This selection from the current blog post over at Skeptical Yoga delves into an issue heavy on my mind these days:
I've been pondering about yoga and capitalism. In the early days, students who really wanted to learn yoga had to go beg the teacher to teach them. The guru would make these bright-eyed hopeful students go through crazy difficult tests to confirm their determination for this practice. I guess when the (western) students have experienced the benefits of the practice, they want to share it with people back home. They knew such a disciplined practice wouldn't appeal to the masses, so they've modified and marketed yoga in a way that people would want to try it out. There is nothing wrong with that. I think anyone who has tried yoga has received benefits of relaxation, improved breathing, more limber body, and more. The thing is, when yoga turns into a business, rent and electricity costs money, and studio owners end up having to recruit more and more customers by whatever means they can to pay the bills as opposed to teaching it in the strict traditional form. People would only pay so much money for practice, so all these other things are born - clothing lines, jewelries, expensive mats and mat cleaners, and - teacher training! Initially meant to uphold the quality of yoga teachers, in a capitalist society this screams "career opportunity", and everyone jumps at it, because seriously, being a yoga teacher and make other people feel good feels 1000 times more meaningful than, say, a bank job where you count other people's cash all day, or a secretarial job where you do the most boring administrative paperwork stuff for the rest of your life. Most friends I know with traditional jobs often talk like they work in a prison, or just avoid talking about their work at all.
Regular readers know that I'm currently in a yoga teacher training program. Last night, I did some more practice teaching of a class I'm developing. Things are starting to feel a bit more organic for me in that department. I actually am moving a bit towards feeling competent about teaching people something about the wide ranging practices of yoga.
It was no accident that I waited over a decade to step into a program like this. All the years of practice and study I have done really seem like a vital part of the process. When I see people with little or no experience teaching classes or taking yoga teacher training programs, I really have to wonder. And the whole business about "career making" mentioned above hasn't sat too well with me lately, as I slide a bit closer to potentially running classes for income.
When I consider the "work lives" of some of the teachers in our training program, it makes me pause. Hoping from class to class, studio to studio, several days a week. Two hours here, two hours there. Now I'm teaching Ashtangha. Now I'm teaching a restorative class. Now I'm teaching ...
I guess what I find off about some of this is that the lifestyles full time yoga teachers sometimes cobble together really run against the grain of the messages they are trying to - or say they are trying to teach - in their classes.
Consider the picture of the yoga teacher rushing across town to get to the next class they have to teach. Having little time, they stuff a few granola bars or bagels down their throat while speeding along. Making it to the studio with less than 5 minutes to spare, they slip into a classroom full of students, sit down on a mat, and begin directing folks to breathe deeply and let go of all their worries. And then they run an entire class built around the theme of slowing down, paying deep attention, and being mindful. It's a bit odd if you ask me.
In Zen practice, we often talk about bringing the work off the cushion and into the rest of your life. The same lack of doing so isn't difficult to find amongst Zennies, however even with the increasing numbers of teachers, the bar is set a lot higher to teach, and fakers eventually get called out (although that doesn't often stop them from continuing to do what they are doing).
And yet, even if you add all the marginal and flat out phony Zen teachers up, it doesn't come close to the number of yoga teachers. They're like dandelions these days, popping up from almost any given crack in the ground.
I say this not because it's the most horrible thing in the world, but because it just makes me wonder what it means to be a "yoga teacher" these days. Having been a teacher in the past - English as a Second Language, as well as a short stint doing reading and math with 1st and 3rd graders - I felt the role deeply when in the classroom. It was tangible, even as the outer form shifted and changed. And the times I have taught yoga, I have also felt myself tapping into that role and it's energy. So I get it on that deeper level.
And yet, when I look around at the more relative world level - seeing endless yoga teachers doing seemingly endless things in a sometimes greatly mindless fashion, it just raises a lot of questions. Questions with no clear answers.
You might say I'm often one to be sitting with and raising such questions. It's an interesting gift I suppose.