Westernized Yoga can use a dose of Aparigraha

I got the strangest “job offer” from an acquaintance the other day. She said “I’m thinking of opening a yoga studio downtown. It will double as a smoothie stand, will you teach for me?” I asked her if she has ever done yoga before and she replied she had tried if a few times and it made her feel better, and that is what gave her the idea for the studio/bar/what-have-you.

I politely declined without an explanation, and suggested that she at least “acquaint” herself with the practice before her business venture. After reflecting on this job offer, it dawned on me that this is how Yoga is being propagated in the West. Corporate burn outs are going to a yoga class, they feel great afterwards, and it doesn’t take long before they are printing studio fliers.

Rewind a few years back. I used to be part of a mediation sangha that would meet weekly. Once in a blue moon, we would meditate in a tree house that could hold 20 people in the back of the verdant Manoa Valley. We had guest speaker Rev. Lekshe Tsomo, a buddhist nun who works with the Dalai Lama, run the group. We sat for an hour, then she gave her talk.

“The tree house is nice, isn’t it?” She inquired. “Don’t you want to own it?” Most agreed. “How come we can’t just enjoy it for this time, without having to want to own it?” A deep question indeed.

There is this strange phenomenon in Western yoga in that people to want to “own” yoga. That is, cash in on all that yoga has to offer. Just go to your local corporate chain yoga studio and drop in rates run as high as $25. People pay. The studios keep charging.

Teacher trainings are offered to students who just walk in the door without an iota of yoga experience, nonetheless teaching experience. “For $4,000, you can join our teacher training to deepen your practice.” People pay. The studios keep charging.

J. Brown just wrote a scathing piece on teacher trainings. In the comment section, a representative from Yoga Alliance gave an interesting statistic: 50%-75% of YTT (yoga teacher training) students do not intend to teach. If they are not intending to teach, why shell out 4 or 5 grand when you can just learn to “deepen your practice” in a classroom setting? Unless studios aren’t actually “teaching” instead of just doing a follow-the-teacher class with a killer playlist, very much like aerobics classes a decade ago with a savasana thrown in. Then it all makes sense.

This may sound like a crude comparison, but I felt like my friend’s job offer was akin to someone asking a devout priest if he would like to join a money making venture on teaching people how to pray. Of course any priest worth his salt would simply say: “just pray.”

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25 thoughts on “Westernized Yoga can use a dose of Aparigraha

    1. yogibattle Post author

      Soon there will be a time when Yoga that is not part of some other activity like drinking, or paddle boarding, or playing chess will be considered odd. Our culture has a hard time focusing on just one thing. Thanks for your comments!

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    1. yogibattle Post author

      Thanks Phyllis! My friend’s idea may just be the next million dollar business. I just couldn’t sleep at night selling smoothies under the guise of the Yoga.

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  1. Bharat

    It’s no surprise that even what is meant to be a spiritual practice becomes commodity in our mercantile society. Yoga teachers keep on teaching yoga. Our students tend to find us. As for the rest, people are getting some exercise. That’s good.

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  2. babycrow

    I think maybe people find it hard to learn also, even if their studio really is teaching well. The idea of going on a course to be given all the answers is what we’re used to in other parts of our lives. You pay and you receive. It’s hard to realise that yoga isn’t like that and that it needs to be experienced. I ask myself a lot at the moment what yoga teaching really is, or what it might be, and if my answers add up to what most people want. I think I’m having a cynical day…

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    1. yogibattle Post author

      The fact that you have these questions and cynical thoughts means that you are on the right path. My beef is that the reason why people are flocking to TT programs to “deepen their practice” is because they are not being taught how to do yoga on their own, but instead following some vinyasa movements from a teacher doing his/her own practice instead of “teaching.” I don’t want to make this an Iyengar vs. other styles debate, but we teach people how to do the asana in class with the expectation that students develop some type of personal practice outside the classroom. Most insight in yoga comes from personal practice, not something you learn in a group. You can learn a lot of “techinques” but as Dr. Seuss says “There’s no-one more you-er than you” and that is the person who is experiencing Yoga. Thanks for your comments 🙂

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  3. SkepticMeditations

    I enjoyed the personal details you shared to illustrate your point about commercialization of yoga. Your are good story-teller.

