So this is not the subject I thought I would be writing about right away after I turned 40. I’ve been working a bit over the last week on a post about the pervasive plague of inadequacy that we all suffer from, and that was what I had planned on sharing. But to literally nobody’s surprise but my own I woke up on my birthday with one subject on my mind…the industry of yoga. This is the slapshot, poorly run, fear laden, smug, commercialized industry I love and through which I make my living.
The thing is this, I am a yoga professional. What that means is that I make my living out of teaching the art and discipline of Yoga to other people. And the conclusion I have come to is that things need to change and I want to be one of the ones to help change it.
I listen to a whole lot of voices in the yoga universe and every time I hear someone refer to their teaching beginning “before yoga was a profession” I honestly want to scream. I wonder what hallmarks are these people considering as evidence of a “profession”??!?!?! How on Earth, Mars, and Ceres could yoga teaching possibly have met with ANY of them? Is it just that people have pathetically low standards like ‘people know what yoga is’ and ‘you can now get an unnecessary yoga mat at your grocery store’ as evidence that the teaching of yoga has moved from counter culture to profession? That seems to be the only logical conclusion I have reached, otherwise I am just left dumbfounded.
I have obviously (and dorkily) spent a lot of time thinking about what exactly the Yoga Teaching Industry would need to do to create an actual profession. Here in part one of this series is my quick and dirty, and not necessarily exhaustive, list of what we should be advocating for to bring our teaching into a new era.
A profession has this as a definite benchmark. A “profession” implies that a majority of it’s participants can make a livable wage performing the duties of the job. This means most people can live off the average wages of any given profession, not just the select famous few who make a good living while the rest of us struggle.
Now musicians or artists, for example, often have to do other things like teach art or music or take commissioned work to create that livable wage. Yoga teachers actually have a lot in common with how artistic type professions operate. But the thing is this: nobody is paying a yoga teacher to practice yoga for themselves. We are only paid to teach, so the performance avenue is off limits to us. In fact, this is what distinguishes yoga from other movement professions like dance and gymnastics, we are not performers. The practice of yoga is internal work, not performance work. And those who hold the teacher hat, well…we are teachers. So we teach, and only that.
Coming back to pay rate: can we say this to be true of yoga teaching? Can the majority of yoga teachers pay their bills without the help of a partner or taking a non-yoga related job? Does a “yes” mean that a teacher has to work seven days a week? Do they need to teach a grueling 30-40 classes a week to make that happen? In my own community there are few of us who can manage a living teaching yoga alone and most of those of us who do have truly a decade or more of experience behind our names. What are yoga teachers who speak with less gravitas or influence to do, starve? Live in a hostel?
Are we really satisfied to be a profession where our entry level position is not even able to buy groceries, let alone rent? Is it any wonder that the industry of yoga has become so commercialized? People are trying to eat off the money a pseudo-profession provides them. Many people will sell their souls if it means food in their bellies, so we need to stop judging the commercialized yoga teachers of this world and understand that we all need to eat. Instead of asking teachers not to teach anymore, let’s consider that a good healthy profession can provide for it’s workers and is more likely to honestly and authentically honor it’s heritage. Instead of ripping each other apart let’s work together to create change.
Adequate work for most:
Let’s do some fun math here: My community/metropolitan area is roughly 300,000 people. There are 5 yoga studio businesses in the immediate metro area and all five offer teacher training at least once, if not twice a year. Doing some super general numbers assume each studio offers up around 10 new teachers a year (some many more, some far less). Out of those teachers only a mere 50% choose to continue on to actually teach yoga classes, in spite of their $2-3K investment. Do you personally feel that the yoga industry has enough annual growth to offer reasonable employment to 25 new teachers in an area of 300,000 that already has 8 studios? Yearly? Are you laughing yet? Is your area different? Does it have enough yoga work where the vast majority of teachers could support themselves as professionals? Seriously, I’m asking. Because from where I stand it seems nearly impossible.
Professional education/training standards:
Here is where my dislike of our registering organizations comes in full tilt. I will use myself for an example to put what yoga’s currently training standards are into perspective. I have easily, without really much effort at all, spent around 200 hours reading texts and in my kitchen learning how to ferment food for preservation. Food preservation requires a bit of technical knowledge, a lot of know-how, practice, and experimentation. When I was deep into trying to figure it all out I had someone come in my kitchen and comment it looked like a science experiment. Now you could easily call food preservation my hobby, and I have spent an informed hobbyist’s amount of time learning about it.
With that said, our PROFESSIONAL ENTRY LEVEL training requirement is that of a skilled hobbyist. Is it any wonder we don’t get paid very much? Our standards of education and training are the amount of time I spent on a skill that I never expect to be paid for. I have known people who have put 200+ hours into beating one video game. For fun. On weekends. So while I hear the sentiment behind the grandstanders out there who quip ‘It’s not about hours, man. It’s about skills.’ I’m going to respectfully (sort of) disagree with you.
Now that we have established that our current standard setting organization (the Yoga Alliance) values our profession so little that the basic knowledge of a rich and very old tradition should be as thorough as a hobby, might I strongly encourage you to stop using the YA’s standards right now? Like immediately. Every time you sell a 200 hour training, if you are registered with the YA or not, you are agreeing that yoga is nothing more than a hobby. Reframe your trainings, rename your curriculum, rework your attitude about how you train your profession. Call it something else. Add hours. Instead of perpetuating the problem, be part of the solution yoga has been waiting for.
A Professional organization working for the betterment of the industry.
So I have written about the YA before, specifically the YA and their continued promotion of sexual predators on their website. It is on this site and called The Water We are Drinking, I won’t re-cover that ground. I will pause to say that any organization that says they are working for the betterment of it’s membership base but also allows rapists to be placed in reverence on their website by other members isn’t working for the profession as a whole. It’s like someone walking into an acting audition with Harvey Weinstein on their resume. It unethical to say the least, and embarrasses everyone.
In addition to their apparent lack of concern for the promotion of perpetrators of sexual misconduct, and their “skilled hobbyist” level training standards, they are also not actively advocating for us as a profession. I honestly and truthfully have very little care for the charity work they purport to do, do you? If you do may I encourage you to find one of the 1000s of good charities out there and donate your membership fees directly to them. Pick one, support it. Then ask your professional organizations to behave like professionals and start advocating for the betterment of the actual community they represent.
If you are interested in learning more about what the YA isn’t doing consider following groups like Boycott Yoga Alliance. They state the case better than I ever could.
Now I will leave you all here, dear readers, because offering solutions to these problems would take well more time than anyone reasonably has to read a blog. Next month I will be dropping a part 2 of this series about professionalism, professionals, and yoga. It will be offering some ideas on solutions and how we can help create the change we want. See you there!