Saturday, September 19, 2009

Beyond the Business of Yoga

Today I had to face it. There is a beautiful, glowing, tantalizing, nymph-like Monster called “The Business of Yoga,” and she erotically dances circles around shops, studios, and retreat centers everywhere. If you’re at all interested in learning more about yoga, you will ultimately come face to face with her.

She is obvious, and yet still deceptive. Agitating our minds and seducing our desires, she is invoked whenever Big Business mixes with Yoga.

It seems that in many ways Yoga has become about Marketing: clothes, mats, make-up, the right look, the right book, the right attitude, the right choices, eco-friendly this, and biodegradable that, thinking positive rainbow-colored thoughts, while humming the latest rendition of the Gayatri mantra, and flashing your 200-hour Teacher Training certificate.

Yes, today I woke up with the ‘marketing blues.’

Lately I’ve been bombarded with messages from various sources all saying that as a “yoga teacher” you need to find some angle to market your “unique talents and abilities.” Learn to use the right “catch phrases,” learn to “sell yourself,” and start to “create more buzz.”

Of course everyone has the miracle solution on how to do this, and for “only $9.99” you can download the e-book that will change your life.

To be honest, I really loath the idea of have to market myself like some kind of new and improved running shoe that can be bought or sold at a discounted price.

On top of that, what really dampens my spirit and exhausts my enthusiasm are all the ‘spin-doctors’ who are more then happy to use the popularity of this ancient art for mass commercialization.

I’m sure there are many well-meaning, community oriented, feel-good, warm & fuzzy individuals out there, who have freshly read the newest best-selling self-help – ‘How To Become A Millionaire Entrepreneur In 30 Days While Changing The World’ - books out there; but it disturbs me that the latest fad seems to be taking pretty much any word and combining it with “yoga” to invent a new twist on an old philosophy, and create a tasty pseudo-spiritual item for consumers.

To be frank, the whole thing leaves a nauseatingly Fisher-Price flavor in my mouth, and I’m wondering if there is any real meaning to be salvaged in the word “yoga.”

It seems to me that even if the advertising strategy is smeared in icing sugar, and disguised as a delicious gluten-free vegan cupcake, it still promotes large-scale empty-caloric consumption, which really goes against the inherent wisdom of this bona fide tradition.

It’s not that the products and promotions are altogether sinister or completely off track. For the most part they are honestly trying to promote positive ideas and ideals. It’s just that the image has become so center stage that many have forgotten to look behind the curtain to see what makes the show worth experiencing at all!

I question: is there anyone looking for a way out of this modern-day onslaught of marketing madness?

Or are we so mindlessly dazzled by the glitz and glitter of the latest trend, too busy rushing off to the hottest ‘power-flow-yin-yang-restorative-shiva-shakti-sattva-shanthi yoga class’ that’s offered at the newest hip downtown studio, to notice that we’re hardly practicing Yoga in our lives at all.

I’m hoping that there are still some sincere seekers, questioning, enquiring, and looking for an authentic experience, and not so easily bemused by the wafting fragrance of Nag Champa.

I think it’s time to get back to the root of what Yoga is.

It’s time to dig deep down into the essence, and discover its Source.

The practice of Yoga is not about the clothes or the mat, nor is it about the way we look or even the way we feel. It’s not a hobby, something to do in your spare time, or a class you can “drop-in” or “drop-out” of.

Yoga is a commitment you make to your Self, a daily practice, a way of living in and relating to the world. It is a practice that can only give back to you as much as you are willing to surrender to it.

It’s not limited to what happens on a yoga mat, it extends into how we interact with other people, animals, and the planet itself. It is meant to permeate our entire life, and shine the light of awareness onto our very existence.

It is about being Real and Truthful. Meeting yourself Here and Now, exactly as you are in this moment, day after day, time and again. It will lead you to uncover the boundless inspiration buried in the silence of your soul.

Yoga is a spiritual practice.

It is a way to reconnect with a Spirit that once shone brightly from within, but somehow was forgotten, obscured by years of fear, pain, loss, and inhibition. This path of rediscovery is not necessarily easy. However, if we have the courage to truly begin this journey, it will be both rewarding and transformative.

Yoga is a discipline.

It is a discipline that works on your mind, your body, and your habits.

It can be challenging, and frustrating. Some days you won’t feel like getting out of bed to meet yourself on your mat, or your meditation cushion.

Some days you won’t want to look in the mirror of your life choices, and experience the veracity of how you are feeling, be it good, ugly, sad or bemuddled; yet when we do step up, we feel better for it.

Yoga is an ancient philosophy of living.

It demands both consistent practice, and an attempt to fully surrender.

It requires a desire to release the old and open to the new.

It is meant to weaken the ego, and awaken the Spirit. It entices us to drink drop by drop from the Infinite Ocean within, and experience the sweetness of what we truly are.

It teaches us to recognize authenticity both within and without, to sit with an uncomfortable thought, sensation, or situation and just breath without rebelling or reacting, and to confront our difficult relationships with compassion.

As one of our teachers said: “Yoga is the science of experience, and the art of living.”

And for this – there can be no marketing, only Practice.

A Special Thank You to Barry Silver for the use of his Fabulous Art!
For more information on Barry Silver and the work he does, please see:


Katherine Jenkins said...