    Are the smoothie woman and Iyengar studio people only different in degree not essentially in kind? Both use yoga in commercial operations, and seek paying patrons to a sell services or products. Except, there seems to be some standard of moral judgement being applied against the smoothie case as not meeting “scriptural” or doctrinal code. I agree smoothie and yoga seems shallow. Who are we to judge others for wanting to make a buck off yoga too?

    These kinds of arguments seem to come from a “moral high-ground”–using a Bible or religious interpretation for morality. I wonder if there more compelling arguments against smoothie n yoga that I missed here.

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    1. yogibattle Post author

      I can see how you’d interpret this as taking the moral high ground, which I clearly am. Sometimes you just have to draw a line. I can’t speak for all Iyengar practitioners/teachers, but this is my stance. There is just such lack of thought about turning Yoga into a cash scheme nowadays, that if this post made someone pause and reflect, then I’ve feel I’ve done my job. Thanks!

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      1. SkepticMeditations

        Unapologetic. I like that about you. Though I disagree with your “moral high ground”. The logic is flawed if Iyengar teachers and the yogi-smoothie lady alike willingly except money for exchange of yoga products/services.
        Maybe in future posts you could elaborate on your argument/reasons why its different?

        While I was an ordained yoga-monk with Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship we had a mandate of: “Keeping the teachings pure”. I see now that the way I thought was not that different in kind from Christians who want to disallow same-sex marriage on the “moral high grounds” of an interpretation of a book written 2000 years ago. We humans are funny lot.

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  4. mishedup

    you know, I think this is a specious argument.
    Who cares where we teach? the students will come or not, and if i was teaching a class that i was comfortable with, that aligns with my idea of asana and yogic principles and philosophy (which would be the only type of class i would teach), then a smoothie bar with a good yoga space would work perfectly well.
    How do you know where your next student will come from? Maybe a whole new generation of iyengar or Ashtanga or whatever will happen from some kid wanting a smoothie and suddenly being confronted by yoga.
    I love your blog, your commitment and the way you describe your practice…but it’s gotta be passed on, and at every opportunity, I think.
    I have a friend who is going to be open a coffee roasting place…I wonder what kind of space he has, early morning yoga and coffee after sounds perfect to me.

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    1. yogibattle Post author

      Thanks Mished,
      I can see your point. Perhaps I wasn’t clear in that my friend wants to somehow incorporate the buying of smoothies into the yoga experience to make $$$. Her idea is more to make money than to teach yoga which she sees as sort of an afterthought. Rest assured, there will be plenty of people exposed to yoga with my friend’s smoothie/yoga enterprise. There are many people who are already doing beer/yoga, wine/yoga, and even marijuana/yoga. I’d rather just focus on yoga/yoga.

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      1. mishedup

        I get that yoga/yoga….i’m just saying that yoga/yoga could be taught at a smoothie bar, it’s the teacher, the lineage we pass, right?….not so sure about a beer pub or wine bar. LOL, that sounds dangerous!

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  5. natjtan

    When I first tried yoga, it took a few weeks to get into it, coming from a Pilates background. Now I practice yoga at home with Yogaglo (it’s the most accessible to me) and rarely do Pilates anymore. One reason why I practice at home is the few yoga studios in Barcelona that have classes in English are expensive (I could try a few in Spanish, but I like the Yogaglo teaching points, I roll up my mat and go after Namaste. No love is all around smiles afterwards). I pay $25 a month for unlimited classes, with a variety of yoga styles with some of the top yoga teachers in North America. It is what it is, yoga on line, no frills. What I learn I pass on to my clients during training session or cool down stretch. They say, I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible, I say you just did. I’m not a yoga teacher, but I can get people to try it minus a smoothie, beer or two. I get what you’re getting at!

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  6. Chris Castillon

    Yes! Very quicly we should have more teachers than students all over the world. As everybody wants to teach and nobody wants to learn. Only run a business, like any other business. Which is and is not funny, I think (!)

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  7. Dusty Middleton

    Back to the treehouse, why is it that we want to own it?
    Like a yoga studio owner, the owner of the manoa treehouse was providing a space for a good experience. Maybe they were making a profit, probably not. It’s nice, as the ‘owner’, to be able to provide the space.
    We can practice yoga out in the park, but it’s enjoyable to have a clean, dry, dedicated room… and square footage generally costs some dollars.
    It’s always tricky to tie up our passions and spiritual quests with day to day costs.
    Thanks for the good discussion.

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