by Sunee LaClaire
I found it very telling that two people in my life emailed me a link to the April 6, 2019 New York Times article by Alice Hines titled "Should Every American Citizen Be a Yoga Teacher? CorePower, the country's largest yoga studio chain, is leading the way." I completed a 200 hour yoga teacher training program in October 2018 at a place I have frequently referred to as a yoga factory. I went through a rainbow of emotional reactions while I was reading the article that continued to cascade long after read the last sentene. Initially this article filled me with a mix of sadness and frustration but after having some time to contemplate it further, I started to try to look at it through the lens of 'lessons to learn and opportunities to harness'.
In the opening of the article, I identified with the students who took a 200 hour training only to find that it was sometimes an insufficient preparation to start teaching yoga classes. I felt that way when my yoga teacher training intensive completed. I knew that I had a lot more work to do to feel confident as a teacher. Luckily for me, I was already working at a yoga studio so I had plenty of opportunities to create that for myself.
By the time I read the last line of Alice’s article, my reaction tumbled into thoughts about all of the information and valid points that Alice left out of the article like some missing pieces of a second hand puzzle. She had put a picture together in her article but it was an incomplete picture. She made no mention other types of yoga studio models and the struggles of small community studios. She did not write anything about how yoga has transformed so greatly in America. Alice dedicated a tiny bit of time talking about the tech entrepreneur who founded CorePower and the funding that came later but without really using any word power to explore what that really means for a business, especially when the business is yoga.
And there is absolutely no doubt that Yoga is big business in America. It is a multi billion dollar industry. In the face of all of the money that Americans are spending on yoga classes, trainings, clothing, gear, etc it is absolutely no wonder that people are going to try and game the system. What made me sad though is the complete lack of mention about how un-yogic that is. Yoga is so woefully misunderstood and reading this article made me fear for those who have either been exposed to bad actors or who have never been open to learning more about yoga because of the many misconceptions. One of those false ideas I have encountered (that quite honestly makes me laugh) is that yoga is a religion. And yet, Alice went ahead and wrote that there are readings in yoga teacher trainings that come from "religious texts". Something in me jumped when I read that as I was fairly sure that isn't actually what she meant. There is no specific mention of the particular texts in question, but in my experience, the texts she’s most likely referring to might be better categorized as ancient or spiritual without actually being religious.
This article did delve into compensation for yoga instruction being shamefully low but without any deeper connection to why that might be. I spent hours wondering about the possibility of a link between the devaluing of yoga teachers and the fact that so many of them in the U.S. are women? Or even that there is such a pervasive misconception in our culture that yoga is for women? Alice made a casual mention in the article about checking out your teacher’s butt (for a higher purpose). Let me not get started on that!!!!
Overall, I found this article rather irresponsible but upon reflection, it was really the title that did that. If I had read an article with a title that pointed to greed and false advertising in a large yoga chain, ironically I might not have been so disappointed with what I read. Instead the subtitle of the article made it sound like something people should be aspiring to but the attitudes and behaviors cataloged within are certainly not.
I had to write all of these thoughts down to get them out of my system. Purging them helped me process my sadness and disappointment. After that process, I intentionally took myself to the other side of the coin, what is there to learn from this?
Here’s what I have come up with so far. I look forward to continuing the conversation with others who choose to chime in.
Honesty - Call your trainings what they are. If you want to train teachers to teach students, it is a yoga teacher training. If what you are aiming for is a deeper understanding of personal practice, that isn’t a teacher training and should not be labeled as such. Students will be equally as interested in an intensive or advancing your practice workshop or series. Be honest about what you are selling to whom. Trying to maximize profit by making one size does not fit all offerings is not very honest.
Authenticity - Every studio has its own take on yoga that is built by human beings who have their own understandings. Be true to that and speak (display) your truth so that others can see, hear, and potentially identify with it.
Intention - Setting an intention is something you hear in most classes but it is equally important to set intentions in our business and then do our best to align ourselves with that intention by bringing it back ourselves regularly.
Community - A small studio is a very different entity than a large yoga chain and we need to honor that by celebrating the individuals who comprise it as well as the group that we form by coming together.
Positivity - Focus on the wonderful things that yoga can and does do for us!
Equality - If we encounter inequality in the yoga world, what can and should we be doing to combat it? How do we take steps to ensure that we are not furthering any negative practices even if we are currently not conscious about it?
It turns out I got a lot more out of reading this article than even I initially considered. If it was intended to make me think, it certainly achieved that goal so really, I probably owe Alice Hines some gratitude.
Should women do Yoga during menses?
Mostly it's a matter of personal preference. Some women don't want to do yoga while have their period, many don't mind and continue to practice during menses. For women who do choose to practice, it is suggested that they avoid inverted poses, abdominal strengtheners, extended holding of any pose, or energizing breaths (kapalabhati). The issue is that these practices might interfere with the downward flow or cause discomfort.
Is it okay to practice Yoga while pregnant?
As with any form of exercise, it is okay to continue practicing yoga while you are pregnant as long as you were practicing before conception. Yoga is a great way to keep fit during pregnancy. In particular it can help strengthen the pelvic area, normalize thyroid functioning and blood pressure, and help keep you calm and relaxed -- all of which is good for the baby, too. In general, however, you want to avoid strain, compressing the belly or abdomen in closed twists and inverted postures, especially in the later stages. Taking prenatal yoga classes can help you learn how to practice safely and modify poses appropriately, as well create opportunities to build a supportive social network.
Developed in India, Yoga is a psycho-physical discipline with roots going back about 5,000 years. Today, most Yoga practices in the West focuses on the physical postures called "asanas," breathing exercises called "pranayama," and meditation. However, there's more to it than that, and the deeper you go the richer and more diverse the tradition becomes. The word "Yoga" means union. Linguistically, it is related to the Old English "yoke." Traditionally, the goal of Yoga is union with the Absolute, known as Brahman, or with Atman, the true self. These days the the focus is often on the more down-to-earth benefits of Yoga, including improved physical fitness, mental clarity, greater self-understanding, stress control and general well-being. Spirituality, however, is a strong underlying theme to most practices. The beauty of Yoga is in its versatility, allowing practitioners to focus on the physical, psychological or spiritual, or a combination of all three.
What's the best way to get started, especially if I'm out of shape?
There is no better way than personal interaction with a qualified yoga instructor. It is also possible to try yoga being guided by a book and/or video but we recommend this as part of your home practice and supplemented with group or private classes. Remember, there is a Yoga level and style for everyone, regardless of physical condition.
What if I'm not flexible?
This is the most common misconception that prevents people from attending a yoga class. Yoga is not about how flexible you are; it is about stretching your body and spine. The more inflexible you are, the more you need yoga. You become flexible by doing yoga.
Is Yoga aerobic exercise?
Yes and...maybe. Aerobic exercise is simply exercise that improves oxygenization of the blood through an increased heart rate and deeper breathing. Yoga can do that, expecially those styles such as Astanga and ViniYoga that have a strong focus on the flow of one posture to another.
What's the difference between Yoga and just plain stretching and normal exercise?
Traditional exercise is goal oriented: How many push ups can I do? Can I touch my toes? I'm going to do 10 more crunches today than I did yesterday. Yoga, by contrast, is a process. The idea is to focus your awareness on what you are doing and how you feel as you perform the postures. In exercise, you fail if you miss your goal. In Yoga, you succeed by trying. There's also a difference on the physical level. Weight training, for example, makes you stronger by breaking down and rebuilding muscle tissue. It's this breaking down and rebuilding that results in the bulky muscle look. Yoga increases strength by toning the muscles.