Today I read the perfect response to all of it. One can talk the talk about Diversity in Yoga but ya gotta walk the walk:
“Most sanghas I visit are entirely white, and they ask me, ‘Pannavatti, how do we get more people of color in our sanghas?’ I say, ‘How many black people do you know? How many do you hang out with? How many do you invite over to your house? You can’t just put a shingle outside your center that says Black People Wanted.’” – Pannavati Bhikkhuni
Ven. Pannavati is known for her wit and humor and has received awards for her humanitarian work with “Untouchables” (Dalits) in India and ordaining nuns in Thailand & Cambodia.
I heart Ven. Pannavati. Her work with dalits in my second home in India, Tamil Nadu, inspires me.
She comes from another mileu that is mostly populated by the white middle class: Western Buddhism.
The other night I was one of the speakers on this panel discussion in Chicago. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and I was invited to be on this panel by The Breathe Network. The Breathe Network is an excellent online resource for trauma survivors looking for practitioners of holistic modalities and I am proud to be a member.
It was a great event with a big turnout. The other three presenters spoke about their modalities, Biofeedback, Holistic Psychotherapy, and Reiki. I learned from all three presenters and what was interesting was that we all had a single thing in common, as noted by the moderator: the BREATH and HOW WE BREATHE can change things for us mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Many of you know that I am a long time student (10+ years) in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition and that the Yoga I teach is all about the breath, a breath centered practice. I have seen how conscious breathwork can change lives. Yes, literally, such as with trauma survivors and people with anxiety attacks and major stress. They learn to self-regulate just as the ancient yogis, the sramanas, discovered that asana and breath can regulate their internal systems.
“Trauma sensitive” and “trauma informed” Yoga are buzzwords in modern Yoga but when I did my four day Trauma Sensitive Yoga training at The Trauma Institute, I realized how the training was a retooling of what I learned at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram insofar as therapeutic yoga. It was nothing new to me. The only thing new was the information about the physiology of trauma, the parts of the brain that are affected, and some languaging, the “technical” stuff.
Before I did that training in 2011 I had already been teaching for 6 years to survivors at a domestic violence shelter starting in 2005. I intuitively knew that what I had learned in India and from my own insight meditation practice would help them. And it did, tremendously — because it was a breath centered Yoga practice. The survivors learned how to be in charge of their own physiological systems.
After our 90 minute discussion we had breakout groups where attendees could ask us questions. I had handouts of articles (one that I wrote) about how Yoga helps with PTSD. More than a few young people (“young” meaning college age students) took my handouts and then it got interesting — they started telling me about their experiences in Yoga studios. Note that this was in Chicago so they were talking to me about studios there.
I preface what comes next by saying that I no longer attend public Yoga classes so I don’t know what people are teaching nowadays. If I do go to a studio it will be to my teacher’s class at the studio where I certified as a teacher 15 years ago (one of the first studios to open in Chicago.)
I take that back — I DID go to a class just last week. It was a gong meditation plus Yoga class and one of my students came with me. I know that every teacher is trained differently, has his/her own style, and I am 200% sure there are many who would hate my classes and probably with a vengeance. But I was stunned at the practice. Shocked even.
The teacher was also a “woman of a certain age” and whom I know has been teaching longer than me. There was absolutely no attention paid to the breath. In fact, I could not even catch my breath because the sun salutation was so fast. I decided (of course!) to move at my pace with my own breath ratio.
My long time student was incredulous and instead of a calming, grounding practice to go into an hour long gong session (by the way, I was NOT expecting a gentle or restorative practice, just a more mindful one) I felt completely agitated. This is the reason why I no longer attend public classes taught by teachers whose teaching styles I don’t know.
Each person at my table at DePaul asked me “where do I find a class as you describe?” Because EACH student told me “I take Yoga but …” It’s “competitive.” A “work out.” “No one talks about the breath.” “I feel intimidated.” “How should I breathe?” “They don’t teach meditation.” If I lived in Chicago instead of 40 miles away I’d probably have a dozen new students now.
Finally, what made me sad was a trauma survivor who told me she went through a teacher training program at a corporate Yoga studio chain. I won’t say which one but they are all over Chicago and other big cities. Many times they open down the street from independent studios.
She told me that she went there looking for a more meditative, what she called “spiritual,” YTT. Instead, she told me the training triggered her PTSD, so much so that she completely stopped her own Yoga practice. What was worse, she told me, that when she tried to tell her trainers what was happening with her, no one knew how to help her.
She finished the training but no longer practices. She told me that in order to teach she knows she has to work on herself. She asked me how to get back on the Yoga horse. I said slowly and recommended Sarah Powers’ book, Insight Yoga, and her DVDs. I gave her my card, it was all I could do, and told her to contact me if she got stuck.
