Thursday, August 11, 2011

Yoga Jobs?



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.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

"...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." Sounds like career hierarchy. Seems to me it's about doing whatever we do wholeheartedly. All work is sacred.

Linda-Sama said...

I've been teaching 10 years, practicing longer. I refuse to teach at yoga studios anymore. I have private students who come to my house and I travel to do workshops. It's not a "living" but I am grateful for it. and my favorite class to teach is volunteer, karma yoga, at a domestic violence shelter.

Robyn said...

Hi Nathan,

You know that I am right there, walking the path with you. This issue comes up for me all the time. I only hope it settles down at some point. I think, as Linda-Sama suggests, that one solution is to try to work as much as possible with private clients, one-on-one. I am seriously considering taking the 500 hour training to make myself better educated and, yes, more marketable for private clients.

Last winter I was teaching three group classes/week and that already felt like something was being lost. I can't imagine how some manage, esp. in NYC where you really have to hustle to make a living.

There is something very funny (strange) about this system that has developed where one can be "certified" to teach such a profound philosophy after 200 hours (can you imagine a 200-hour Zen teacher certification??). And yet, I am grateful for the opportunity it has given me...such contradictions!

I guess, like everything, we just have to move forward with sincerity...

Yyogini said...

The yoga culture we see today is more like aerobics and dance classes more than zen classes. I know more than a few yoga teachers whose lives are like you said, "run against the grain of the messages they are trying to teach in their classes".

I've also noticed people going from workshop to workshop by reputable spiritual and yoga teachers, yet they still seem very lost after spending thousands of dollars and even after visiting India themselves.

Even if you become a true guru, it doesn't mean you'll enlighten all your followers. Even if you're a total rookie teacher, you'll probably still inspire a few students. Just be okay with what you know and teach that to students. Hopefully a few of them will make a connection with you. :)

Nathan said...

"There is something very funny (strange) about this system that has developed where one can be "certified" to teach such a profound philosophy after 200 hours (can you imagine a 200-hour Zen teacher certification??). And yet, I am grateful for the opportunity it has given me...such contradictions!"

Yes, the contradictions! I can't imagine a 200 hour Zen teacher training. And yet, maybe this is an opportunity for me to share something and give back as I currently am.

I also agree with both you and Linda-Sama that figuring out a way to work one on one with folks seems to be an important part of all this.

Anonymous, in one way, I totally agree with you that "doing whatever we do whole wholeheartedly" is the path. On the other hand, I could wholeheartedly do corporate takeovers, make guns and bombs, or waterboard political prisoners. Context and impact can't be ignored in other words.

kloncke.com said...

Hella grateful for this conversation, and your description of the yoga teaching terrain, nathan. Myself, I'm seeing two prominent aspects of capitalism at play: speed-up, and dislocation.

Speed-up is recognizable enough: when basic needs are not secured for the wage-earning, working class, then we need to 'compete' and work more and more efficiently to produce maximum value with minimum input costs. So we rush here and there, or stay longer in hazardous conditions, sacrificing health and safety in the process. It's true for wage laborers from tollbooths to assembly lines to brothels, nonprofits, and advertising companies. So a big part of resistance can be the demand for a dignified, safe, and human pace of work, determined by the workers themselves. Slowdowns and strikes speak to this in socialized workplaces like factories. But for independent contractors and people on an individual hustle (i.e. yoga teacher), it can be much harder. So we might turn to marketing ourselves in terms of quality (private sessions, as Linda-Sama mentioned), rather than convenience / efficiency.

And speaking of convenience, I think the dislocation aspect of capital (and there may be a better term for this; I'm just thinking out loud) has to do with the sheer power of wage slavery to force people to move and migrate on command, in order to serve the needs of production, profit making, and markets. Maybe part of the reason the guru of old never had to go chasing after students/business is that their material needs were already being met: whether by larger student tributes, or community systems, or self-sufficiency (which is easier if you have few material needs). There may have also been some effed-up hierarchy/patriarchy/caste dynamics that secured the needs of gurus; I don't want to romanticize it. But I think the modern orientalizing idea that wealthy consumers should be able to enjoy 'exotic' yet 'authentic' foods/medicines/performance/teachings, without having to leave the comfort and power of their own hometown/context, is supported by the fact that capitalist expropriation has forced POC to pimp out our own traditions, making them palatable to (often white) wealthy consumers while also dislocating them from their indigenous environments. Does that make sense, what I'm saying? Basically that capitalism literally pushes people around. :)

Nathan said...

Some good stuff, Katie! Thank you.

