So recently I was fantasizing about chucking in all of my years of yoga teaching for an easy resort job in Costa Rica. No frills, surface level only yoga, in a fabulous environment where I can live cheaply with my family using only what we need and teaching my children the true joy of less. <I paused after writing this sentence to reassess how good or bad of an idea that really was. Like…p.a.u.s.e.d> Two things inspired my ponderings. First was a trip to the buy-it-in-bulk store Sam’s Club. Talk about straight from the 3rd circle of hell of excess. Sheesh.
Second was the hard realization that for those of us holding the line of yoga from a not-quite-sold-out vantage point, our road is hard. And long. And fraught with peril from ALL sides. To the fitness yoga groups we aren’t any fun or trendy enough. To our new age yoga friends our vibration is just not high enough, we are too negative. Or too real. To the ‘burn it all down’ yoga groups we aren’t educated, authentic, woke, angry, or disrespectful to the right folks enough. To our organizations our questions are either too complex or not inclusive enough. To our friends and family we are often lacking a “real job”. Also, if we want to eat we better never mention that aloud for fear we seem A) too greedy B) too focused on the “external stuff” or C) from the US where our lack of universal healthcare means that a food budget can be reappropriated at a moment’s illness.
So I was ready to chuck it all in for a simple life in Costa Rica, or more education. At this point, whatever. But then I read these two lines that got my brain to reframe things a bit. “…the world cannot move toward harmony and well-being unless human beings act in unison to further what is good and true. Our power as individuals is multiplied when we gather together as families, groups, and communities with common goals.” Well damn. What are the yoga community’s common goals? Could the Yogaverse (my term for the entirety of what the word yoga can mean—yoga industry, discipline, teaching profession, etc.) find a common goal in order to move forward? Is it possible to create a common goal with a common language that we could ALL rise up and follow behind?
A note here on my inspiration source, it is from a translation of the I Ching. I bought the book early on in college at the suggestion of a friend to help focus my monkey mind in meditation. I haven’t picked it up in years until this week. Ever flipped to a poem that you just needed to read? Well this seems bit like that, but with quarters.
Now… a common goal? That seems like a huge task but I am humbly going to try. Perhaps we can all get behind the idea that Yoga, intrinsically, has value. Now the word “value” can be complex in the broader scope of a commercialized society, but let’s all agree that for the beginnings of my argument that the word does not just imply monetary worth but also worth as it benefits a person, group, or environment in which it is practiced. Can we agree on this premise? That yoga as a practice adds value to people’s lives? Because if we reach this conclusion, I feel like a lot of other things can fall into place for us.
‘But what value does yoga add?’ one might ask. ‘What if we cannot agree on the *right* type of value yoga brings to us all? What if everyone just thinks yoga pants are the best part of yoga?’ To that I honestly and wholeheartedly respond “does that honestly matter at this point? Does it? Really? Are you sure about that?!?” Think about it for a minute. Yoga is an industry of massive growth in the last 10 years. To meet the demands and also contributing to the degradation of the industry, yoga now has an absurd amount of teachers and training programs to help reach their ever expanding market. This has resulted in it being much harder for many to make a decent living. Yet teacher pay is NOT a central issue. Basics for teachers like heath care, retirement, time off, are NOT a central issue even here in the US where the government provides exactly 0 of those things.
Now there are goats and beer and kilts and rage. There are all kinds of weird, faddy, and downright dangerous trends that have entered our yoga arena and we hear “whaaaaat happened?”. How did we go from stuffing cash into a tin in the 90s to here, to this? How did we degrade a once proud, counter culture, discipline of introspection and self-knowledge to this; a drunken, naked, barnyard jamboree? This may come as a surprise…people need to eat. Few of us are getting rich on the pants, mats, blocks, water bottles, “namastay in bed” tee-shirts and everything else that has been sold to go with the yoga lifestyle marketers promote. So how we got here isn’t too hard to reason out when you think about it. We forgot that yoga has value. We forgot this so we didn’t protect it. We didn’t fight right away for reasonable pay for teachers, and those teachers have mouths to feed. They chose to feed themselves and their families any way they could. Perhaps making those decisions with a “at least I am still teaching yoga, and I love that, right?”.
So tell me please, exactly why it matters if people feel the value that yoga adds to people’s lives is physical, spiritual, emotional, or mystery cheese, because I still cannot reason out why other people’s rightness is so awfully important. The best I can gather, involves the argument of yoga and cultural appropriation. I also gather that the teachers who were spreading Yoga throughout India were in some way taken care of by their students and communities. This guru culture is not present in the West in the same way it has been in India. But the guru was taken care of by his students as well he should have been. Should we not consider how we care for our teachers here and now? Those who argue that not all people are teaching real yoga are putting the cart before the horse. We cannot even agree that yoga in and of itself has value!