After listening to the questions and comments, I was re-inspired to create a teacher training so I had better get my ASSana in gear before I go to India in November. But I am SO STUCK, I don’t know where to start. Mainly because I don’t know where to begin in writing a manual. You can’t charge $3,000 for a training and not have a manual, people expect one after dishing out the dough. But I only know how to teach OLD SCHOOL, the way I am taught in India. You sit down, listen, and take notes. In all my years at KYM the only handouts I have are from asana and meditation classes. Ten plus years of notes will make a kick ass YTT. I’ve already decided that this book will be the class text.
But when the day comes when I have a Metta Yoga: Mind-Body Education training you can bet your ASSana that I will have sliding scale payment for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and vets with PTSD.
Christian conservative leader Tony Perkins is upset — this time, about yoga classes being offered to military members.
Why? Because the “goofy” style of exercise has been used as a “wacky” substitute for a “personal relationship with God,” effectively driving religion out of the military.
My first thought on that was hmmmmm……maybe if yoga was not taught as strictly a fitness regimen in many places (“power” yoga, “yoga boot camp”, etc.) and the therapeutic (healing for both body and mind) aspects were emphasized, maybe this guy wouldn’t think it was a “goofy style of exercise.” Maybe if he knew that real yoga is all about healing and transformation…… but I know I ask for too much.
I am not talking about yoga therapy. I am talking about therapeutic aspects of yoga in general. I don’t separate the therapeutic aspects in my classes. I occasionally do private yoga therapy sessions (such as trauma sensitive yoga), but I consider ALL my classes therapeutic in one way or another. In western yoga culture, there is yoga and then there is yoga therapy. Separation. Duality. No one called Krishnamacharya a “yoga therapist.” Krishnamacharya’s principle was “Teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you, to yourself, but as it applies to the other.“ He taught that yoga should always be adapted to the unique needs of each individual. When people lined up down the street outside his door he prescribed practices for them based on their individual needs, asana+pranayama+meditation. It was just yoga. It saddens me that I still have to explain to people that yoga heals, it’s not all about getting your ass kicked in a yoga class.
Damn, and I thought I was yoga’s glamour girl! Ripped off again! A comment from my Facebook page: “‘she realized she was meant to be a yoga teacher.’ I never had that realization. Rather, my teachers told me. And I resisted.”
My teacher also told me to become a teacher and I resisted, too, but I became a teacher at 48, an age that some people think you’re all washed up. I read something the other day: in this culture when a woman hits her 50s she becomes invisible to men. When a woman hits her 60s she becomes invisible to other women. Good thing Ms. Budig is already a sensation at the ripe age of 29.
This piece rocks! I absolutely love it. Although I am not black/brown/L/B or T, I feel the same way:
I’m tired of Googling “yoga” only to have images spat back at me that scream entitlement–the kind of entitlement that comes with being able to pay $18 for a class that takes place in some bourgie studio with the words “om” and “namaste” printed on everything and giant pictures of the Hindu God Ganesha everywhere.
yoga bleaching: 1. a form of marketing in which yoga or an image of yogic lifestyle is used to make an otherwise unrelated product appear to be in line with yogic principles. 2. the act of using yoga or an image of yogic lifestyle to sell an unrelated product. 3. a form of spin or marketing intended to deceive consumers into believing that a product is related to yogic practice or theory when in fact it is not.
The local studio is selling a natural deodorant with the name of DeOm. Yes, you read it correctly: DE OM with a conspicuous AUM symbol on the bottle. It was created by a teacher at the studio using minerals and organic herbs. You can sweat like a horse in your hot vinyasa class but not stink like a street in India:
Now I am all for women entrepreneurs and I know the teacher; she’s very nice, I like her, and I hope she makes a lot of money, I really do. HOWEVER…..using a sacred symbol to push your product a la yoga bleaching makes me all types of itchy. A different name and image perhaps such as LOTUS, even AKASHA? I would probably buy a natural deodorant named Lotus or Akasha but wiping something with the AUM symbol under my arms? But hey, that’s me.
Would it be any different if I invented some new fangled toilet paper and named it “Jesus Wipes” and put His image on it?
Among serious-minded practitioners, there is palpable discontent with the course the yoga industry seems to be on. Teachers, who in the past were voices defining what yoga is in the 21st century, are now understandably more concerned with enjoying their latter years than attempting to push back against entrenched forces that care little for the soul of yoga. The newer generation has often been thrown out into the wilderness without the tools or knowledge to fulfill their impulse to carry the torch. In the absence of teachers framing the conversation and defining yoga in authentic ways, the market will always fill the gap with whatever sells….