"There may have also been some effed-up hierarchy/patriarchy/caste dynamics that secured the needs of gurus; I don't want to romanticize it." Many of the old yoga gurus were members of the Brahmin class, so there were (and still are) some messed up systems that supported yogis to do what they do. And that legacy has been divorced from what we see with yoga in the U.S. and other "Western" nations.

Your points about "dislocation" make a lot of sense to me. I keep finding myself in conversations with others, talking about the narratives we collectively have about work and career, and how so many of them are deeply tainted with by the dictates of industrial and post-industrial capitalism. Including a lot of the yoga studio and class models.

"But for independent contractors and people on an individual hustle (i.e. yoga teacher), it can be much harder." This, to me, is one of the major challenges - the lack of groups, collective power, and possibilities for collective action. I had the same trouble with the adult basic ed. community I used to work in. I was often one of a tiny group of lone wolf voices stirring things up, and getting in trouble for doing so - while the rest of the teachers were either disinterested, overworked, under-informed, or some combination of the three, and simply wouldn't do much outside of "their jobs."

In so ways, I can't blame them - the narratives they had to work with were all about ESL/ABE teacher as "independent contractor" and/or as non-political entity. Besides going to the state legislature once a year to beg for money, the idea that teachers (and their students) could influence the broader context was pretty much either taboo or off the radar.

Yogi Mat said...

Would anyone care to work on a collaborative book project about Yoga and capitalism ? http://yogawiki.co/Main/AYogaBook/CorporateKarmaIntro

Blondeau said...

I completed a YTT program two years ago, purely as an experiment, and was underwhelmed in the extreme. Having been engaged with physical culture via athletics across the spectrum and worked in landscaping and tree care , my overall impression was that most of my cohorts were so alienated from their body that any contact with physicality was like water to a person lost in the desert .

martial arts and physical labor are much more integral to Zen than yoga. Yoga, at least as practiced in modern urban
culture, seems to reify the self and
experience far more than deconstruct it. Almost everyone I encountered in my yoga travels was discontent with their job and looking to become a yoga instructor, massage therapist or healer of some sort. The addiction to bliss and heightened experience was profound. Work was viewed as a distraction from deep practice.

YTT is the biggest revenue stream for most yoga studios. It is an essential component of the modern yoga pyramid scam.

Nathan said...

Hi Blondeau,

I left this comment on Mumon's current post. While I agree with you that there are a lot of problems with modern yoga practice, I disagree that it's necessarily a poor match with Zen.
____

I have been practicing Zen and yoga for over a decade now. Being in the middle of a yoga teacher training and seeing how others view "the practice," I am soundly convinced that the lack of depth in understanding around yoga contributes greatly to it's dismissal amongst Buddhists and others.

Much of what is called "yoga" these days is superficial exercise, perhaps with a bit of chanting or snippets of yoga philosophy tossed in. And the teacher training programs either reinforce this or, like the one I am in, struggle to integrate the depth and the more superficial elements that seem to attract so many.

Furthermore, there are yogic traditions within Buddhism - most notably the various Tantric schools. So, I actually think that doing Zen and yoga is quite compatible. Which, of course, doesn't negate pairing Tai Chi, aikido, or other practices with Zen.

Blondeau said...

Nathan,

If someone saw some of my movement sequences they would say, "That dude is doing yoga." Most asanas are little different than postures and movements I've been doing since childhood. The YTT I did was Tantric based and involved a massive amount of pranayam. I've practiced Zen for about 20 years. My impression is that the aims of each, while superficially similar, are actually very different. The gentlemen who led the program agreed. It has to do with the idea of the existence of an unconditioned Ultimate reality versus the Buddhist teaching that every state is conditional. In the yoga I practiced the ultimate goal was the experience of this unchanging state of bliss.

Dig your blog... Gassho.

Blondeau said...

Nathan,

Almost forgot... Are you familiar with Michael Stone's work? He has written a good deal on intertwining the Dharma and yoga.

Tias Little also integrates Buddha's teaching and yoga without denigrating either.


As I said, I think the aims of yoga and Zen are quite different. Within the Kripalu based tradition I experienced the notion of diety(Absolute Unchanging Ulitimate Reality) was pervasive. Using pranyam as chalana(churning) the aim was to disturb the false stories about the persona to reveal the "true self". What is this true self? Where is it? How does it escape conditioning?

Thanks for this discussion. Great stuff.

Nathan said...

Yeah, I've been following Michael Stone's work for awhile now. I like a lot of what he has to say.

Another person blending Buddhism and yoga is Cyndi Lee. She has a few books out.

