, on purpose, I included plenty of what I usually do – internal awareness, focus on the breath, and a little chanting. I’ve no idea if they loved it or hated it but that’s just how I roll.

    I don’t know if there’s an answer for those of us who teach this way. Perhaps it’s just to stay true to how we teach and what feels right for us?

    It is sad that yoga is being changed to cater to modern western personalities and preferences, rather than people learning how to come to yoga and take the lessons that it has to offer.

    It’s a bit like going to a foreign country and refusing to learn the language properly because you don’t like it.

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    1. that’s just it. I CAN teach the kick ass, work-out type of yoga class, but I don’t want to. I used to kick the asses of the college kids I used to teach to and they were amazed at how this old broad can move. but it ain’t me. like you say, I teach what I teach, and it’s how I roll.

      and yes, we have to stay true to ourselves, otherwise, it ain’t walking the talk. as Paul Grilley told me once, “just talk. just teach. those that don’t like it will go, the ones that do will find you.”

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  5. School is still in. New teachers want old school too–at least this one does. I am a few months away from being one of those fresh-out-of-200-hour trainees. My plan is to cheerfully and wholeheartedly teach old school yoga too. It is the yoga that has kept me on the path and the yoga I feel called to teach. My teachers tell me that in order to be successful in a studio of my own someday, I will have to offer something for everyone–meaning all the latest trends in yoga. I suppose I will just have to define success a different way, since I believe that old yoga is that *something* for everyone.

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