One of my readers here wrote to me and said how refreshing it was to see someone doing “old school” with no apologies. There is much to be said about staying true to yourself and not caving to mainstream. I may not have lots of students because I no longer teach in studios but as a friend told me, I and my students have created a true sangha, old school yoga way.
Folks are not buying just anything as yoga anymore. And they are telling their friends. The rampant commercialization and co-opting of yoga has become so overblown that even the unfamiliar are skeptical. Times remain too tough to effectively continue hocking candy-coated platitudes. From out of the daunting malaise of pressures and seeming demise, conditions are becoming more ripe to slough off obsolete thinking. No more will we be led around by false gurus or complacent with hypocrisies. No longer will success be defined by status or achieved at the expense of others. We can and will do better. Let us have the courage to imagine it so.
I’m certainly not a yoga sensation like Ms. Budig but when a woman younger than her tells this Crone, “You are a life saver. Without you I would be a stressed out 20 year old bitching about everything. Now I live my life and I’m writing my own story and I have never felt better. I tell everyone about you and how you guide people to find not only happiness but themselves. I thank you for opening my eyes to that.”….
The athletic-wear company Lululemon, known for its yoga togs, introduced a meditation-specific capsule collection in fall 2012, with pieces retailing at relatively affordable prices, including a Devotion Long-Sleeve Tee ($68) and an Intuition Sweater Wrap ($178) that doubles as a meditation blanket. With its extra-deep hood, the Please Me Pullover ($118) is perfect to wear during Zen Buddhist meditation practice, said Amanda Casgar, a spokeswoman for the company, since during the process “you keep your eyes open but focus on a point on the floor in front of you. Pulling the hood right down over your eyes automatically creates that line of sight,” she said.
For the more affluent enthusiast, Donna Karan’s Urban Zen line, affiliated with her charitable wellness foundation of the same name, has become a popular choice (sweat pants, $995).
Oh. My. Goddess. How the hell did anyone meditate before the Please Me Pullover?!? I mean, really? Apparently these guys don’t know a damn thing about yoga and meditation ’cause they’re all nekkid! How did they survive all these years?
“When meditating, the author Gabrielle Bernstein avoids belts or drawstring pants. “Tying anything to your body blocks the energy flow,” she said.” Please show me the palm leaf in India where that is written. Is that in the secret palm leaf library in Tamil Nadu?
Note the traditional red string tied around the waists of these babas.
Lastly, while this is not a post on yoga per se, I believe it is relevant considering the NYT piece.
Being a consumer means accepting an essentially passive role in our life, one in which we seek fulfillment through the accumulation of stuff, whether it be material goods, a high status job, or even in terms of our relationships.
And yet, increasingly, we know that living our life as consumers is damaging us—damaging us as individuals and as a society, and damaging the earth that supports us. As consumers, we are left searching for that which will give meaning to our lives, as we fail to find lasting satisfaction in consumption….
Instead of seeing ourselves as consumers, I believe we need to see ourselves as Creativists.
A Creativist is a person who creates and connects and acts. Creativists are connected with who they are and are driven from the inside out, rather than being defined by a position as a consumer in society. Creativists fulfill their need to create which is part of all of us. Creativists use their gifts, and in doing so connect with others and in turn society benefits.
The distinction is clear. Consume versus Create. And the forces of consume versus create contain within them a series of choices that we make everyday in our lives—in our relationships, at work and in our communities.
And that’s why Yoga — REAL Yoga — is a radical act. As Krishnamacharya said, “Yoga is a process of replacing old patterns with new and more appropriate patterns.” Real Yoga enables us to make appropriate choices for our relationships, work, and communities.
The renouncers of the Vedic rituals, the ancient yogis, the sramanas, were radicals who made the choice to break free of mainstream 8th Century BC.
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
“Leaving yoga is apparently the new black. You have to give it to the author for owning up to the fact that she left asana practice because of what amounted to a wounded ego. I’m not against holding teachers accountable. If anything I err on the opposite extreme. But 20 years of practice and you can’t manage modifications without feeling so humiliated that you need to quit and find something else that you can be the “best” at? Better yet, 20 years of practice and you can’t manage to do asana at home on your own? It’s a good thing that she moved into a new practice where even the most competitive mind will have trouble finding an actual gauge to measure itself against others. Running away from uncomfortable feelings is always a missed opportunity. It’s human nature and not always possible for us to counter it. But I would’ve expected more of an acknowledgement of that from someone willing to offer tips on finding what works for you, learning to let go and embracing change.”
