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A Professional’s Plea Part 2: Planting Seeds

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.

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A Professional’s Plea.

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.

Pay Rate:

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!

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Wow, women. A response to being bought and sold.

 

So I, this summer, in response to trying to figure out how life may or may not change as I enter the decade where my life will likely be half lived (chronological time wise, that is); am wading hip deep into the realm of “hormones and hormone balancing”. What spurred this had a lot to do with the fact I spent five years of my 10 years as a thirtysomething breastfeeding children, and when I stopped with my daughter a little under two years ago I have honestly not felt “right” or balanced in my body since.  So I decided to do a little research on this subject of women’s hormones and try to discern what is fact vs. fiction vs. educated opinion vs. completely talking out of your ass.

 

Here is what I have discovered: fuck absolutely everybody.

 

Yeah, seriously, all of you who CONTINUE to commodify women in one way or another and sell me, my body, and my goddamn hormones for your financial gain can ALL go take a long walk off a short pier. I.  Am.  Done.  With.  You.

Forever.

 

So in my little yoga world I run into a lot of people online who discuss capitalism, commodification, and the selling of absolutely everything yoga related. But why, I wonder, am I in such gob smacked awe at how even my hormones can be sold on the market as a money making product.  I really shouldn’t be, I know.  Women’s body hair or lack of in all places is sold, all originating over 100 years ago from sex workers in France trying to look younger to appeal to the pedophilia set.  Women’s skin, clothes, attitudes, facial expressions (resting bitch face much?), nails, emotions, ideas, expressions, empowerment, lunar cycles, friendships, bonding, I mean *everything* is sold.  So why would hormones be any different?

 

As I started to try to find some texts on this topic, the amount of books that are published that directly link to an online group that supports and online program that supports a diet plan that supports a company is ENDLESS. The difficulty in finding information that is unbiased, not merely speculative opinion, and well researched seems to be to be scarce.  I am now on my fifth book on the subject and even finding one that is written by someone I respect and also is not trying to sell me something is a hard journey.  I no longer trust the title “doctor” when reading these books/studies/opinions.  It seems everybody has found some doctor out there who is willing to endorse their no sugar, caffeine, meat, gluten, salt, carbs, dairy, some plants, some fruits, air, water, sunlight diet.  I am, of course, joking there.  But I have yet to really believe that cutting out everything for the rest of my natural life seems like a reasonable solution.  I am sure there are many women out there who feel like they feel better on their diet of no <insert your thing here>, and that is truly great.  I am just in search of someone who has a balanced perspective.  Instead of telling me what I have to take away, how about what can enhance?  How about what can nourish?  How about something I can feed myself not 1000 things I can’t.

 

I honestly thought this whole commodification of my entire woman self would end around now. There is much less pressure to fit a certain aesthetic, or beauty ideal for us ladies entering the middle of life than there is for us when we are younger.  I was ready to put down the cross of being sold for the profit of others and let the outrage torch be carried by younger women.  But I am, apparently wrong.  It seems to me now that I will be commodified well into my menopause years, just for different reasons.  It starts with beauty ideals, but continues through mating (weddings), childbearing, perimenopause (hormone time), to menopause.  I am, according to capitalism, worth quite a lot.  I just wish I would start seeing some of the dividends on my unwitting investment of my entire body.  Maybe that would make me feel a little better about it.

 

This also set me on a look around my world, both IRL and virtual, for other things we sell from women. Damn, do we sell women’s empowerment like it is going out of style.  This empowerment thing is commodified to such a degree that not only are there women in your area doing it right now, but there are women who make their livings doing this nationwide.  These are big names, “thought leaders” even, who make their living selling women…well, womanhood.  What the hell ladies?  Could you all stop that right now please?

 

That is the real thing that burns me, see. We are absolutely doing this to ourselves.  We are letting our sisters sell us to ourselves, we are letting our educated medical mothers, sisters, and daughters sell us their version of health and wellness and fountains of youth and confidence and competency.  This just needs to cease immediately.   If not sooner.

