Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ah, Classism and Yoga - Like Two Peas in a Pod

Continuing the discussion from the last post, there's another good commentary on issues with yoga teacher trainings on Linda's Yoga Journey. The thread following her post is really rich, and worth reading in full. However, one commenter in particular was fixated on the idea that potential teachers should travel to India, and that such travel and study would be better than a teacher training. In fact, I get the sense that this person might even see such travel as the mark of a "serious yoga student," regardless of one's goals around teaching. I guess as I read her comments, my "class privilege" radar went wildly off.

Below is the comment I left in response. There are other things I could say as well, including the whole Eat, Pray, Love phenomenon of well off men and women collecting spiritual experiences, but for now, I'll just leave it at what I wrote.

I think you’re correct that experiencing life and yoga in India could be of great benefit. But I have to say that you’re speaking from a place of privilege here. There are people who can neither afford teacher trainings, nor trips to India, but have all the experience and teacher-sense about them to be great teachers. In fact, I’d argue that much of the American yoga scene is quite classist, to the point where many working class and/or poor folks simply don’t feel welcome.

As someone who has often straddled the class line – having a middle class education, but barely making ends meet financially – I have often felt this rub. I have sat and listened to fellow yoga students talk about their weekend trips to NY or LA, the workshops they attend, the “special” trainings with so and so famous yoga teacher they’ve gotten to go to, the fancy yoga gear they're purchasing – and I think, this is so not my experience.

Perhaps someday I’ll teach. Perhaps someday I’ll go to India. I did scrape up enough money to take a teacher training, which I’m currently in (after over a decade of yoga practice), and have all the skepticism and questions that many have shared here about the goals and intentions of my fellow students and the studios running the trainings.

But at the end of the day, one of the major things I see when I look around is how fiercely middle and upper class yoga in America is. And how deeply capitalism has sunk it’s teeth into this powerful spiritual practice, and twisted it all over the place. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s a hell of a lot more important to me to keep learning, keep practicing, and to bring whatever I have learned to people who currently are shut out of yoga economically and socially, than it is for me to head off to India anytime soon.


David said...

Nathan I am in complete agreed with your remarks here. I think the “Asian” experience is over-hyped. From a purely spiritual point of view, the only reason to go to Asia would be to receive teachings that would not be available here. But nowadays, with so many ethic temples and centers around, you don’t need to venture outside the U.S . That is not to say that you wouldn’t have to travel some, just not as far or as expensively.

I don’t know about the Yoga scene, but I gather that these days learning about Buddhism is a costly proposition. One reason perhaps that so many are turning to the Internet. I know that there are expenses and so on that must be covered, but I think there also must be alternatives to high priced retreats and conferences. Dharma should be no-cost or low-cost. There’s something just wrong about a climate where only the affluent can afford to learn about Buddhism or Yoga.

Eco Yogini said...

I looked for your comment over at Linda's post- maybe she hasn't approved it yet?
Anyhoo- I COMPLETELY agree with you Nathan (and flying yogini's comments as well). I didn't post anything over there because I find the responses pretty darn defensive... and I don't feel like I have any cred since I'm not even a yoga teacher. lol.

Interestingly enough, it's always been my opinion that the expensive ashrams are a money making deal just like many YTT are in the states and that the owners are laughing their way to the bank from all the money they make from the rich white westerners.

Then- a cousin of mine who was living in India informed me this was exactly how the non-ashram ppl viewed the expensive rich white westerner ashrams. She spent some time at the FREE Tibetan Buddhist Ashram (right next to a 'yoga ashram' which was NOT free). She loved it.
She heard there was a free talk at the 'westerner' ashram- so she attended. Half way through she realized that perhaps they were mistaken- it wasn't free.
When she went to the front desk to clarify the girl manning the desk was extremely rude, treated them very rudely and called them names, treated them like squatters, like they were stealing something.

She said it was the most surreal experience. The ashram employee clearly informed them that only *paying* customers were permitted to attend classes and that they were obviously terrible people for trying to steal ashram time.

anyhoo- I have my doubts about the authenticity of some of these places. Spirituality, I feel, is not tied to a physical space but is internal to your spirit. :)

Tina said...

Since you are a man, I am not sure how you appreciate the working-class and/or state-university-educated female/feminist/post-feminist take on the issue, the following which resonates with me and my challenges:

Ben said...

The imagery of an animal (I imagined a canine) shaking something in its clamped jaws is very potent and relevant.

Nathan said...

Thanks for the link Tina. I'm all for this kind of analysis.

Eco Yogini - yes, I agree that some of the responses to flying yogini's comments were pretty flippant. And I can imagine there are ashrams making fists full of money over in India.

I really think that greed is a major trouble spot in spiritual/religious communities these days. Although, I don't think that's anything new - just maybe more commonplace now.

David "I am in complete agreed with your remarks here. I think the “Asian” experience is over-hyped." Yes. I think I might have to work on a bigger post about this, because it's bringing up some other issues to consider.

debsyoga said...

at the age of 52 i took a teacher training program , paying for it with a small inheritence (about $3,500)-a huge amount for a working class single mom. i could see that the tt was a scam-20 students at 3,5000x5 yoga school in toronto-pretty soon everybody is a yoga teacher!!

i had a practice since i was 17 years old and i figured i could teach a few classes and make some money, as well as , introduce yoga to underservised communities.
thats what i have done. i would like to be a yogalebrity and teach at conferences and workshops and retreats but life gets in the way what with babysitting the grandkids and getting the other kids through university and making dinner.

most of my students are elders and i teach in their excercise rooms and charge them $15 a class. i enjoy watching them get healthier and happier and they tip me at xmas.
i enjoy your website and wish you good times teaching yoga.

Nathan said...

thanks for the comment debsyoga. i was just reflecting on the studio where i'm studying and even there, where i think some integrity is present, we have 6 groups of teacher trainers that started this calendar year. where are all these people going to teach? or, more importantly, how many of them are really ready and able to do so?

jason haris said...

Hi Nathan,
I loved reading this piece! Well written! :)

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