"It has to do with the idea of the existence of an unconditioned Ultimate reality versus the Buddhist teaching that every state is conditional." Buddhism also points to the unconditioned - buddhanature, nirvana - so I'm not sure it's all that different in that way.

"In the yoga I practiced the ultimate goal was the experience of this unchanging state of bliss. " This, to me, is where many yoga paths are quite different from Buddhist practice. Patanjali's Yoga Sutra seems to emphasize coming to a state of samadhi, which is a bit different from some of the tantrics in flavor, but basically the same focus.

I sometimes wonder if the reason for this kind of "end goal" is that much of yoga was practiced completely outside of society, by members of upper castes who weren't really interested in interacting in the world. For all the separation from the "regular world" that seems to occur in Buddhist monasticism, traditions like daily begging in the villages have kept monks and nuns in touch with everyday people, and many of the teachings reflect a more dynamic interweaving of sacred and mundane.

I have been trying to read more of the texts of different branches of yoga because I don't think they all have states of bliss or samadhi as end goals. I keep finding little snippets here and there that suggest something more aligned with Buddhist/Taoist teachings, but still need to look into it further.

Nathan said...

"What is this true self? Where is it? How does it escape conditioning?"

This reminds me of the "Fox" Koan.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_fox_koan

I keep thinking of that one every time I hear a yoga teacher talk about the True Self. Because like you, I question greatly the stories that seem to be fixed around the True Self. Perhaps this is the real pivot point where yoga and Buddhism split.

Thanks for bringing these issues up. I need to keep reflecting on them, especially if I continue to work on integrating what I'm doing with Zen and yoga.

Blondeau said...

Exactly. Whenever I want to go out and pronounce, "It is thus!" I know it's time to step back.

There is an article by David Frawley on Vedanet.com called, Yoga and Buddhism: Similarities and Differences. It hits on some good points.

Having entered into a period of intense yoga practice to investigate this topic I have let it go as part of "the path". There did seem to be a difference in the aims and I ended up on the zafu, as always. While Zen is pretty dull compared to some of the yoga traditions it is the truest expression of my experience.

This is a fascinating subject.

Engage it fearlessly and enjoy your YTT. I got a lot out of mine although in a reverse manner. It confirmed Zen for me more than I gained anything from yoga. I really do believe most of my YTT cohorts would have learned more from digging ditches for a couple of years than studying yoga! :)

Thanks again for the engagement and discussion.

Nathan said...

"There did seem to be a difference in the aims and I ended up on the zafu, as always. While Zen is pretty dull compared to some of the yoga traditions it is the truest expression of my experience."

I can say that I find myself gravitating back towards Zen teachings all the time. And meditation. It's hard to me to imagine abandoning Buddhism, and I would guess that any yoga practice I do or might offer as a teacher will be much more Zen with some yoga asana and breath practices mixed in.

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend this course (in answer to many of these concerns!):

90 Minutes to Change the World Webinar with Amy Ippoliti

http://www.amyippoliti.com/event/90-minutes-to-change-the-world-signature-online-course/

ELB said...

I consider myself to be fitness professional and have over 15 years teaching experience. After ending my career as a professional contemporary dancer, I became certified to teach Pilates.


A painful divorce led me to start practicing yoga and after 3 years of practicing yoga 5-6 days a week, I decided to do a yoga teacher-training.

My motivation to enroll was to learn more about myself and about the practice of yoga not necessarily to embark on a career path as a yoga teacher, however, given my background; I was offered a teaching job at the studio where I completed my training a week after completing the 200-hour program.


Fast forward 4 years since completing that program and in addition to my Pilates clients I teach 7 yoga classes a week.
I love teaching yoga and I give a great deal of time and intention to planning my classes and sequences to be safe and accessible. But I agree that many teachers do not.

I know people who teach as many as 22 yoga classes a week and are always running from, studio, to gym to private lesson without giving full presence of mind and intention to what they are truly doing.


I do not consider myself to be a yogi or on any sort "upper level". I consider myself to be a guide of a “yoga experience” and offer what knowledge I have based on my training and life experiences to anyone who takes the time out of their day to come to my class.


I think the danger comes with teachers who are inauthentic, speaking the doctrine in front of students one day then posting drunken pictures of themselves on Facebook the next. It creates a culture of extremes.


In the late 90’s when I did my first Pilates training, Pilates was very trendy with studios, trainings and gyms all jumping on the bandwagon. You might say yoga is the same today? But just as all those inauthentic Pilates teachers dropped away, leaving only the truly dedicated professionals behind, the same will happen for yoga. Be patient…everything cycles.