 

Why, maybe you are asking? Firstly, because our sold fountains of youth, confidence, wellness, and competency are not in any way lifting all of us ladies up.   That, in and of itself, is absolutely shitty.  For example:  suppose you went to a “support your inner yoni goddess deva Shakti princess” afternoon.  Or perhaps attended a creative women in business weekend.  The women on those retreats are likely incredibly privileged.  These are not donation based events, they are sometimes upwards of a $500 event with little chance of financial aid or scholarships; even if you do had the wherewithal to swallow your pride to ask for financial assistance.

 

A more practical example that just happened to me today: one thing that I now purchase to help get my digestion more regulated and feel less bloated is a good quality probiotic. I am picky on my brands and do a lot of research and the one I use costs $38 before sales tax for a month of capsules.  Add on a high quality multi-vitamin (which I am not yet sold on at all, but I am trying out to see if it makes a difference) and that is about $60 a women can spend per month on these supplements.  Over a year that is $720 plus tax, which for me could cover a mortgage payment.  There is no way this alone isn’t privilege in action.  The truth is buying back your womanhood costs us a lot.

 

I am going to end by adding a couple things that I think we all can do to improve our situation as women, so we are not adding to or contributing to the selling of ourselves.

 

First, stop buying the sales pitch.  It is all a selling game and if we just start by identifying when we are selling ourselves and other women that would be a huge win for us.  It is like the changing of movement patterns we talk about in yoga; knowing the pattern and seeing the sales pitch is more than half-way to not participating.

 

Second, stop allowing yourself to be sold.  You can choose a different drink/vitamin/supplement/makeup brand/whatever.   With honestly minimal effort and the internet you can find companies that are more in line with what your personal values and beliefs about women.

 

Third, stop selling women.  If you happen to have a company or business or material that commodifies women and their experiences stop selling it.  Find a different outlet, there are many, and make your money that way.   If you feel like you have a product you want to sell, like a weekend event, make the fee sliding scale or donation based.  Your time is worth it, of course, but do you really want to be the women who chooses only to empower the elite few and not the worthy many?

 

Finally, if you are curious about the one thing I have figured out that has helped me personally reset and recharge, I will tell you. Relax.  Like, lazybones kids on a summer day looking at clouds relax.  Lay on the couch, gaze off into space, if you are a yogi maybe do some nidra.  And in those few moments of relaxation allow yourself to really let go of all the obligations and events and “should be doing”s and “I am not enough”s.  Let it all go.  You don’t have to solve world peace in the five minutes, you don’t have to read or write or plan.  Just stare off in to the great beyond and just exist.  In those moments of seemingly nothing remember my sisters, you are already perfect.  No exceptions, and no sales pitch required.

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The water we are drinking.

I am like a lot of yoga teachers, I suspect. Especially those who’s *job* is yoga.  I am constantly trying to assess if what I offer my students is worthy of their respect, of their intellectual and physical time, even their money.  So I seek out the stories in the larger yoga universe that make me question what I am doing, how I am teaching, if I belong, and if it is responsible to do this job.  I do this daily, weekly, monthly.

 

Turns out, there is much to question in this Yogaland. For starters there are men who have been documented predators, who have assaulted and raped their students.  ESPN’s podcast 30 for 30 just covered the story of Bikram Choudhury if you have the stomach to check it out.

Then I hear the phrases like ‘the roots of those men’s lineages are rotten’ and ‘how can anyone teach those styles, they obviously don’t work’.  I find myself almost always nodding my head, agreeing with those sentiments.  It is easy for me to do so because MY lineage (I don’t subscribe to one)  isn’t “rotten” so I don’t have to completely rethink who and how I have been teaching for the last 13 years or how and who I have been practicing with for the last 20.  So it is pretty easy for me, with my privilege of “right” choices to sit and dismiss those who do not have that luxury.  But, to be honest, I don’t think I am any better, and neither are you.  Here is why.

