children’s yoga

Overheard a long time ago:

“People can learn to bend over and touch their toes (or rather, re-learn since they could do that as a child), and yet that isn’t necessarily yoga.”

I read a story about a yoga student who thinks he is an “advanced” student because he can put his leg behind his neck and other pretzel poses. You know, an Instagram Yogi with thousands of followers.

Thinking he has accomplished everything, he goes to India to find a “yoga master” to teach him more. He finds a yoga master in a cave (of course) and begs to become his student.

The master tells him to show him his most advanced pose so the “advanced yogi” guy does some crazy leg behind the neck arm balance.

“Hmmmmm….,” says the master. “Children can do that, too.”

The guy is shocked and dismayed and disillusioned.

The master says, “Now you can start learning Yoga.”

“Stripping the Sacred” – Brenda Feuerstein

patanjali2
Patanjali

“Teach people, not poses.” — Gary Kraftsow (paraphrased)

“Yoga contains asana, pranayama, meditation.
Anything else is acrobatics.”
(TKV Desikachar, from a long ago intensive in India)

Many of you know Brenda Feuerstein.  She was married to eminent Yoga scholar, Georg Feuerstein (1947-2012) and they collaborated on a wealth of books and trainings in traditional Yoga.   Brenda carries on their work in Traditional Yoga Studies where she does distance learning courses and has a Philosophy/History Training Manual for teaching that segment of 200- to 500-hour Yoga teacher training programs.  It can be purchased here.

Recently on her Facebook page she posted this note that generated many comments.  I believe her words should reach a larger audience beyond Facebook so Brenda gave me permission to post it here.

Of course I agree wholeheartedly.  One of my students who has studied with me for 7+ years is moving out of state and she said:  “This is a great post, I love it and it is so true. I am sure this is exactly what I will be facing once I move and attempt to find a studio/teacher that provide real yoga as it was intended.”

Talk amongst yourselves.

Stripping the Sacred
*Warning – you might not want to hear this*

I started learning Yoga when I was very small from a book my Mom had purchased. Richard Hittleman was the author and I suspect there was no other book on Yoga at the pharmacy where my Mom would have been shopping at the time. She was probably intrigued having read something in Reader’s Digest or possibly heard the word on one of the two TV channels that were available to us.

A little later a TV show started featuring German born Yoga teacher Kareen H. Zebroff. My Mom and I would “do” Yoga with her once a week. We had no sticky Yoga mat, no meditation cushion, no clothing that set us apart from anyone else, and no studio to support our practice after the show. We sat on the cold farmhouse floor and didn’t wonder if we should look into stickier mats and travel mats. My Mom and I just practiced and I felt a “specialness” that I wouldn’t fully understand until years later.

In my teens, I ended up in a small town where I saw a hand written poster of a Yoga class being held at the school gym. Nothing was said about getting my cakras cleared, my core muscles being strengthened, and no mention of the Yoga Alliance. It was straightforward just like her class. There was no music, no props, nothing to sit on but the floor, and most people didn’t even have an exercise mat. People wore sweat pants and t-shirts and a sweatshirt if it was a cold evening. She introduced herself as having studied at the Sivananada ashram and most people had no idea what that meant but most recognized the feeling of “specialness” in her heart. It was quiet and no one was showing how they could do a headstand before class. The class was straight forward. When she spoke it wasn’t in hard-to-understand anatomical terms, but she did use Sanskrit throughout the class. I suspect that is the way she was taught. She spoke gently and sweetly about her teacher and I’d often see her in tears which I knew meant something very “special”. Her class was challenging but not necessarily in a physical way. She taught us Yoga philosophy saying we needed to learn it well otherwise we were just doing calisthenics and we should go elsewhere if that’s what we wanted. She was strong and courageous and filled with love for her teacher and the path of Yoga.

Jump forward to 2015. I was invited to live in a city after living in a rural area for several years and I decided that experience would be helpful in better understanding the current state of Yoga (generally speaking). I was taken to studios daily until I suffered a severe injury. The injury was the result of two Yoga teachers believing they could fix my life-long physical condition from a C3,4,5 fracture that had healed well enough for me to lead a strong and very active life. Even though I told both teachers prior to the class that it was best to not adjust me under any circumstance because I’d worked one-on-one with therapists for years and knew my body very well, my adho mukha śvānāsana, utthita trikonasana, and śavāsana didn’t look “right” to them so I got surprise adjustments and was unable to function normally for months and even today I’m still suffering from the well-meaning teachers who thought they could cure me with their 200-500 hour YA training. Now I understand that modern postural Yoga has helped many people with physical injuries, but the fact remains these teachers felt they could “heal” me with Yoga when in fact I ended up being severally injured. I don’t know of a Yoga anatomy module in any teacher training that would address “fixing” or “healing” neck fractures.

