So in September I wrote this piece on professionalism and yoga. This month I am attempting to continue the conversation with a part 2, and hoping to plant some seeds for change. I will be focusing, in this section, on some of the “what can we do” questions and hoping to give a few ideas on where and how to begin to make changes in your own community. My attempt here is to make these for the most part accessible to yoga professionals, and to keep this at a readable length. The list isn’t exhaustive, it’s meant to be a place to start.
Have the Conversations.
About professionalism and what that means to yoga. This to me is the most critical and accessible a first step we can take. Let me, however, set some boundaries for these conversations. In part because I have a degree in Communication Studies and how people communicate with each other is important to me. Also, the lack of communication skills in the yoga professional atmosphere is sometimes kind of appalling. So seriously, let me help.
Boundary #1: A conversation consists of two or more people listening/reading (if online) and receiving information, and then responding in turn. Hopefully with integrity.
This is not Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Life is not your actual stage. Neither is your yoga studio, nor is any online forum that you participate in. We need to agree together that every considered opinion on yoga professionalism can be valid, but also that the most benefit for the whole of our community comes from frank, purposeful conversations with each other. Enforce this boundary, on yourself and others. If others cannot abide this boundary you aren’t in conversation so feel free to exit stage left. With no explanation needed.
Boundary #2: Considered opinion and “judgment” are not the same damn thing. Stop acting like they are.
We make ”judgments” all day long. Should we get coffee or stick with less dehydrating herbal tea now that the weather is colder? Should I wear pants that have a big hole in the upper inseam? Should I shower today? Look! All of these are judgments that we make with different degrees of gravitas. In order to go through the day we take in information and make considered (hopefully) judgments—this is another way to say ‘opinion that results in action’ in this scenario—in order to operate.
It is okay to take in the thoughts and ideas around and subject and form a considered opinion about it. You can even do that about organizations or an industry, even though that industry is made up of people…people who, in turn, are being “judged” by your considered opinion. How will anything ever change in our industry of yoga if we do not consider the ethics and efficiency of our organizations and our industry as a whole? How will we change if we never speak up about things that reflect poorly on our yoga profession? I honestly believe in my bones that the frankly scary idea that “non-judgment” equals the notion that we should never consider a situation and have an opinion about it for fear that we are “judging” people…thusly somehow going against a foundational precept of yoga… has directly lead to a lot of our challenges in the yoga world. Nobody wants to speak out to fix our issues for fear of seeming un-yogic.
Well the truth is we need considered opinions about how things are operating. How the fabric of our unique yoga industry cloth is woven. If there is a snag in our fabric we need to fix it. We especially need to fix it if the snag became a hole. And we will never know what needs repairing if we constantly insist on keeping only a positive non-critical thinking mind about it. We need considered opinions desperately. We need YOUR considered opinion. Whatever it may be.
So with these two important boundaries in your pocket have conversations about the yoga professional world. What do you like? What needs to change? How could we change it? Why should or shouldn’t we change it? Start immediately, and get uncomfortable. Keep talking until you feel like you can both hear other’s points and communicate your own extremely well. Then be open to changing it when you are presented with new and better information. That is a hallmark of both intelligence and a truly considered opinion.
To follow those conversations you’ll be having also consider:
Be careful who’s voice you listen to!
There are lots of “names” out there in the Wild West(ern world) of Yogaland. Some come from success teaching at a well-known studio, some wrote a book or books, some specify in niche work and have become known for their proficiency in that skillset (ie. mental health, back pain, biomechanics, philosophy). But this specific expertise on one facet of the offerings of Yoga as a whole does not mean they were learning everything about yoga to an expert level. So vary your intake of so-called expert opinions. Do not assume just because someone is an expert in something you admire, like Sanskrit or anatomy for example, that their moral compass has the same true North setting that yours does. Read the thoughts and listen to the words of a diverse group of people, and then figure out where your considered opinion lies. This very action is what it is to be a professional in your field. And I promise you fellow professional, we need you. For the love of Yoga, we need you.