 

Consider not that the yoga that we practice is a plant that nourishes us, and the men who “planted those seeds” (to use an overused in the yoga world turn of phrase) are rotten, but that WE are the plants that are indeed often in desperate need of nourishment. The nourishment we give ourselves comes in the forms of the things we feed ourselves through our participation…and that sometimes we drink from a tainted water well.  Now, if yoga is the water we use to nourish ourselves (which I think is a HUGE overstatement of yoga’s importance, but stick with me for analogy purposes) sometimes we drink from a well that isn’t good.  It has the potential to make us sick, and we don’t even know it.   Imagine further now hearing that this water well, this water source that nourished us for a time and made us feel good actually could be poisoned?  That is a tough pill for *anyone* to swallow.

 

Well, what to do next when we find out that the water well is bad? There are a lot of options in this scenario.  We can choose a different water source (lineage or teacher), which is likely MILES away from where we are, so getting there requires a lot of effort, especially if we are thirsty.  We can continue to drink the water and hope that our body filters out what we don’t need and takes in what we do.  Perhaps we can dilute the tainted water with other water sources. So we still may be nourished by the tainted water, but we are also simultaneously nourished by the other water we consume.

 

Remember, to use the water well analogy further, a contaminated water well may be unusable for forever…BUT it also could be unusable for just a couple weeks.   Further consider, that the tainted nature of this well didn’t come from a contaminated aquifer (the originating water source underneath the water well, for those who don’t know—consider that here the system and spiritual discipline of yoga that has existed for ages in India) but instead the poison comes from above.  The poison comes from a man (or woman) pouring poison into the communal well and then using all their charisma and marketing skills to encourage people to drink from this “special well”.  When people drank the water and felt better (often just because of their desperate need for nourishment, perhaps any water they drank would have made them feel as good) they built houses, and towns, near the well so that they could better access the healing benefits of that particular water.  All the while the person was systemically poisoning the water well from above every night.

 

Does this mean the water is unusable? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t yet have the answers to that question, but I suspect that there will always be some bit of usable water in that well.

 

What is your place is this “tainted water well” story, Rebecca? My place is this.  Imagine me, as a plant in a neighboring town being nourished by similar water from a similar well.  I knew the water in the other well was contaminated; someone from my town saw the man pour the poison in the well and told us all about it.  Maybe I even told a friend or two about how they shouldn’t drink from that well, it could be dangerous.  “They look fine” my friend said.  I said “I guess so…who am I to judge someone else’s water?”  So I did nothing.  I was complacent, and complicit and their systematic poisoning.  I am in yoga like so many of us, complicit.

 

Now maybe you are saying to yourself: “I yell from the top of my lungs about this all the time!  I am not complacent!!”   Here is my thought on that.  If you are yelling at the top of your lungs about how dangerous a system is, how dangerous a person or style of yoga is, and you have not yet had the gumption to organize a formal protest of this ‘water’, you are complicit and complacent.  In fact, this would be the equivalent of running around in the neighboring town–you know the one with the bad water well; with a sign on your back and a megaphone in your hand screaming shrilly about how bad the water is.

 

Firstly when you do that, you run the very real risk of looking crazy. Secondly not only have you NOT made any reasonable attempt to contact the water commission who is in charge of the well, but perhaps you even have done all this yelling so that when those people in the next town over realize they are being poisoned they call you to get them better quality water.  I will own that without realizing it, I have done that.  I have not followed any sort of protocol for my responses to the rampant sexual misconduct in yoga, and I talk about it all the time.  It is worth me examining my own motivations here, as much as I feel it is important to examine others.

 

Well, now what do we do next? How do we decide where we go, how we teach, what happens to “us” the yoga teaching and learning community in the future.  HERE is where we examine our own roots…are they rotten with complacency?  Are we unintentionally complicit in the abuse these women have suffered?

 

Step 1: If we have a bad town well, we first deal with the group in charge of the damn water well.  Even if they are a self-appointed group.