What I learned through all of it was that the “specialness” – the sacred – appears to have been stripped away from Yoga. How is it that we went from a class or two a week offering to a gym/studio setting with 20-30 or more classes a week? How can anything feel sacred when there is so much of it and students become numbers on ledger for the accountant? True, for a tantric it could be, but really? I suspect that many people who say they’re tantrics have no idea what they mean and when asked come up with something they’ve memorized from the internet or some book written by someone who heard tantra sells.

My own opinion is that as long as we have large studios pumping out teachers and building their client base we will never fully regain the sacredness in Yoga. It will continue to be a marketplace where one teacher is trying to outdo the next one and where the words disrespect, lack of teacher and lineage recognition, and plagiarism means getting ahead in business.

We’ve used and abused a tradition with a sacred foundation and the outcome has been devastating on so many levels. People email me asking about book recommendations stating they’re confused with everything that’s out there. People email me and say they have to take a break from their Yoga practice because they’re injured, and I respond with, “what an incredible opportunity you have to go into the foundation of traditional Yoga by studying philosophy!” People email and say, “I feel bullied…do I have to certify with YA?” People email and say, “I don’t want to learn Sanskrit in a Yoga training.” I respond, “Please go talk to your Grade 1 teacher and ask them if learning the English language (that being their first language) was important for your Reading class.” and the list goes on and on…

There are people trying their best to keep the sacred in this beautiful tradition of Yoga, and possibly like me, they feel exhausted and frustrated at times. How many Yoga magazines do we need to buy? How many books on asanas do we really need? How many ways do we need to explain the yamas which were so clearly stated? How many ways do we need to do things before we finally see that the sacredness of Yoga is hanging on by a thread? How many times does this need to happen before we wake up?

do I need to be anointed to be credible?

 

So much goes on in the Modern Yoga World (TM) now that it’s hard to keep up without it sounding like a constant rant.  Maybe I should just write about what actor or rock star does yoga, post a photo of them drinking a latte with a mat under their arm, and comment on what brand yoga pants they wear.  That would really be so much easier and would probably get me more readers.  But I digress.

I’m sure by now many of you have heard about the Yoga Alliance stance on using terms such as “yoga therapy” or “therapeutic yoga” or anything that sounds like a teacher has anything to do with “healing” or “medicine” or even “alleviating.”  You can can go on their site and see the restricted words.  As someone who worked for litigation lawyers for 20 years I know it was a CYA (“cover your ass”) move.

The policy does not only apply to your YA profile but also to your personal website IF you are YA registered.  Don’t register with the YA and you can say whatever you want about what you do or how you teach.

I am now an E-RYT 500 teacher with the YA and also an official “Continuing Education Provider.”  Yes, yes, yes, I know — I ranted for years about the Yoga Alliance, I totally own that.  You can read what I wrote in 2011 here when I was a mere E-RYT 200.

But the fact remains that there are those WHO WILL NOT STUDY OR TRAIN WITH A TEACHER UNLESS THEY ARE ANOINTED BY THE YOGA ALLIANCE.  I resisted reinstating my YA registration for years and finally broke down.  Of the teachers I know who also consider the YA useless and a waste of money, 100% say that the reason they pay up is because of the above reason.  The teacher training I took at the old school Chicago studio where I originally certified in 2002 was never YA registered until people starting asking the owner whether his training was YA registered.

The fact is that I re-joined the YA purely for marketing reasons, not because I think it means anything.  The fact is that after teaching for 15 years, training for 10 years in India, and being featured in a book, I am a yoga nobody where I live so if the YA seals give me “credibility” and “presence”, so be it.

I do not have the luxury of owning a studio that can attract students.  And yes, if you are surviving and making money with a yoga studio that IS a luxury in today’s yoga business market, consider yourself lucky.  I live in a town of 25,000 and there are three studios besides a park district that offers yoga.  Fifteen years ago when I started teaching and basically knew nothing, I had 40 students in another park district’s class.  Now I am lucky if I have five students who show up consistently.  Those students don’t care about the YA but if I can get teachers who want more training by using the YA seal, I am going to use it to my advantage.  It ain’t personal, it’s business, baby.

Cora Wen told me that back in 2001 Judith Lasater told her: “Every profession has an organisation and YA looks like they are winning in the registry.  Get the certificate now.  Or you will one day have to pay someone less qualified than you are to get a certificate.”

There ya go.  Like I said….

YACEP

Now the International Association of Yoga Therapists has rolled out their “certification” for yoga therapists.  I’ve been an IAYT member for years and even wrote an article for their journal on teaching trauma sensitive yoga.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think there should be some type of measure of a yoga teacher’s ability just as there is a measure for massage therapists, for example.  And yes, I know MTs are licensed which I absolutely do not agree with for yoga teachers.  But for these paid for labels to be the be-all and end-all and the only thing that makes a teacher worthy in the public eye makes me very itchy.