Hello, nice to find your lovely blog here. While this is all very true, instead of fighting the system, I think it's helpful to find a balance and work with it. Yes, I agree with you, many people are out there just to make a buck and don't really know or care what they are doing in the name of yoga. My husband is a former Korean Buddhist monk and yoga teacher. He is a humble teacher. He has hundreds of students. He practices meditation and yoga daily. He teaches anywhere and everywhere...studios, gyms, in our house, community centers. He feels it's his purpose to share what he has learned with anyone and everyone. He does this full-time. I am so inspired by him that I am writing a book called Lessons from the Monk I Married. You can check it out on my clicking on my name, you will find it. There are still some very sincere people teaching yoga and practicing meditation in the States and have to really look, but you'll find them!!! All the metta in the world to you, Kathy

Harmony / Jeff said...

Hi Katherine,

It is great to hear from you and great to know about your husband and the book you've written - thanks for that!
I definitely know there are many sincere and qualified yoga and buddhist teachers out there - and luckily I know many also. Striking the balance in every aspect of our lives is definitely the goal... walking the middle path.
Some days sifting through all of the faux-yoga-spirituality out there feels like wading through sludge, instead of dancing on the water.
It's good to build authentic relationships and nurture community with other genuine practitioners, and so I'm so happy to meet you!
Thanks so much for your input and insights!

Anonymous said...

I think the way to do it is to keep your day job. There is a guy who teaches at the sports centre at work for free 3 times a week and I cover for him when he is away.

I used to go to zen meditation at an office where the CEO had made one of the conference rooms into a dojo. He would get out of his business suit into the black clothes and then into the business suit again.

This is an interesting peace about the Ashtanga teaching business. I guess you have already read it:

sarai said...

hi guys,
this is so true.... sometimes its funny, how a spiritual journey, an intimate journey of you with the self, with awerness can get so commercial... but you know what... thats why i feel lucky for meeting you guys in canmore a year ago... you help me to see that even the asana practice, the popular practice, is not what it seems.. and that there are people who are REALLY practicing, and teaching yoga... so thanks!!! it was so important for me...

Heather said...

Hi Jeff and Harmony:

As my teacher in India just recently said, 'I think the yoga world needs a slap on the face.'
This was said with respect to all things you have written about.

I suppose it might be true. Re: the yoga world needing a good slap on the face. But who will be the ond to do it? And what will be their 'true and real' motivation be?

I think it is very easy to get caught in all these arguements even if you are right. One could also agrue that thankfully people are practising at all. It is often seen as a good thing that yoga is more accessible..that it has entered the mainstream. And yet, of course, it can be argued that as a result of this yoga becomes water-downed and treated as only exercise.

In the end, if you stay true to your own personal motivations, intentions and practice then it should not matter what the outside world is doing or not doing. And of course, this is all very easy to say...but difficult to follow.

This, however, is the way of the or no yoga...
But do you ever ask yourself if Pattabhi Jois worried about such things....or any other Yoga Master who has more than hundreds of thousands of students all over the world?

My guess is probably not...otherwise they would have stopped all ago. And/or they used the conflicts to teach in a more geniune manner and to impart to people something real and authentic.

Who can really say? is just an interesting question to look how do Yoga Masters who have obtained great popularlity deal with these dilemmas?

Harmony / Jeff said...

Hi Heather,

Thanks for the comment. It is definitely a good question to think about, and we each have to find our own way as we go. There are of course many fantastic benefits to Yoga becoming so popular, in addition to the many challenges we face to keep its dissemination True and our practices Sincere.

I was reminded of something Pattabhi Jois sent into Yoga Journal back in 1995 in response to your pondering what he might have thought about it. So I have copied it here.

I actually had the opportunity to ask Pattabhi Jois about his thoughts on this very subject a few years ago, and he also thought the popularity was good, but he hoped that students seeking "Real Yoga" would eventually find "the teachers they deserved" who could help them discover "the Truth."

Anyway, just thought that might be of interest to you. Here is the abstract from Yoga Journal, as promised:

A letter from Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois to Yoga Journal, Nov. 1995

“I was disappointed to find that so many novice students have taken Ashtanga yoga and have turned it into a circus for their own fame and profit (Power Yoga, Jan/Feb 1995).
The title “Power Yoga” itself degrades the depth, purpose and method of the yoga system that I received from my guru, Sri. T. Krishnamacharya. Power is the property of God. It is not something to be collected for one’s ego.
Partial yoga methods out of line with their internal purpose can build up the “six enemies” (desire, anger, greed, illusion, infatuation and envy) around the heart. The full ashtanga system practiced with devotion leads to freedom within one’s heart. The Yoga Sutra II.28 confirms this “Yoganganusthanat asuddiksaye jnanadiptih avivekakhyateh”, which means “practicing all the aspects of yoga destroys the impurities so that the light of knowledge and discrimination shines.”
It is unfortunate that students who have not yet matured in their own practice have changed the method and have cut out the essence of an ancient lineage to accommodate their own limitations.

The Ashtanga yoga system should never be confused with “power yoga” or any whimsical creation which goes against the tradition of the many types of yoga shastras (scriptures).
It would be a shame to lose the precious jewel of liberation in the mud of ignorant body building.”

K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, Mysore, South India

Danielle said...

This is the East meets West quandary of many spiritual elements. Our version of capitalism is ego driven, and for our culture to absorb and accept, Practice had to be embellished. We are conspicuous consumers and bombarded with propaganda separating and distracting from the moment of birth. While my faith in our ability as a species to evolve past or return to never disappears entirely, the challenges are obvious. Sticking with your practice and quieting the noise and temptation to judge or assume any of the negative postures and poses (posers?) around you rather than viewing them as threats and competition will allow your light to shine on the rest of us and guide those you are teaching.

karim said...

A valuable post on positive thinking

Karim - Positive thinking