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.

I got dem old-school yoga blues again, mama (apologies to Janis Joplin)

There was an article in the Chicago Tribune over the weekend about how blues clubs in Chicago are struggling.  That is, not so much the blues clubs in the white, tourist areas of Chicago, but the clubs on the mostly black West and South sides:  “The official Chicago blues scene — a magnet for tourists from around the globe — prospers downtown and on the North Side, catering to a predominantly white audience in a homogenized, unabashedly commercial setting.  The unofficial scene — drawing mostly locals and a few foreign cognoscenti — barely flickers on the South and West sides, attracting a mostly black, older crowd to more homespun, decidedly less profitable locales.”  [emphasis supplied.]

The more I read this article I couldn’t help but think that what I was reading was analagous in certain respects to the modern yoga scene, especially when I read this:

  “So what happens when an indigenous music . . . gets repackaged for sale . . . ?  An art form starts to die.”

Much has been written about how yoga changed when it came West.  I was in a workshop with Paul Grilley when he said that in order for yoga to be palatable for Western tastes the spirituality had to be stripped out of it.   Sure there are many teachers who teach a classical or as I call it, an old-school style of yoga, but how filled are those classes compared to the ones where the teacher dazzles you with a one-armed handstand, kicks your ass, and sends you home with a two minute savasana and no meditation?  From my own experience when I taught at a studio my “modern” vinyasa flow class had a lot more students in it than my classical vinyasa krama class where I usually had three or four or none at all.

Naming themselves after a Muddy Waters song, the Rolling Stones visited the South side of Chicago, home of the urban blues, to pay homage to  Chess Records.   That was the rock and roll version of going to India to see where it all started, to experience the undiluted roots of their music.

Times and tastes naturally change in both music and  yoga.  Even vintage country music has faded away to the sanitized pop version of what it is now.  As the article points out the nature and purpose of the newer blues clubs is different from the old clubs.  At best, the newer clubs are filled; at worst, the bands serve up an endless repetition of songs like “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Hoochie Coochie Man.”  In those clubs where blues music is watered down and branded, no one expects the music to develop to the next level.

The newer clubs give the people what they want in order to fill the place whether it’s selling T shirts or having the bands play the same old tired songs.   Just like the clubs, yoga studios give their students what they think they want in order to keep drawing them in — yogalates, yoga with weights, whatever it takes.

In comparing yoga and art, one of my students said that art is always difficult to describe or explain, but you know it when you find it.  Great art, like yoga, has soul.  Yoga has morphed and changed since it has come to the West and while nothing can stay the same, I wonder, like the musicians wondered in the Tribune article, what is lost when the infrastructure of the yoga music is shattered.

As one of the musicians said in the article, there will always be the tourist clubs that sell the blues “brand” but “you can’t look to the clubs and the club owners to pursue blues as a culture.  It is to them purely a commodity, nothing more than a bottle of whiskey, and how much money you can make off of it.”

Not an ideal way for preserving an art form, whether it’s music or yoga.