I looked into the IAYT certification process but I don’t have the proof that in all the intensives I took at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram that there was any “yoga therapy” involved.  But there was because there always is something about yoga therapeutics beyond asana practice.

What got me thinking about all of this was the article “Are We Entering a Golden Age of Yoga Therapy??” by Eden Goldman.  According to Goldman’s quote…

“Yoga Therapy is the philosophy, art, and science of adapting classical Yoga techniques to contemporary situations to support people with physical, mental, and emotional ailments. According to the definition of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), “Yoga therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the teachings and practices of Yoga.”

Practically speaking, Yoga Therapy is the reinvention of a personalized Yoga experience where the practice is modified to meet the individual’s ever-changing needs. Since ancient times, adaptability in one’s teaching, practice, and approach has rested at the heart of Yoga’s most fundamental influence: the relationship, insights, and trust created through the practice by one teacher working with one student.”

…I’ve been a “yoga therapist” for 10+ years.  Do I still need to be anointed by the IAYT to be credible?

I’ve done 10 years of many intensives at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, multiple yoga therapy trainings including two levels of Phoenix Rising, 300 hours of Svastha Yoga Therapy with Dr. Ganesh Mohan, a Therapeutic Yoga for Seniors training at Duke University, and trauma sensitive yoga.  Besides teaching in India and Africa.

Can I call myself a “master teacher”?  You tell me.

Do I still need the YA and IAYT seals on my website to prove my worth to the rest of the world?

It’s become crystal clear to me that the name of the game in the Modern Yoga World is MARKETING because no one gives a damn about all of the above.  I don’t have the $6,000 that I need to upgrade my website to grab SEO and make it the latest and greatest Yoga Business site.  It’s much cheaper for me to lose myself in South India and hang a shingle that says “YOGA TEACHER TRAINING.”

In my 15 years of teaching I’ve never put myself out there as a “yoga therapist” because I believe all yoga can be therapeutic if applied in a beneficial manner.  Even Bikram Yoga was beneficial to the Vietnam War vet who spoke to us about his PTSD when I did the trauma sensitive yoga training.

I’ve always said that no one called Krishnamacharya a yoga therapist, he taught YOGA.

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.

Does one who jumps through the hoops and pays for the IAYT “certification” automatically know more or is more capable of supporting or empowering someone than I am?  The buying of labels has been problematic for me for years. It’s the same old story: people will study with a Yoga Alliance or IAYT labeled teacher before they will with someone who has the years of experience.

In the end, I don’t need validation.
I know what I offer.

But then in this Modern Yoga day and age there is this passing itself off as “Yoga Medicine.”  Yes, you CAN think yourself thin AND sexy!

It’s Tara Stiles’ Slim Calm Sexy Yoga all over again.  Just use the word “meditate” and it makes it all credible and so deliciously New Age.

THAT POST IS EVERYTHING THAT IS WRONG WITH MODERN YOGA.

Women with eating disorders feel bad enough about themselves already, how much worse will they feel if they can’t “think themselves thin”?  At least she didn’t mention bra fat.

How is this in any way empowering?  I’m all about mindful eating and eating healthy foods, but the buzzwords used by this “master yoga teacher and specialist in sports and Chinese medicine” are what is typically found on a magazine cover at your grocery store check out line, the same bullshit that sounds like “LOSE YOUR BELLY FAT IN 5 EASY YOGA MOVES!”

No wonder us old school teachers throw in the towel

Funny.  I did not see the Yoga Alliance or IAYT seals on her website.  Anywhere.

Without them you can say whatever you want to say about yoga.

Modern American Yoga (TM)

IMG_0334I no longer write as prolifically as I once did.  I started this blog in 2005 and the Yoga Blogosphere as changed tremendously in 10 years.  Modern Yoga Bloggers have forgotten whom their elders are.

What some bloggers write about now I wrote about 3, 5, even 7 years ago: ageism, diversity, “slow yoga.”  “Slow Yoga” is a thing now (Google it) and I’ve been teaching slow since 2005 when I first came back from the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in India.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

But sometimes things scream to be called out and discussed.

A long time, old school yoga teacher told me that where she’s from a yoga studio requires newbie teachers to “brand” themselves before finishing a one month yoga teacher training, i.e., make a website, a Facebook page, social media presence, etc., etc. etc.

Do the math.  If a large city has 1000+ YTTs, old school teachers like her and I are doomed.

BRANDING before teaching.

BRANDING before experiencing.

BRANDING before Living Your Yoga.

When I did my first website it took me 6 months to write my yoga bio.  Even after I studied in India the first time I thought that if I wrote too much about myself it would look like I was bragging.

Some people say that social media is the new normal. But I believe in what Buckminster Fuller said:

“In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.”