I know, you hate it. You hate that I am saying it.  BUT HAVE YOU CONTACTED THE YOGA ALLIANCE ABOUT YOUR CONCERNS?  Let me tell you this:  As of today 372 people like Bikram Choudhury as a linage, teacher, or style in their bios.  90+ people list John Friend.  170+ people list Pattabhi Jois.   80+ list Yogi Bhajan.  So let this sink in.  REALLY sink in.  The organization that in the last six months that has made an entirely new tab on their website about sexual misconduct listing all the resources they offer… all the while…wait for it…also allows people to list those men who have perpetrated sex crimes in the scope and conduct of yoga teaching in their member bios as influential teachers.  On their website.  I find this so unacceptable that even as I type this my breath has gotten quicker.  My heart is racing.  My cheeks are flushing. Don’t believe me?  Open another tab and go to yogaalliance.org and then to “find a teacher”.  Type in Bikram.  Give the gentleman who’s first name actually is Bikram a pass and look at the rest.

 

Now I honestly don’t care right now if you do or do not support the Yoga Alliance. I have opinions, as I am sure do 1000s of other teachers, but that isn’t the point. The point in that they are the water commission in this story and so therefore if we are going to organize a response to the poisoned well water they are the appropriate place to start. So do this:

  1. Open a new tab in your browser and go to your email.
  2. In the address box type in info@yogaalliance.org
  3. In the subject line type: You are complicit
  4. Write your own text or copy and paste the following:

Dear Yoga Alliance,

I find it wholly unacceptable that you allow people who are on your registry to use the names of sexual predators in their bios. This is you allowing the endorsement of men who raped, abused, and sexually assaulted their students. This is you being complicit in their crimes. You allow them to continue to gain reputation and influence with those who do not know their stories.   You allow good teachers to remain in the shadows and promote those who deserve to stay in darkness. I find this not in agreement with my morals, my ethics, or in line with the basic guidelines required of a professional organizing body. I demand you remove them from your website. There are many things that are complicated, but the promotion of sexual predators is not one of them.

Regards,

(Fill name in here)

(Fill in registration number if you are a member and also if you are an affiliated yoga school here, if applicable.)

 

There are those who have suggested that we wait to contact the Yoga Alliance until they are finished their current evaluation of themselves, their Standards Review Project. Well this abuse has been going on for ages and nothing was done.  New management, yes, but old problems still persist.  I am tired of waiting, and I have no stomach for the false sense of participation that places like social media create.  You aren’t doing anything by posting that article about how terrible that thing is.  WRITE TO THE SOURCE.  Get your voice heard.  Start doing something. I have written to the Yoga Alliance many times this past year and 4 out of 5 times I got a response from them.   Never was it an autobot response, and a few times my emails got passed on the higher up people.  Now in the end nothing yet has changed, but it seems someone is at least listening.

 

Step 2: Start doing some research on how to support these women who are still struggling to get their stories heard.   Please open your ears and listen to what they have asked for.   Many have asked for acknowledgement and recognition that the sexual misconduct.  As of writing this Pattabhi Jois’ yoga school in India has not acknowledged what happened to women under the hands of their founder.  They should.   Bikram?  Kundalini?  Anusara?  Many of these schools are “under new management” and attempting to try and find a way forward.  It seems that way forward is to stop really talking about what happened.  I understand perhaps from a business perspective that carrying on while not really talking about the past seems to be a strategy for taking your business into the future.  Bikram’s new CEO says that he wants to make Bikram the “women’s empowerment yoga”.  The irony of this being the case while their founder raped an 18 year old girl has not escaped me, nor should it  you.

 

So instead of trying to save the business, let’s instead try to save Yoga.   Let’s not allow this to get swept under the yoga rug, but instead be bold.  Be brave enough to speak this history.  Be brave enough to tell people about what happened and how you don’t believe it is right. Remind students that yoga doesn’t fix you, so don’t expect that it should have fixed these individuals.  Yoga is a system through which, with diligent practice and understanding, you can utilize to help heal yourself and perhaps still the mind. Therefore, let’s not let predators continue to use yoga any more then we let bosses use their positions of power to sexually harass their subordinates.