Understand what your professional organizing bodies should and shouldn’t do for a profession.
So last month I referenced a group called Boycott Yoga Alliance. They take a firm stand against the yoga community’s professional organization, The Yoga Alliance. For full disclosure, I support and also take this stand. But perhaps you feel differently, that is okay. All I ask is that you know why, and that your opinion is yours not the repeat of a well-known teacher or theorist whom you admire. Understand what is and isn’t important about what any professional organization should do. Don’t just be a hater or a positive thinker, be a critical thinker.
For my part I believe that the #1 job of a professional organization, ANY professional organization really, is to maintain the standards of professionalism within their specific field. Standards of professionalism can include, but are not limited to: code of conduct, payment, benefits, scope of field, and training of professionals. I happen to think that the YA falls well short on all of these avenues, perhaps the grossest oversights being in code of conduct and professional training.
Accountability, for me, is also another huge sticking point. While some professional organizations may never deal with this, especially when other accountability factors (like licensure) are at play; the yoga industry has no such accountability structure in place. You can, and I am being frank here for those who do not quite understand the reality of this, perform incredible misconduct in the role of teaching yoga to others and have absolutely no professional recourse at all. In fact you could easily move to the next town over and continue your misconduct—which here includes the physical and emotional—in that town with absolutely no one in the yoga world doing anything at all. If we want our profession to be one where the majority of people can thrive this cannot be acceptable. Our professional organizations should be on the front lines of this stance.
Perhaps other things I have not yet listed are important to you: government lobbying, maybe? Discounted products and services perhaps? Be diligent in making sure you have an educated basic understanding of the concept of a professional organization. Remember that the professional organization for any job or skill can be the standard setters for that given industry. Are you content with ours?
Are you a yoga professional? A full-timer? Then go write a love letter to all the part-time and casual yoga teachers out there…because we need their help.
Being a yoga professional is sometimes like having the discipline of yoga as the air you breathe. Not only do you practice for yourself, but you also teach that practice to other people. It is not a “leave it at the office” kind of a job. It is much more like a “life is your work inspiration” sort of a gig—a lot like people who have a creative profession. That means it can often feel all-consuming.
When that happens a natural sort of frustration occurs when a full time yoga teacher encounters part time teachers who are a) not worried about how they will pay for life, b) not taking yoga as seriously as the pros are, and c) have much duller sensitivities to the challenges of what we face as yoga professionals. I see you people. I read your frustrated and heart-broken comments. I reeeeeaaaallly get it. But the thing is this: we need all the help we can get. We need the support, camaraderie, insights, and encouragement that those people provide. But also we need to be the ones setting the bar high so we can lift everyone up with us.
Remember my yoga professional friends: it is very much up to us to identify ourselves as the industry professionals. Right now we have no one else to do it. We need to be the ones leading the charge for change in our communities. Why would a hospital, school, office, or program hire YOU vs. the 10,000 other yoga teacher trainees out there? Because you are the yoga professional . Say it. Shout it. Then write that love letter, thanking all those part-time and casual teachers in your life for their support. We need them, and they create an often rich and diverse landscape in the yoga world. Without them there would be entire populations of people who would have much less access to all that yoga can offer.
Finally, identify some action steps you can take—and take them.
Want to start a competing professional organization? Me too!
What about figuring out how to unionize yoga professionals? I definitely want to figure this one out.
Those seem like BIG steps? They are!
But maybe smaller steps are for you, and we definitely need those too. Change your teacher trainings to reflect the industry you want to be in. Update your outdated studio policies, and treat your employees kindly. Become a better representative of this profession, and remember that you represent us in all that you say and do in regards to yoga. It is time for change in our industry, and you can be on the front lines of that change. We’ve got this friends, but it is time for all of us to step up and make a difference.