Believe me, I try. But I’m tired.  Damn tired.  I believe in old school yoga teacher training, mentoring.  But my mentoring page is the loneliest page on my website.  I am not concerned with offering a standard 200 or 300 hour training because I believe in quality, not quantity.  Unfortunately, that’s not good for business because people chase the piece of paper that proclaims them a certified yoga teacher.  I can easily put together a 200 or 300 hour training based on 10 years of notes from the Mandiram alone.  But frankly, no one is interested.  Here.  I believe it takes 10 years of yoga teaching to learn how to teach besides having a dedicated personal yoga and meditation practice.  No one wants to hear that.

Like in real estate, it’s about location, location, location.  All I know is that in my area yoga teachers are a dime a dozen.  With yoga studios cranking out new teachers every week, there is no place for Yoga Elders.  I’m not whining, I’m just being realistic.

So I’m leaving.  Done, baby.  I’m going somewhere where what I teach is valued and appreciated.  One of my students gave me a testimonial:

 “Linda is Yoga. Living, breathing, in every aspect. Caring, supportive, knowledgeable, fun-loving, she walks the talk.”

That’s why I’m leaving.  Because I have too much passion for what I do if that makes any sense.

Goddess willing, I’ll live in Kerala, India by the end of next year and into 2017.  I’ve already started to look at houses to rent with space to teach.  I’ve been asked to do teacher trainings in India.  When I’m in India and I am asked what I do and I say “I’m a yoga teacher” people actually have respect for that.  They ask me who my guru is instead of telling me, “I do Pilates.”  No one asks  me what style of yoga do I teach.  I’m asked not to leave, to stay and teach, to help people.  No one pillories me for using the phrase “real yoga.”

Yeah, I said it.  REAL YOGA.  I’ve always said the real yoga kicks in during a health crisis or dealing with your own mortality. My yoga sadhana helped me through an ovarian cancer scare years ago.  It made me realize that “I am not this body” and it brought me peace.  When my time comes I’ll be chanting and doing pranayama, Goddess willing.  Thanks to my friend Cora Wen for making this beautiful video.

But what Cora talks about in her video, you can’t brand it.  You can’t Instagram it,  You can’t trademark it.

You can only live it.  Because Yoga is Life.

the whiteness of yoga: time to change the question?

I’ve read more than a few articles lately on how blindingly white modern American yoga still is and the cultural appropriation of it. In fact, I asked about the color of yoga back in 2007 when this blog was at its hottest. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

“Why Your Yoga Class is So White” is the latest from the Atlantic Monthly:

“The magazine images may seem like stereotypes, but they’re grounded in reality: About one in every 15 Americans practices yoga, according to a 2012 Yoga Journal study, and more than four-fifths of them are white.

“‘Racism is so implicit that you never even notice that it’s a white girl on the cover every single time,” added Amy Champ, a PhD from the University of California, Davis, who wrote her dissertation on American yoga. “But when you begin to ask yourself, ‘What does yoga have to do with my community?’, then you begin to question all these inequities.'”

The key goals of South Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America (SAAPYA) as stated on their website are:

“…to revise the perception that yoga is an exclusive practice; to intervene in a largely segregated yoga environment; to ensure that yoga remains a resource for all bodies, all races, all classes and identities.”

[Emphasis supplied in both.]

“Columbusing” is a term used to describe what white people do when they “discover” something that has existed forever.  We can reflect on that as Western culture “discovers” mindfulness like it “discovered” yoga about 15 years ago. 

Before I definitively learned that I was Native American (after intuiting it all my life), seeing white people wear Native American headdress always bothered me tremendously.  Don’t ask my why it did, it just did, it looked wrong and felt wrong to me.  I’ve been told that’s my tribal blood memory.

The issue of the Color of Yoga in Modern America is always a dicey one.  My good friend and San Diego yoga teacher, Oreste Prada, deliciously turns the question around in his guest post where he asks, in essence, “why do white people care so much about whether people of color do Yoga?”  Spinning it around again, “why are white people in the U.S. so drawn to yoga practice?”  Do white people need Yoga more than other races do?  Excellent and provocative questions so here is what Oreste has to say….talk amongst yourselves.


 

“Over the last few years there has been much discussion online about the demographics of yoga classes particularly on the notable absence (or suspiciously low representation) of ethnic minorities, particularly Black and Latino, which comprise just over 12% and 16%, respectively, of the U.S. population.  Typically these discussions raise observations that quickly are treated as causal:

1. Yoga Journal (arguably the most popular yoga related magazine in the U.S.) shows mostly (some would say only) White women on their cover.

2. Yoga studios are located mainly in White neighborhoods.

3. Yoga classes are prohibitively priced for low income communities.

This leap from observation to causation is, of course, a dangerous one without looking deeper and dispassionately into income and race demographics, regional variations, and cultural differences between ethnic groups in the U.S.  It also tends to fall all too comfortably into inaccurate ethnocentric projections.