And the following quote contains a deep truth. Like I tell my students, stop doing yoga and be your yoga:
“Another, more serious but more subtle, symptom of our current trouble with yoga is that a large number of people are attending classes for years without developing an authentic, personal relationship to the practice. When I work with such students in my office and ask them to do a foundational asana like Downward Facing Dog or Triangle, there is a pervasive sense of strain, rather than ease and enjoyment. My eyes and hands—my whole embodied sense—tells me that these supposedly intermediate students are arranging their bodies as they think they “should,” rather than experiencing the internal dynamics of the asana for themselves. They imitate rather than inhabit the pose.”
Finally, oh, hell yeah I said in my head:
“If the yoga community wants yoga teachers who can transmit embodied wisdom to students, it needs to alter its habit of turning out yoga instructors in a weekend or a month. If the yoga community wants to be true to yoga’s premise that the body is and should be a vehicle for liberation, for enlightenment, it needs to stand firm against our tendency to treat the body as less than the mind. “
Lots of good discussion here expressing some of the reasons why my future teacher training program will be 300 hours and include modules that are not usually taught in a standard 200 hour training (i.e., in my area.)
I don’t consider my posts about the Yoga Alliance as rants, although I am sure some would consider them as such. I consider them a public yoga education. I am reporting my own experience in order to help any newbie teachers make their own informed decisions.
I gave my reasons in this post as to why I renewed my registration with Yoga Alliance. $150 later I am now officially an E-RYT 200 — “EXPERIENCED REGISTERED YOGA TEACHER.” I know, I was such a hack before YA’s official blessing. I can now conduct a 200 hour yoga teacher training after YA’s approval of my curriculum, of course. After paying the requisite fees. Of course.
I decided to upload more teaching and training hours to the YA site, so I pulled out my four inch thick folder with my teaching and training records. I was amazed to finally see it all laid out in black and white, all the time and effort I’ve put into my yoga teaching since 2004 when I first registered with YA — over 2000 hours of teaching and almost 900 hours of advanced training. I did not even count each and every three hour workshop.
I thought what the hell, I will try to upgrade to E RYT 500 – 500 because one day I might want to conduct a 500 hour training. The upgrade is another $95. Piece of cake with all my hours, right? Wrong, wrong, and WRONG. This is the email I received from YA:
“In order to upgrade to an ERYT 500, one must first meet the criteria for an RYT 500, having graduated either from a YA registered advanced 300 or complete 500 hour program (please see standards below).
A yoga teacher with a minimum of 500 hours of yoga teacher training, either: o 500 hours from one school, or o 200 hours plus 300 hours of advanced training from one school (training that requires participants to have a 200-Hour certification.
As you have not completed a YA registered training, but have spent many hours of in depth study with Sri Desikachar, I would recommend that you complete the “graduate of a non-registered school” application (attached) for your RYT 500 upgrade.”
Out of my 800+ hours of training, my three intensives at KYM plus private classes with Desikachar’s senior teachers total 300 hours of advanced training. Apparently the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram is NOT a registered school with YA. AS IF that would stop me from studying there.
I am sure Sri Desikachar stays up at night wondering whether the school he started to honor his father, the Source Scholar of Yoga, the Grandfather of Modern Yoga, should be registered with the Yoga Alliance. Please. Really? The YA can’t cut KYM any slack? Let them “grandfather” in as a registered school? Seriously? By the way, someone who certifies you in “Goddess Yoga” IS an approved school of the YA. Right.
Here’s the kicker: in order for me to upgrade to a 500 level teacher, the “graduate of a non-registered school” application costs $150 together with the $95 to upgrade to E RYT 500. So another $245 over and above the $150 I already paid to renew and upgrade to E RYT 200.
Oh my Goddess, I am in the wrong business. I need to be in the certification game. And can someone tell me why YA is officially a non-profit organization? I said “no thanks.” I don’t want to pay another dime to YA especially considering all that dough is a lot of rupees in India which I will need starting in January. But eventually I will have to pay it if I ever want to conduct a 500 hour level training in the future. AS IF I could not do that RIGHT NOW.
Of course I can conduct teacher trainings without being “Yoga Alliance approved” but how realistic is that? With the current mentality of yoga in OMerika, would anyone sign up for my trainings? I doubt it, because even the most staunchly anti-YA teachers (Ganga White – a must read; Lex Gillan; and my teacher in Chicago, to name a few), ALL ended up registering their schools with YA. Because that is what people look for.
So here is my question, good readers: the curriculum being equal, if you had a choice of a non-YA approved 200 hour teacher training with someone like me, with all my hours, 5 times at KYM OR with someone who is YA approved but does not have the hours of training and teaching experience that I have, which would you pick?
And I will say this before anyone else does: yes, I know hours of training does not automatically make one a “good” teacher, the same way inexperience does not automatically make one a “bad” teacher. There are always variables.