 

Step 3: Let’s stop intellectualizing this, shall we?  Seeking out voices that only are there to create concepts that explain why this happens in yoga does not help.  This is not just a yoga issue.  This is a systemic issue.  Wanna play the “only in yoga” game?  Well surprise, it isn’t just yoga.  Yoga does not now, nor did it ever exist only in a vacuum.  Yoga is influenced by the larger societies in which it is practiced.  So do you want to know what happened?  Then look for voices that explain why our system of culture is broken, not those talking about why yoga is broken.  It isn’t broken.  It doesn’t work like that.  So support organizations that are trying to make change in society not just yoga.  Actively work to stop the system of control and exploitation that pervades every level of society.  This requires boots on the ground.  It requires strong voices and strong backs to carry the heavy burden of societal change.  I can’t tell you where your role in that change is, that is for you to decide.  But please decide, even if it is just talking to that cousin or donating to that cause.  Do something tangible.  Write another letter.  Start thinking of ways that we can change this together.

 

Thank you once again for reading!

I like to connect so if you like send me an email rebecca@sunlightyogatherapy.com .

If you are interested in other ways I have started working towards changes in yoga check out my Activism tab and it will lead you in the right direction.

If you like this and want others to read it, please share!

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Stepping into my Future

There are vital things, like self-reflection, that I think have been lost over the years. It seems in America especially, we have become a culture of paradox:  on one side lies the drudgery of living that seems to pervade our very cells.  We work so hard to maintain less opportunity than almost any other generation.  Parenting even has been moved to being this task that worthy only of gods like Hercules or Atlas.  And yet…

We also seem to be surrounded by constant messages to tell us to me grateful for our struggle. Live.  Laugh.  Love.   Oprah.  You know, the whole idea that we need to be glad for our hardship.  Be grateful for our sometimes bleak futures that rob us of the opportunity for personal growth, interest, and knowledge and are replaced with longer work  hours, commutes, and a whole plethora of people reminding us that “happiness is a choice”.

Someone recently told me in a moment of honestly that they love their life and hated all they had to drudge themselves through to get that life. That, to me, seems like the realest assessment of a lot of us that I have heard in a very long time.

 

That brings me to here and now. Four months before my 40th birthday.  Aging doesn’t bother me at all, especially in contrast to the alternative.  But at some point I feel a person needs to decide how they will be as they get older.  Now to me, seems like a good time to decide, or at least to lay out the basic framework of what is important to me for the future.

 

So here is my plan:

I am going to dedicate the next four months to figuring this out.   My meditation, movement, reading, reflection, and primary amount of writing is going to be focused on this.  I am going to jump in, with both feet, to figuring out what I want to do, feel, see, and be with my tomorrows.  With any luck I have got another 50 years left so I feel like now is a good time to explore how exactly it is I want to proceed.  I feel like I would rather make the choices consciously then accidently fall into whomever I become.

 

Here is what I am not doing…yet. Worrying about how I will figure out the logistics.  That is for later.  Now is for those other sorts of bigger decisions that can make the shape of my next years.  This does not mean I am not considering my people or planning to jump ship to Cuba, but that this is the time for me to set the trajectory for myself first.  Then I will figure out how feasible, possible, or kind that is and adjust my decisions accordingly.  I just need to make sure that I realize the “how do I” is not for right now.

 

I am going to use this blog as a way to write about what I am figuring out on this journey to my next decade. There are some things I have already worked out.  These are the things you probably won’t be hearing about from me these months:

Kindness: I truly feel that this is one of those most critical aspects of life.  I also feel like I have done a good deal of personal work in this area and I don’t know it will be time to rehash this right now.  That road is laid.  While it may occasionally need maintenance this is likely not the time for that.

Money: I have got a lot to say about money and professionalism especially as it pertains to yoga.  But a close person to me recently said “when is that last time you did anything only for money’s sake?” .  Good point.  I am honestly remiss to find one example.  That just is not me, and really never has been.  Right now I am looking to frame my future not to reinvent myself.

Letting go of “stuff”: This is my job.  I hold space that allows people let go of their “stuff” (tension, tightness, emotional baggage, resentment, etc.) to better their present lives.  While I am very clear that I do not want to be a bitter and closed old woman, and I also realize that happens by not letting go of that “stuff”, this is also a road I know quite well.  Consider it like one of those major thoroughfares through a city.  Don’t worry, this road has a huge repair and maintenance budget already.  I’ll revisit it now, later, always.  This just is not the moment where I will focus on that particular aspect of me.