The underlying assumption is that, all things being equal, Blacks and Latinos would be drawn to yoga classes just as much as their White counterparts if only:

1. Media representations of yoga practitioners would show Blacks and Latinos.

2. Yoga studios were located in “ethnic” neighborhoods.

3. Yoga classes were cheaper so that Blacks and Latinos could afford them.

This assumption is just that, an assumption, and it misses an obvious question. 

Rather than ask why Black and Latinos don’t attend yoga class, is it not interesting to turn the question on its head and ask why are White people in the U.S. so drawn to yoga practice?

My friend Linda, who so often throws interesting and controversial topics at us often relayed from a different than typical perspective, recently posted on her Facebook wall an article on precisely this idea of the “Whiteness” of yoga in the U.S. and what many groups are doing about it.  It struck me that the author, all of the folks interviewed, and all of the commentators on the article, were taking this idea for granted that yoga was something everyone would (or should?) be drawn to and that the lack of representation of ethnic minorities came down to something that magazines, studio owners, yoga teachers, or the very White yoga community at large were doing wrong.

No one seemed to see the inherent ethnocentrism present in that assumption.  My comment to her post and now this subsequent guest post was born.

To be sure, this is not to discount the observations noted above.  They are, after all, observations of a reality that has presented itself.  I make just as many generalizations with my perspective (among them treating White Americans as a monolithic group which they most certainly are not.)  What I propose is that the reasons for this reality may not be what we assume them to be and that taking a step back and trying to better understand differences in culture and race are more meaningful ways to understand the reality. 

I think it is worth pondering the question of whether something within Yoga practice (as it exists in modern time) makes White Americans uniquely attracted to it.

It isn’t unreasonable that it would be.

1.  Yoga practice is individualistic.  Yoga practice is ultimately concerned with the Self.  Although we can argue that this Self is shared, we approach it through our own experience within our own bodies.  Yoga is not (with some exceptions) a group experience and it certainly isn’t a team effort.  It begins and ends with individual experience.

This might be very attractive to individually-minded White American culture.  But can we expect it to be attractive to cultures that place greater emphasis on family and community?  Looking at India, the birthplace of Yoga, which is very family focused, we see that most folks don’t actually practice Yoga.  Those that do are almost exclusively sadhus (who leave their families for spiritual pursuits) or folks involved in religious groups.  The householder yogi is a fairly modern concept as far as we know and he/she remains a minority in Yoga’s home country.  Within India itself the majority of practitioners (in non-religious) Yoga schools are Westerners and it has been the case for almost a decade now that there are many more practitioners of Yoga (asana) within the U.S. than within India (India has an overall population 4x the size of the U.S.).

2. Yoga offers spirituality without dogma.  Many yoga practitioners today come to the practice seeking a spiritual component in their lives.  Many are agnostic or have weak religious ties (both of which are much more common in White communities in the U.S. than in any of the ethnic communities).  Yoga can provide a much needed sacred experience for these folks.  The strong religious influence within Black and Latino cultures raises the possibility that the spiritual component of Yoga is not as attractive since those needs are already being met.  This idea is more compelling than the income argument given that Asian Americans (the only minority in the U.S. who earn a higher income then White Americans) typically have strong family and religious ties but also don’t rally to yoga studios.

3. Yoga classes offer a support system without community-mindedness.  Yoga teachers often talk about “group energy,” this ethereal quality that is formed out of the collection of students and teachers in the room, maintained by those same people and which benefits everyone.  Studios in general and classes in particular can be places where individuals feel the support of others and in the best cases have teachers who are invested in their growth and the realization of their potential.  For an individually minded culture this can be very attractive because you can pursue your own goals and growth with the indirect support of others, and by your presence and your energy you are helping others achieve theirs, all the while maintaining your space.  The best example of this juxtaposition of shared versus personal space is the yoga mat which has become a strong representation of an individual’s sacred space.  I have yet to attend a teacher training where the question of whether or not it is appropriate to step on someone’s mat doesn’t come up.  [Oreste, love ya, babe, but keep your stinky feet off my mat…I put my face on my mat!]

4. Yoga in the West is generally associated with the New Age movement.  The New Age movement with its non-dogmatic approach to spirituality and its emphasis on health and harmony has at its best been very attractive to Americans who resist and reject dogmatic religions but who seek a deeper sense of purpose and order to the Universe, especially if it offers a way to participate in it.  At worst, the New Age movement is viewed by (non-fundamentalist) White Americans as strange but innocuous.  For many it offers a vehicle to venture from yoga into other practices that might be interesting or even helpful for promoting health.  