So what can we do, we sincere practitioners and teachers of this honored discipline? How can we fight to gain value in an industry that has been ground into the dirt of commercialism, industry, and misappropriated knowledge? I have a few ideas, and to be fair to my readers they may be uncomfortable.
We can stop teaching for free. Full. Stop. Let me expand on this one, because I really want to specific about what I am saying. I see the first argument to this being something like “what about those who can’t afford a yoga class?! Free yoga at a park or institution lets those people who can’t afford a class to come for free.” Well I have yet to ever see a yoga class in a park located in the poorer end of any town. I’ve seen a lot of these free outside yoga events and I never see them in parks easily accessible to people who may have a harder time with transport. In fact a lot of them are not even located near a convenient bus stop. The inside spaces tend to be elite institutions, larger high end restaurants, even large event spaces that are located well away from the poorer sides of town where people could walk, bike, or easily travel to their free yoga class.
Who are at these events? Well I look at the photos from these events, the pictures of the people who I see are people who are in the target demographic for people who come to yoga studios. So what we do is teach our target market that what we do has no value. I see even local yoga teachers come and “support” their friends teaching at these events. Imagine being a new person interested in yoga, looking around the room or outside space and seeing that not even yoga teachers will pay for a class. Would you immediately go and seek out a studio to continue your practice, or wait until next weekend for the free class again?
Also, most of these free classes are in the morning on the weekends. Vastly convenient for the 9-5 Monday through Friday set of middle and upper middle class workers. Guess who got you your coffee, tea, and bagel after your wicked free yoga sesh on Saturday morning? A whole bunch of people who also could use some free or discounted yoga. Has anyone ever seen a free Monday late morning or early afternoon yoga class–a classic service industry time to be off? I’ve yet to see any. If you have, let me know!
I have also heard this idea that other professions give away services for free. Well they are professions where the expectation of payment already exists. Doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants, all of those professions give away services to those who cannot afford them. But what if a person who was making an average income came into their offices and asked for free services? They would be laughed out the door. People don’t pay and work for an education only to not be able to feed their families, and neither should we. As the cost of the average 200 hour teacher training rises, the cost of mine having nearly tripled since I trained in 2006, we yoga teachers pay a lot of money to be trained. We should leave that training expecting to be paid for the job we do, the value we bring to the world.
So a quick note on those people doing work for populations that are truly underserved like refugee populations, homeless populations, those exiting from addiction programs, lowest income populations and others. A lot of teachers who do that work would never think of charging. But those teachers often can get their classes sponsored by organizations that support the health and well-being of that particular community. Also, saying that class costs $.50, and still having people choose to come and pay that fifty cents speaks to asking people to commit to a practice that has the potential to fundamentally change their way of seeing the world. What we do has value. Yoga has value.
Instead of teaching free classes all the time organize a community wide International Yoga Day of teaching yoga for free in your community. As in everybody teaches for free in your community on that day. Go to your local Facebook groups and propose that everybody teach for free, no donations, no good charities, just honoring the beautiful discipline that the people of India gave to the world all those years ago. Approach studio owners and ask if they would be willing to open their studio doors for free on June 21st of 2018. If you are a teacher and you don’t have a regular class that day, start one. Make fliers, ask if you can use parks, shelters, church basements, community centers. See if this ONE day we can all commit to spreading the joy of what we teach to our greater community. But make it this one day, and not every single weekend just to get your name out there. Commit to the concept that what we add value to the world. That Yoga has value.
What can I do if I am not a teacher and really dig practicing yoga outside with 100 other people in the summertime sunshine? Please consider doing these two things: first don’t make a free class your regular practice. Support those studios and teachers you love by also paying them for their services. Remind them that their work has value in your life and make sure they understand that the profession of yoga teaching requires professional level engagement from it’s facilitators. If you do choose to take that free class outside or in a great restaurant or space, take the money you would have spent on that class and give it away. Give it to an organization you like, keep track of your summertime and send them a check in the fall. Give it away to a person who looks like they are having a hard time in life, without question or judgement. Give. Honor the value that yoga has brought to your life by giving your $10, $15, or $20 to a person or group who speaks to you with their struggles. Walk into your local soup kitchen and hand that $20 to the person in charge and tell them you just took a yoga class and wanted to make sure they had that money. Be brave, be bold, give ruthlessly to those who need it.
If you need that money, but want to take the free class you can always give in another way. What better way to honor the value of your yoga class by giving an hour of your time for free to someone or something else? Grab a plastic bag and pick up trash. Donate that hour to that soup kitchen you’d love to give that $20 to if you had it. Turn your workout or spiritual practice or both into twice the value it had before. Connect with your community. Love yourself by helping your neighbor. Because let’s face it, there isn’t anything more befitting of Yoga then that.
With gratitude Friends, thank you for reading.
Wanna gather your community together for free yoga on International Yoga Day? Me too! Let’s talk about how we can. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out my website rebeccasebastianyoga.com
photo cred: My Life Through a Lens