Highly Competitive Non-Yogic Business of Yoga

The fact is that a personal traditional yoga practice is vastly different from the highly competitive, cutthroat business of yoga. The shocking difference between the two is sometimes jarring when someone switches from being a student to being a teacher with an independent studio or practice. Watch online the 2007 documentary Yoga, Inc. for one perspective on the business of yoga.

There has to be a wide spectrum of good and bad experiences. Markets are created by the choices consumers make–give the consumers what they want. But the yoga world is more self-righteous than “‘regular” businesses in the denial of its negative, darker aspects while it touts its virtuous ones.

No matter how much we try to gloss over it and burnish a virtuous exterior facade, the yoga space is no different, no more virtuous than any other space in society. How can it be? Mostly, we are all part of the same fabric and reflect its pros and cons no matter what names, garbs, and words we acquire in our accoutrement. There are some genuine yogis. They tend to avoid attention, prefer seclusion, and  are unlikely to be on magazine covers. The humorous September 2002 article, Yogis Behaving Badly, written by Paul Keegan for the former magazine Business 2.0  is surely worth reading.  There is truth to what he says.

There is also truth and great credit due to the dedicated yoga teachers working in prisons, shelters, challenged schools, community centers, and numerous places, who give of themselves selflessly. It is still hard to find access to yoga and meditation in poor communities. Affluent places have as many yoga studios as Starbucks it seems.

Does yoga business need to practice true swadhyaya (self-study or self-observation) on itself? There are several notable factors I observe in what happens locally and in reading magazines and blogs from around the world. Frustrations are expressed quietly, privately.

*Many well-meaning, dedicated teachers are burned out from long hours and too many asanas; many are disillusioned. They have no time for a personal practice for their own personal growth.

*Yoga teaching does not pay much for most teachers though some studios do extremely well financially.

*This is big business and there are yoga franchises. The successful studios/franchises are the ones with powerful PR machines and media savvy consultants who have cultivated strong brand names and celebrity “yogis.”  Small studios and independent teachers have a particularly tough time. This is a very difficult conflict with yoga philosophy.

*Lack of caution, ethics, and poor training: A few years ago I attended a teachers’ training workshop on alignment where the trainers encouraged competitive attitudes to handstand and headstands. Women in their 50s struggled and felt inadequate. No one was told the contraindications. When these were pointed out, the trainers said that as the students sign forms releasing teachers and studios from all liability, contraindications and precautions are not relevant. I am not sure if they were even aware of them. Also, this is common practice I was told.  Stating the cautions may turn, or frighten, some students away was one response. Then the trainer made a quick one-sentence reference regarding the precautions I had mentioned to the trainees. How do the trainees teach their students what they have not been taught? To the best of our knowledge, things have not changed since then. Sampling classes at other local yoga studios, I found that it was the same–no limitations explained to newcomers and subtle pressure to perform inappropriate and challenging asanas regardless of the person’s age or physical ability.

*Yoga-related injuries are on the rise. Some reports suggest that yoga-related  ER visits may exceed sports related ones.

*Self-regulation has set up a conflict of interest like with the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission)–how do you regulate those on whom you depend for your existence/revenues? Yet outside regulators have no way of regulating yoga/spirituality.

*So many yoga research studies are flimsy, self-serving, and say nothing. The International Association of Yoga Therapists is trying hard and making progress in this area. It deserves credit.

None of this is new when you read Milarepa and the experiences of others in the past. It is just that the scale and scope are vastly bigger and global. Traditional ashrams, feeling out-of-their depth, have also been sucked into this madness to some extent. Perhaps they have no choice if they are to survive.

Yoga has the power to do enormous good and no proof is needed of that now. For many centuries yoga left India in disrepute, discredited, due to misuse of the teachings. It made a slow comeback with great effort from many yogis as hatha yoga came into being.

Has yoga fallen victim to its own success in this yoga renaissance? Is this a process of natural evolution and adaptation? Is there a better way? New Zealand says there is. New Zealand Yoga Scene in Australian Yoga Life adopts a cooperative effort that is healthier and less hypocritical.

Ultimately, most of us in yoga teach what we need to learn or are trying to learn.

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