This is not the attitude of the typically deeply religious Black and Latino communities that view the New Age movement with suspicion at least and contempt at worst.  New Age tenets and practices are disturbingly close to the ideas their churches warn against.  Individuals in these communities who practice yoga often face constant warnings by friends and family and can even experience alienation from their religious communities.  [my note:  I found this true when I was teaching Mexican women at a domestic violence shelter where the Jehovah’s Witness minister of one woman told her not to return to my class.]

Given the ease with which yoga practice fits into the needs of many White Americans perhaps Yoga in the U.S. is actually focused on the folks who would benefit the most from it.  

If this is the case, why are we concerned about representation and whether yoga practice makes it to other communities?  Is it a form of ethnocentrism to assume that something that White Americans have found useful for personal and spiritual growth is necessarily beneficial to everyone?  Or that others are not already experiencing the fruits talked about in Yoga through other means?

I’m not playing devil’s advocate here.  I was born outside of the U.S. and until I was 19 years old lived in a community that was almost exclusively Latino.  In that time I met many people who exhibited abilities not unlike the siddhis talked about in the Yoga Sutras and other yoga texts.  In the 15 years I’ve been a yoga practitioner and teacher, where I’ve been surrounded mostly by White Americans, I’ve met less people who exhibit those abilities.

So it is worthwhile to ponder whether ethnic minorities not participating in Yoga is a problem at all.  The assumption that these communities need yoga practice seems to be at least as ethnocentric (so as not to use the overused term “racist”) as the idea that they are being excluded from the yoga community.

One additional note: I’ve made sweeping generalizations throughout but I want to draw special attention to one which Linda raised and which I think may begin to instruct how we can go back to using yoga to serve people as opposed to drawing more people to it.  

I have assumed that all Latino and Black individuals receive unconditional support within their communities.  This is not true for many marginalized groups: anyone who has encountered physical or sexual abuse, gay/lesbian and trans individuals, and even second generation immigrants (who often straddle conflicting identities) have many times been rejected by deeply religious and traditional communities.  For folks who have been alienated, humiliated, and experienced rejection by family and/or community, the tools and practice of yoga can be a Godsend for the very reasons that I’ve mentioned above.  It’s emphasis on individual work and worth can grow self-esteem, its dogma and judgment free spirituality can be a more tender surrogate for the religion that rejected them, and its sacred space with the support of teachers and fellow students can begin to rebuild a sense of social acceptance.

The way these groups would be brought to yoga, however, would likely differ significantly from what we normally consider when we imagine expanding the yoga community so it is more ethnically inclusive.  Representation on Yoga Journal’s cover, studios in ethnic neighborhoods and lower cost classes don’t serve these communities directly.”

life in these Yoga States (apologies to the Reader’s Digest)

WARNING: GUARANTEED TO PISS OFF SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE

yoga studio owner

There are many things in this world that make me go hmmm……and one of them is the way yoga teachers are treated.

My long-time readers know why I no longer teach weekly classes in studios and you can read my sorry stories here.    But over the years of writing this blog I’ve received emails from both teachers and students venting about things in their own little corners of the yoga world.   I’m a bit overwhelmed that people trust me enough to share their feelings so openly with me, someone they only know via this blog.

Of course there are good, thoughtful, and compassionate studio owners, the majority I’m sure.   Of course I have been treated well and fairly and I respect many studio owners and count them as friends.  It’s tough to be self-employed and run any business and I am sure owners have many complaints about teachers — I’ve heard owners’ stories about teachers not showing up to teach.  After more than a few years I have ventured into teaching a public class again not at a yoga studio but at a belly-dance studio and I love it because it’s a very different vibe.

But unfortunately in my experience and in the experience of those who write or tell me things, the ill treatment of teachers by owners is, let’s just say, something special.  Weird.  Puzzling.  Passive-aggressive.  Even diabolical sometimes.  Should the yoga biz be any different from the real world?  I’ll get to that.

I know a teacher who went to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram for private classes.  She shared what she learned in the asana classes with her students.  She told her students “this is what I learned in India” and she said her students loved the practices.  Well, all except for one student.   In the teacher’s words:

“Students were eager to learn and experience for themselves the KYM style of yoga.

They embraced it even though it had a different rhythm. Many said that it was simpler and they felt more responsible for their practice and found that they were able focus on their breath and breath as they repeated poses on their own.  A student from another teacher dropped into my class one day and didn’t like this different style and thus reported back to other students in her regular classes and ultimately the studio owner that they did not like the way I was teaching my class.  Don’t get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their opinion and free to go to the class of their choosing with a teacher that they resonate with.  However, when this unconstructive, third hand feedback was shared with me by the studio owner there was an implication that what I was doing was wrong or bad or strange or something – just not preferred by her students.  OK, whatever.” **

From a Canadian yoga teacher:

“The studio owners came to me and asked me to change the style of yoga I was teaching as they were moving towards a branded style of yoga.  As a yoga teacher with 10 years experience and a specific training that involves pranayama and therapy in asana, I said I could probably change some things about my class (i.e., create a similar class that was a more challenging level of practice and make the class more of a flow class), but not change the focus on meditation in my class, the seated and focused pranayama at beginning and end, and the attention paid to mantra. 

