As Yoga Grows, Is It Dying?

The title is a bit grim, I know.

Yoga has grown in popularity, seemingly exponentially, in the last couple decades. As someone who grew up practicing yoga, the boom was initially exciting, then, really frustrating.

My first mat was blue, sticky and covered in silhouettes of little yogis in various poses. I was six and it was perfect. There were many smiles had and lion’s breath done on that mat. I was about ten when I decided it wasn’t cool anymore, around the same time I scored my first studio membership.

By high school I was in love and by the time I graduated college I had over 300 hours of training. It wasn’t long before I was dreading my day job and 

only thinking about yoga. This was unsettling at first because I always dreamed of working the hustle-bustle of agency life; tired, successful, irreplaceable. That image faded real fast, so it was only natural for me to turn to a practice, a culture at this point, that I felt would better sustain both my head and my heart. I started up a lunchtime yoga class at the agency I was working at, but it just wasn’t enough. I quit sometime after, about 11 months into the job, to fully pursue yoga with a new kids yoga company I was connected with. (Love you, Little Peeps! <3)

The yoga I practiced at eight years old, vastly differs the yoga I see most prevalently offered today. When yoga was first making headway, it was practiced with integrity. Its roots weren’t so far off as they seem to be today. Now when I practice, I often feel asana being shoved down my throat. Strike this pose, make that shape, go deeper, deeper, deeper! It can be exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good hot, fast vinyasa class, but c’mon people, talk to me! Let me know, give me a hint, that you know the other 7 limbs, or, in the least, that you not be so demanding of the way my body wants to move on a given day.

I turned to yoga full-time because I thought I was returning to my people. I thought I was walking home. But just like everyone’s first time going home after they haven’t been in a while, with certain expectations, I found myself let down. Things are never the way we left them.

I’m not saying that all modern yogis are bad, or even that I’m good, but the reverence, the honor that drew me to the practice, has surely diminished. There are still people that are trying, desperately to hold onto it, but we are sadly the minority.

In the last month particularly, I’ve had some interesting encounters with people claiming to practice yoga that have prompted me to share. I say claiming, because after the way I was treated I am doubtful of their practice.

One studio that I reached out to about teaching since moving to the Bay Area said that I was “lovely, just too peaceful”. I didn’t even bother to remind them I auditioned with a Gentle class.

I called up a mentor of mine and we laughed.

Another comment, that still has me baffled, is when a teacher (who I truly thought was a friend at one point) referred to me as “some yoga chick”, in front of a group of teacher trainees. It wasn’t said lightly either. Even if it had been, there is a laundry list of other ways she put me down, both privately and in the presence of others. She then blocked me on Instagram. Petty, I thought, considering everything. Then I found out she also blocked Caden. HER STUDENT! That really got to me because it was entirely undeserved. Wrong profession, much?!

That one wasn’t so easy to laugh about or get over, but again, I called up my people and we mended. Nothing cures being a target like having friends to remind you why – envy.

One of my best friends (Leah!) and I were recently throwing around our ideas of what the main difference is between jealousy and envy. We concluded that jealousy is “I like what you have/are [and might be rude to you because of it] but it pushes me to want to achieve it, too” and envy is simply “I despise what you have/are because I want it/to be it.” I think a lot of modern yoga is taking on the air of competitiveness. People are striving to look a certain way, be a certain way and there is nothing I can do about it. Except, be the change.

Encourage kindness, compassion, ahimsa.

There is no easy way to toot my own horn, but boy do I feel the need to do it sometimes. I’m an impeccable friend. I give and give to people who don’t always deserve it. I try to connect people that I think will hit it off or benefit each other in some way. My idea of a great yoga class is guiding, never telling or demanding. And maybe, some of these things, I am good at to a fault. The only problem with knowing my strengths, is I tend to expect them of others too. 

To this day, my favorite book is Zen and the Art of Happiness. (Thanks, Claire & Greta!) It highlights the very simple, universal truth, that we are only in control of ourselves. My interpretation of that is, the power in controlling ourselves is that we can then (seemingly!) control everything else. Think about it – when you do your best, whatever that looks like for you, there is no regret or confusion about what follows. If I do my best, there is no reason for me to worry about the way someone may react, or whether they will like or dislike what I did. For example, I recently worked my butt off for a company. Work that made me feel really proud and optimistic. Still, the owner ended up greatly disliking me (hence her blocking me). Whether it was personal envy or something about my work, it’s none of my business. I did my part, did my best and that’s all that matters.

Doing our part is all any of us can do.

So, if you’re disappointed with the way something is going – get angry, and then get the hell over it. (Bonus points if you skip Level Angry and jump right to Get Over It!!!) For me, I could not maneuver my way out of Level Angry for quite some time. Why is yoga being taught this or that way? How is someone who can do a split or hold a handstand long enough for a photo considered a yogi/yogini? Since when are there 90-second interludes of choreographed dance performances between Warriors II and III? (I kid you not, this happened in a class – hi Susan, what the hell was that!?)

Before I continue to ramble, I just want to leave you with an offering we’re all welcome to – be the change. The ancient, sacred Yoga some of us know and love doesn’t have to die! We can help it grow again, in the right direction. Do your best. Not your neighbor’s best, or the person you adore on Instagram’s best – your best. Along the way, don’t beat yourself up for falling out of integrity. (Did you think it didn’t take everything out of me to write some of this post without looking my yoga practice in the eye?!) We do so to adjust our perspective on where the lines are drawn. Most of us know when we fall out of integrity or aren’t doing our best. It’s up to us to adapt and step back in, rather than stand back with crossed arms gruntled that the lines exist.

My work is clear. I hope yours is too. If you’re ever in doubt, just tell yourself “Be better.” Your intuition will almost always respond, guiding you in the right direction. I learned that from a fellow teacher trainee, now teacher. (You go, Tara!)

Always be open to being a student and you will always, simply, be the teacher.

Namaste.

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