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Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The bizness of Yoga

I've practiced yoga since the age of about 14. At first, it was honestly not by choice. I actually hated yoga when I first began practicing. I thought it was ridiculous. The fact that I was so young, and in chronic pain, might have had something to do with it. It didn't really help, either, that my first instructor was quite fond of chanting mantra during the class. As an awkward, gangly 14 yr old kid with ALOT of stiffness and some typical tween insecurities - I couldn't, for the life of me, figure out what "Om Mane Padme Om" had to do with 'strengthening my spine and feeling better' - which is why I started yoga in the first place.

But the results of those early experiences were immediate. I felt awesome. I felt clear. I wanted more. I was intrigued.

Taking my first 500 hr yoga teacher's certification was never about "becoming a yoga instructor" as a career. It was something I wanted to do for myself - to learn more, to further my practice, to delve deeper. But things took on a life of their own; as they often do when they are "meant" to. Being quite shy by nature (yes - I am shy)I couldn't fathom being at the front of the room while people watched my every move. That was, really, like my personal nightmare. At first - it gave me so much anxiety I can't even explain. But I've had fabulous training. And lots of it. My approach has always been - this isn't about me, this is a service I can provide to humanity to illicit more light in the lives of others. I understand pain, I understand the resiliency of the human body - I can help others. I just went with it. I started teaching classes. Just a couple at first. Then it slowly expanded. Eventually I found myself teaching classes all the time. Every day, multiple classes a day. But that was many many years ago. Before the current "boom" in the yoga industry.

At some of my busiest points I taught upwards of 18 or more classes a week - not always including the private sessions and semi-private work I've been doing with people for years. Teaching yoga never ever felt like work. It is something that is so deeply personal and so intricately interwoven into the fabric of my everyday life, that it only seemed natural to follow along when things got busier and I was asked to teach more and more. Nothing is more rewarding to me than watching people transform. Watching them literally transform before my eyes. To this day - it still brings a tear to my eye.

It's very special to see someone learning to relax, to soften the rough edges and the years of fear and resistance, to trust themselves and life again. It's remarkable to watch the human body respond as one learns to breathe properly, to move with awareness, to respect and honor the people around them. Seeing someone get stronger right before your very eyes is quite amazing. Oftentimes people get so caught up in learning the poses and the sequences that they don't even realize the magic of transformation at work. But I see it. Every day I see it. And it is extraordinary.

Yesterday I attended a class in the fair city of Hamilton at a very popular yoga studio 'franchise'. It was a "hot" yoga class - which I personally love just for the added intensity and the feeling of immense clarity and detoxification I receive from such a practice. (plus-it's really nice to be in a class without having to teach it sometimes! Bliss!) I was early to get there which didn't seem to be early enough apparently because there were ALOT of people there! I found a space for myself against the wall. It was extremely hot in the room - before we even started. But i didn't care. I was so excited to have the night off and to be able to practice, anonymously, that I happily took my seat and went through a few warm ups to prepare for class. The room kept filling up. It was incredible how many people kept piling in! I thought to myself - 'My God. It's going to get really hot in here!'

So about 5 minutes before the class was scheduled to start the instructor comes in and in a sing-songy tone of voice says: "Well there's 45 people in here right now and we need to fit a couple everyone would just move to the right, that would be great." I look to my right and realize I'm already about 3 inches from the wall! Is she kidding me!? The dude beside me is sweating so much I'm not even sure he's going to make it and there are at least 5 people standing in the middle of the room, yoga mats in hand, wanting to push their way in.

But, somehow, they managed to sandwich everybody in. I just couldn't wait for the class to start. I mean - I was sooo ready for a good, strong class.

To make a long story short - the whole experience was rather lack-luster. So much so I actually contemplated leaving about half way through. Sure, I was in an immense corporate studio with state-of-the-art facilities. But - the instructor was terrible. Terrible. She talked and talked and talked so much at one point I wondered if she was even aware that over half the people in the room were just lying down on their backs, not doing any of what she was instructing. Not once did she even venture to my side of the room. Not once did i see her make any kind of hands-on adjustment or correction. And, trust me, the folks in my corner of the room were desperately in need of correction.

So - I am filled with more questions.
I am standing at the precipice of trying to make a big decision.
Do I enter into a franchise situation with my new studio - or not?

Last night's class actually saddened me.

I felt like a sweaty cow. In a herd of other sweaty cows, with no names - just credit cards. Herded into a very beautiful, and yet oddly impersonal, room named a "yoga studio". Sure - I can do the calculations. 50 people in each class - that certainly adds up. And, let's face it - Cash Is King. But - my vision is different. I like knowing my students names, and their injuries. I like giving hands-on assistance. I enjoy the feeling of having my yoga practice space feel comfortable and calming. As opposed to feeling like an athletic club.

Have I lost it? Am I really 'obsolete', as someone recently called me? Has absolutely everything become about the Almighty Dollar?! Even Yoga?! I mean - I love money. Money is important. We are meant to live abundantly. Look around you. Everything is abundant. It's natural. Anyone who's ever gardened knows that. Nature is abundant. And yet all around me I see "yoga teachers" with absolutely zero experience, who've never meditated a day in their life, with the bare minimum training (about 200hrs, sometimes less), opening studios and injuring people left and right. All in the name of running a "business".

Do I want to prosper? Yes. Of course. Do I want to do it by being fake or untrue to my lineage of teachers and all the people that have come before me? No. I do not. There is nothing extraordinary about faking it just to make a profit. However, that's what I seem to be seeing. Everywhere.

Will the magic of this 5000 year old practice just be lost as the business of yoga expands more and more into these corporate money-hungry "franchises"?! Ugh. Gross.


  1. You're not obsolete you're absolute! As long as there are teachers like you Yoga and your yogis will never be lost.

  2. Thats a Jerry Maguire moment right there. Great job

  3. Enjoyed reading this, Heather. Big yoga studios, big cash croppers in farming...all the same. Money is nice, but authenticity and being true to yourself is worth so much more. Then you can live with yourself truly and that is worth everything. Nature is not always abundant...she tends to slap us down when necessary!

  4. Hi Heather!
    Whoever said that you were obsolete is dead wrong and doesn't know what they are talking about! What a dork! My view is that yoga is a form of moving meditation, whatever the school... should it not reinforce our mindfulness and mind-body connection? A lot of people do not have the privilege of discovering this about yoga (or meditation) since they have never had a great instructor like yourself! Do not doubt yourself!

  5. Thanks folks for the feedback. Always appreciated....
    Linda - I totally agree. And Chantal - yes, the person who said that is not very nice at all; agreed.Thank you for your vote of confidence. It means so much.... :)