This conversation was conducted over email and the owner’s  response was that my classes were not at threat, but that she would like me to attend her training sessions in order to teach her new style of yoga.  I told her I could not attend as they were half day workshops on Saturdays, I already taught two back-to-back classes on Saturdays, and that would mean I would be away from my family for 6-8 hours on Saturdays.

After this discussion my pay checks stop coming.  I did not get paid for 2.5 months by this studio.  I vocalized my disapproval in a series of professional emails.  On the cusp of the third month of not being paid for my three classes a week, I was finally paid and with this pay told I was no longer needed to teach at the studio.  They gave me two days notice.  They told me not to come back to the studio.  They told my students I left for personal reasons.  I later found out I was not the only teacher treated so poorly. 

The studio is a hot yoga studio with three locations.   I was told I was being let go because I had created a feeling of resistance in their peaceful studio space.  In fact, I had tried to comply to the studio owner’s wishes without compromising my own unique qualities as a teacher.   In the end, it was for the best that my relationship with this studio ended as my service was not best suited for the space.” **

Yes, we’re all human, we each have our foibles and shadow selves and crazy ass shit we deal with, but somehow, at least in my opinion, the yoga studio should be a little bit different from the usual shit in the corporate world or wherever a yoga teacher comes from.  Dare I say it, a “sacred” space?  A little kinder?  A calming respite from the usual shit we deal with on a daily basis?   Yamas, anyone?  If I wanted to be screamed at and treated like a peon, I’d still work for lawyers.  OK, my 20 years in the legal biz wasn’t THAT bad, but you get the idea.  Probably one of the reasons why the sadhus go live in caves in India.

In the first example, on another occasion the owner told the teacher that some people in her class did not like the 20 minutes of yin yoga she tried in her class.   What is the purpose of telling a teacher that students don’t like what you’re teaching?  Because the owner thinks the teacher should change her teaching style?  Or shouldn’t be teaching what she teaches at the studio?  Or maybe because the owner is fearful that students would like the teacher’s class more than hers so it’s a little passive-aggressive put down?  Is it a control thing?  I mean, unless the teacher is incompetent or injures people, but….seems just damn hurtful (spiteful?) to me and isn’t yoga supposed to be empowering for both students and teachers?  But, hell…what do I know?

As the teacher said, the comment was not constructive criticism, only that “someone doesn’t like what you teach.”  OK, fine, so those that don’t like won’t go to the teacher’s class.  But whatever happened to accepting what is offered to you and being grateful?  I have been in many classes and workshops over 15+ years of yoga-ing that I did not particularly care for but always took away a little something.  Teachings are like a bowl of rice — pick out the dirt and eat the rest.

In the second example, if the studio is switching their focus, that’s fine, a business owner is entitled to run their business as they see fit, but why the drama, the non-payment?  Too much drama is one of the reasons I no longer teach public group classes, too much Dramasana in the studios where I’ve taught.  It’s too exhausting and too much of an energy drain.   Soul sucking, in fact.

“The case of acro yoga: is it yoga or not?  What say you?”

The above question was asked by a Facebook friend (yoga teacher) on her Facebook page.

I asked the same question here and was blacklisted from teaching workshops at the brand new yoga studio in my town.

I know.  Hard to believe in this land of First Amendment rights.  I felt a little McCarthyized.   I’m waiting for the House Committee on Un-Yogic Activities to investigate me.

The thing was, I was scheduled to teach two weekend workshops last December about two weeks after the studio opened.  The owner never advertised my workshops and they were never listed on her website, which was new and which she said she had no control over.   So without adequate advertising, no one signed up (I had students who wanted to attend but the dates did not work for them and they kept asking me when it would be rescheduled.)  I was fine with no one signing up, we had talked about a new date, but I was a bit irked about the lack of advertising (I advertised on my own via my website, Facebook, word of mouth, and emails.)

The owner said she was going to reschedule me but I waited….and waited….and waited…and waited.  Sent her an email asking to set a new date.  No response and then I left for India.  When I was in India in February I emailed the owner once again about rescheduling.

Here’s what she said:  that “the day we had our phone discussion [about canceling my workshops] you took to your blog attacking studios offering acro yoga.”  That’s why she has not asked me back to the studio.

Uh, what?