 

What you will hear about from me that may surprise you:

How you change physically as you age.  Not just your mobility, a subject I have been passionately been working on for a couple years now.  I even started an 8 week class this summer teaching just the basics of being mobile your whole life.  Find the link to the event right here.

But dare I say it? How your looks change and “fade”.  <gasp!>  How can a free thinking feminist of the 21st century possibly say this as if it matters?  Well, I don’t know if it does, but it is true.  There are mutil-billion dollar industries out there ready to sell youth in a bottle to me and all my 40 something friends.  I am curious about this for a couple reasons.  Firstly, because I really hate this dialogue we women have about our bodies, and we are doing a lot of this one to ourselves.  We either feed into the self/body shaming culture that we grew up with or we are forced to buy into the self/body love/positive culture that is hitting us ladies over the head like Thor’s hammer.

Now nobody wants to say that they feel body shame. Usually it only comes out as “I felt body shame for a long time now I am changing that”.   Ergo, the whole hearted jump onto the body positivity bandwagon, which also may feel uncomfortable.  Once we are on that wagon we realize we still don’t like our thighs, hair, skin, nails, breasts, bottom, <fill in whatever you relate to>.  Then we feel guilty and fraudulent about not really being “body positive”.  I think both sides of this dialogue are rooted in an incredibly dangerous assumption that I want nothing to do with. That assumption is that absolutely anything a woman brings to the table has even one iota of anything to do with what they look like.  That is blatantly false.  What women contribute to the world, like men, has not one thing to do with their looks.  It never has.  So let’s have some real talk about our bodies what it means to age inside them.

I am also curious about this because I see some truly freeing aspects to the aging process. I recently took up the motto of only doing my “best work” on things I care deeply about.  Things that I feel are less important or satisfying I do less than my best on; consider it my C work.  For example, I do C work on the laundry every week.  I don’t want to have time to do even B level work on this.  We are not naked in my house, or dirty (mostly) and that is what counts.  So I am wondering , could the physical changes that come with aging offer more “C work” opportunities?  Do I sacrifice myself in some way by doing that?  I am willing to explore this a bit because there is a ton of stuff I would rather be doing so I am always on the hunt for a bit more time.

 

Self-worth exploration:  This may surprise some people because I am aware I come off as a generally confident person.  Self-assured were the words used to describe me in high-school conferences, almost as often as “not living or working up to her potential”.  So I am going to do some work on this. I feel like my own sense of self –worth;  you know, the deep down one that lives near the dark back entrance of our inner house, she needs some feeding.  She needs the opportunity for a hot shower and to see herself in the flattering light of the bathroom.

 

Personal career talk:  This I think may really surprise people because I live and breathe yoga, and am almost always grateful that it is both my job and my passion.  Seriously, I am weirdly passionate about it, I think.  But do I have 30 more years of passion in me?  Maybe…maybe not.  I am going to take these four months to explore that much more deeply.

 

So why am I doing all this? Especially when it sounds pretty uncomfortable?  Well partly because this is the kind of stuff I do, have always done.  I take on personal projects, think and reflect about them, and allow them to sort themselves out or not.  Then I usually teach about them later, which I may or may not do with this depending on the whole career thing.

Also I feel as if life has offered me some options right now. Some are tied to my relationships with other people, some are not.  I need to make absolutely sure that I proceed by stepping forward into my future, not into someone else’s hopes, dreams, or past.

 

What I would love to hear from you all is your feedback! Have you done something like this before?  Was your experience powerful?  Positive?  Where there books, blogs, voices that you found helpful?  Share them please please please!!  Either leave a comment or email me and connect at rebecca@sunlightyogatherapy.com.  Sign up for my newsletter here and you will get to read about what I have or haven’t figured out a couple days before everyone else gets to.

 

Happiest of Weeks, Friends! I am, as always, grateful you are here.

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Gathering Together and the Value of Yoga

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.  …

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