The Rant

Posted by on Jun 11, 2013 in Blog | Comments Off on The Rant

The Rant

Last night as I crawled up into bed with my most recent book club book I noticed that minutes had passed with my eyes fixed to the words on the page as my mind drifted off to another place. I felt a sudden wave roll up inside me. It slowly increased in intensity with a message that sounded a lot like “it’s time to give it up.”

When I first found yoga I loved the anonymous, safe feeling in class, like I had finally found a physical practice that was quiet and unassuming and nonjudgmental.  It was healing for me because it wasn’t a gym, it wasn’t founded by the cult of the former cute high school girls who had never been fat.  I had older teachers, quiet teachers.  I wore a baggy t-shirt and sweat pants and it didn’t matter.  But that was then.  The cool kids are taking over and its starting to feel like high school writ sanskrit.

You’d have to be completely off the grid not to notice the many ways in which the yoga world has changed in the last 15 years.  It’s nearly unrecognizable.  In fact there never really used to be a “yoga world” here at all. Now studios positively spot the urban landscape, every major clothing chain seems to have a yoga clothing line, and yoga teachers, desperate to find ways to carve out a career from within a pool of others, market themselves with all of the ‘new’ same angles that everyone else is doing.  I read an article that a yoga teacher friend posted the other day about “rock star yogis”, and how the cheerleader-y, former-gymnast fashionistas are packing in rooms of students while many less charismatic but highly skilled teachers who adhere to the more austere principles of the tradition are teaching to small (but maybe dedicated) groups. Some “edgy” studios in Toronto have massive classes which may give some students the idea that these classes are better.  A friend of mine showed up to dinner the other night with a cast on her wrist, the result of falling out of shoulderstand as she practiced nearly unattended in such a massive class.

I have to say that I’m getting very, very tired of this scene.  And that is what it is, make no mistake.  There is a scene among “cool” yoga teachers in the city, there is a scene among die-hard practitioners.  The very aspects of my personality that made me bolt out of the social circuit and into my studies, into a left-of-center group of friends, in high school is the very same aspect of my personality that is rising up now.  I feel squeamish around this pre-fab “cool”.  Maybe it’s my own fault for reading yoga blogs or subscribing to the Yoga Journal, for filling my twitter up with yogis and yoginis all trying to make a living in this downward-dog-eat-dog industry.  Maybe it’s because I don’t need to scrape together a following to be able to pay my rent.  It may well be different if I had to get in and really compete with the myriad twenty-somethings pouring out of the handful of yoga teacher trainings running in the city.  But I don’t.  And I think what I’m realizing is I can’t.  I can’t compete.  I’m not in my 20s, I’m not light and airy and fairy cute and I can’t plant my feet on the back of my head, and I don’t feel like posting videos of myself bending around in my underwear.  I want to practice, I want to be inspired, I want to teach, I want to serve.  But I don’t want to compete and that’s what brought me here in the first place.  In fact, I have to say it: I’m angry that competition is probably the best word to define what’s going on around a practice founded on the principle of non-ego.  Today I’m taking myself off the yoga scene grid.  A yoga social media boycott.  It’s beginning to contaminate the way I think about yoga, and I won’t let the beauty of the practice to be taken away from me.

I’ve studied with the Yoga Rockstars.  One of them sat perched on a stage with her designer duds and cool haircut telling the room full of students how AMAZING this drink she was drinking was, how cool these new sandals she bought were.  And she thanked her stylist.  She thanked her stylist, then taught a class to hundreds of wide-eyed students taking notes on what they needed to buy when the fire doors opened.  I’m desperately looking forward to getting back to California to study with Shiva Rea.  She’s famous, but she is not cool.  In fact she is super square with her odd laugh and Indian head-bob.  She is also possibly one the most knowledgeable people you could ever listen to talk about the deeper elements of yoga.  She is an academic steeped in an anthropological understanding of the philosophy and history. She has studied the cultures of movement.  To study with her is not to learn how to be cool, how to be  her.  It’s truly like going back to school.

Again, I do know that one needs to make a living in this world.  It must be intense to know that teaching yoga is your calling and to have to fulfill that in a sea of others seeking the same thing.  Something’s got to give, and in this current cultural wave it’s the loudest (on social media, at conferences, in class), the coolest, the most stylish who will be able to buy their groceries.  But this is definitely not where I want to work, and it’s exactly where I’m feeling the need to flee from.  This scene has jumped the shark (about as much as the phrase “jump the shark” has jumped the shark) and it cannot sustain itself.  I know that at some point, at the breaking point, people will eventually want to come back to the practice where the brand of props you use doesn’t matter, where the clothing you wear is simply meant to cover your body, where they want to be inspired by teachers whose knowledge is the result of extensive study.  The yoga jewelry, the yoga drinks, the yoga shoes, the endorsements, the edgy photo shoots, even semi-trademarked poses… this is the definition of a fad.  I’ve always argued that yoga isn’t a trend.  How could something so steeped in tradition be classified as a trend?  But this yoga?  This monster we’ve all had a hand in creating?  It’s going to burst.  I can’t wait for it to burst.  Maybe it’s already started: the gurus are falling.

I’ll admit that I found myself leaning into the game.  Not fully diving in, but dipping a toe, peeking around the corner.  I see the formula for yoga popularity and it’s enticing.  Who doesn’t want to feel admired and at the centre of it all?  I’ll admit to getting caught up in that head game that if I have small classes my classes must not be very good.  But small compared to what?  Compared to whom?  It’s in that next breath that I see how much I actually don’t want to dive in.  I didn’t want it when I was a teenager and I don’t want it now.  What I feel when I say I’m a yoga teacher and the way in which I’m perceived when I say I’m a yoga teacher are light years apart. I’m unwittingly part of the big picture.  Consider this the point where I put my head down, show up to my classes to teach well-researched, well-developed explorations into the body/mind, and leave the baggage at the door.  And if that doesn’t work, I may need to begin looking for another way to connect with the world.

All content by Lisa Veronese. Please do not publish or copy my material without my consent.