I re-read the post (where I write about acro yoga in ONE paragraph) and nowhere do I “attack” any studio so much as question acro yoga in general — as any other yoga blogger commenting on the modern yoga scene might do.  I even asked friends to read it and asked for their opinions.  I received comments such as “beautifully stated”, “thought provoking”, and “grounding.”  As someone said, perception is everything in life.  Deepak Chopra says:  “There is no fixed physical reality, no single perception of the world, just numerous ways of interpreting world views as dictated by one’s nervous system and the specific environment of our planetary existence.”  I get it.  Yeah, me too.

I emailed her back and told her that I have been writing about yoga since 2005 and I don’t “attack” anyone (OK, maybe the Tara Stiles thing three years ago got heated.)  I said I was sorry if she felt attacked but it was her perception.  I said there are other yoga bloggers out there who are much more scathing about the modern yoga scene than I am.  I told her that I comment on the modern yoga scene as I see fit and have been doing so for a long time, much longer than she has been teaching.  I said I am infamous known for having a fierce voice in the yoga blogosphere and for “keeping it real.”  I said that if my blog is not everyone’s cup of chai, so be it, but if someone puts something out there about yoga and I have an opinion about it, I will write about it.

But apparently questioning something means that I “don’t think very highly of practices that aren’t in sync” with mine (her words.)  Today I read the excellent article “The Seduction of Spiritual Celebrity” where Derek Beres writes: that “the dismissal of critique in American spiritual communities is reminiscent of the anti-intellectual crusade that Richard Hofstadter warned about a half-century ago.”  It’s not so much anti-intellectualism, but certainly there is a political correctness in the modern American yoga scene that any criticism is seen as bad, negative, hateful, or that ubiquitous word, “un-yogic.”

C’mon now!  I have a friend who does Bikram yoga and I make fun of her all the time!  And I hate Iyengar yogis!  Those crazy astangis?  Fuhgeddaboudem!

Snark alert!  I’m kidding!

Oh well.  I’d rather take the chance on pissing somebody off than not questioning the status quo.  A good friend told me I was put on this Earth to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.  😉

Ouch.

A wise writer wrote, “I have lost my polestar if I only spout platitudes.”

You can be the juiciest, ripest apple in the world and there’s gonna be someone who just doesn’t dig apples.

[**the teachers gave their permission to write about their stories here.]

give me your misfits and outcasts and weirdos

I’ve always been the square peg in the round hole and that upsets people sometimes, even in the yoga world.  The yoga world can be as politically correct as the non-yoga world when the first thing out of someone’s mouth is “you’re not yogic” or “you’re a hater” when someone questions yoga’s current status quo.   Believe me; in my 7 years of writing this blog I’ve been called an unyogic hater more times than I can count.

So when I read Rachel Held Evans’ post, “Blessed Are the Uncool”, I said HALLELAJAH.  I am not Christian and I don’t go to any church but I I think her post is perfectly applicable to the current yoga scene:  “Jesus taught us that when we throw a banquet or a party, our invitation list should include ‘the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.’   So why do our church marketing teams target the young, the hip, the healthy, and the resourced?”

Look at any ad for any yoga class or any yoga product in any yoga magazine and you won’t see the likenesses of the women I taught tonight at the domestic violence shelter.  They wouldn’t be considered hip, they all have aches and pains and scars and they certainly aren’t resourced.  No one is marketing to them because they can’t afford the $100 yoga pants or the Swarovski crystal chakra pendants.

I’ve always loved Anne Cushman’s take on this in her Yoga Chic and the First Noble Truth written in 2003.  Yes, 2003 — ask yourself if things have changed much.  2003 is almost ancient history in modern American yoga commentary.

“So lately, I’m looking for a different kind of image to inspire my practice. The book I’m shopping for would show pictures of all sorts of people doing yoga and meditating. There would be old people, fat people, scarred people, profusely hairy people, people with bad skin and big noses, people with thighs riddled with cellulite, people with droopy breasts and flabby thighs and faces etched with lines from hard living. There would be people with cerebral palsy, people gone bald from chemotherapy, people paralyzed by drive-by shootings, people who’d lost limbs in wars. Some people would do the poses perfectly. Others would do them clumsily, propped up on sandbags and bolsters, unable even to touch their fingertips to the floor.”

Evans writes,  “…when the gospel story is accompanied by a fog machine and light show, I always get this creeped-out feeling like someone’s trying to sell me something.  It’s as though we’re all compensating for the fact that Christianity’s not good enough to stand on its own so we’re adding snacks.”

Substitute “yoga” for “Christianity” and “weights” or “Pilates” or “pole dancing” for “snacks” and you’ll get what I’m driving at.

It is true that there are now more and more yoga classes for underserved populations, but the face of modern American yoga isn’t just the young, the hip, the healthy, and the resourced.   Maybe if the marketing face wasn’t young, hip, healthy, and resourced, then yoga would truly finally become mainstream.   For real.

“And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said “All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them”
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.”

Suzanne.  Leonard Cohen