BY CHANTEL EHLER
Anyone who studies traditional origins, knows that yoga was intended for the sannyasa ashrama, the renunciate, or one who is ready to shuffle off the mortal coil. In contrast, the grihastha, the householder, was understandably preoccupied with working, raising children, and generally involved with the minutiae of community living. This stands in sharp contrast to the current global practice of modern posture practice, where the leisure class lifestyle of young practitioners flit in and out of urban two story walk up studios between their meetups and their lattes. No longer is this practice relegated to the spiritual preparation for death and merging with the divine; now it is a thriving model for achieving optimal wellness at any age. Increasingly, we see that the dominant stereotype of a yoga practitioner is that they be young and fit.
There is a history of yoga in India for youths, arising from the response to Colonial British gymnastics culture of the 19th century (see Mark Singleton’s book, Yoga Body). Add this to the mass appeal and acceptance of Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament of Religions in 1893 (see Carol Horton’s book, Yoga PhD), and we see the steady rise of interest in the West, culminating to the global culture boom that reached critical mass in 2006. This boom culminated in pushing the stereotype further: not only must you be young and fit, you must also be thin, flexible, pretty, and a cisgender white female. It took the hard work of Decolonizing Yoga, the organizations like the Yoga Service Council, Accessible Yoga, and the Yoga and Body Image Coalition to start breaking this cultural bias.
Twelve years into this world movement, yoga shows no sign of slowing down. Yoga teacher training is as prolific as coffee shops and blue jeans – everyone seems to be a newly minted yoga teacher. Community leaders are only now beginning to question how the largest trending yoga product – the yoga teacher training service – can even achieve market equilibrium, and many believe market failure has already occurred without any data to back these claims. Out of this comes much bigger questions around the viability of those who seek to teach others, and where the students might be found to receive these teachings. Add to this the yoga industry’s unwillingness to even identify or acknowledge itself as an agent of economy. Many participating individuals argue the very meaning of being a yoga teacher, and some recoil at the thought of even charging money for yoga. Recently, I came across a great blog post of a more self aware practitioner and former business owner, who explained why she was closing her studio. It was refreshing to have someone no longer wax poetic about their situation, but have a willingness to break down the reasons for why her business was no longer working. (To read it, go here). Another great opinion piece talks about how the very nature of yoga is changing, much to the upset of long time practitioners. (To read it, go here)
It is the frustration of participants unwilling to examine yoga as an agent of economy that complicates the rise of yoga mass marketing and business interests…. How does that market success happen in what some continue to believe doesn’t exist?
In 2016, one of the first surveys called “Yoga in America” (link here) offered a birds eye view of some of the nature of this phenomenon in the United States. It is one of the first studies ever conducted that offers hard numbers on how yoga is broken down into demographics, trends, and economic factors. This not only sparked rage and fury in some yoga circles, it also stands alone as the only known study of this nature. This alone demonstrates just how far the yoga industrial complex fails to implement svadhyaya in this area.
As a result of this failure to complete this introspection of economy, there is no clear voice around articulating which basic economic tools are worthy of measuring or utilizing. There are some harsh realities facing yoga teachers and those who host yoga teaching (be it a brick and mortar studio or online or in public spaces), and to date no one is willing to discuss out of fear of ostracism or being branded a heretic. After all, people are getting kicked out of class for physical ailments, so why dare speak up about these issues? (To read about one account, go here.) The religious fervor and political idealism that exists in some circles make it difficult for such practical discussions to take place, which continue to marginalize and oppress the very people these circles claim to protect or boost. (To read more on these ideas, go here, here, and here.) As a result, savvy business people can easily steal, manipulate and create cult of the personality empires in what appears to be a monopolistic competition in absolute market equilibrium. At least, that is what the top earners want you to believe: that you too, can have it all and compete alongside them. From this, comes some of the ugliest cutthroat tactics as seen in other industry. Yoga is not unique and isolated from “dog eat dog” survivalist tactics. The beauty of the yoga “world”, is that they get to say namaste with beatific smiles as they slice open your jugular and femoral arteries.
This series attempts to address some of the hardest conversations that need to be had around the following questions:
- What does a yoga economy look like? How does one define a yoga economy? Are there any tools of measurement that make it possible for improved industry reporting?
- Who is making what? What is a fair wage? How can one measure expectations of what constitutes a “full time” teaching position? What measurement can be universally applied to a yoga teacher that ensures they may be considered a productive supplier of services? Does that entitle the teacher to fair wage equity? To health care and pension options?
- What labor practices exist, if any, in yoga today? Does it differ from country to country, and, is there any international expectation in this globetrotting skill set? Is a Yoga Union necessary, and if yes, how does that differ from a professional license as a regulated therapeutic practice?
- Is this market failing?
I welcome any hard data in these areas you may wish to share, and I hope we can enter into a thorough and honest discussion. The Yoga Service and Accessibility Canada are also conducting more surveys, to which you are welcome to participate in and I hope we can continue this research together. It is time to get out of our pretzels, sit down and meditate on these pressing questions and come into a circle of discussion. Three open forum discussions are being organized on Facebook and I hope you will kindly join me.
May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be well.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings be free from suffering.
CHANTEL EHLER IS A YOGA TEACHER, MASSAGE THERAPIST, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE YOGA SERVICE AND ACCESSIBILITY CANADA. SHE RECENTLY BROUGHT ACCESSIBLE YOGA INTERNATIONALLY TO TORONTO IN JUNE 2018. SHE WRITES ON AMARA VIDYA PHILOSOPHICAL EDUCATION, AND PARTICIPATES IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF SUSTAINABLE LIVING OPTIONS IN YOGA. SHE LIVES WITH HER FAMILY IN THE THOUSAND ISLANDS, CANADA.