[Updated 07/14/14: Somehow during one of my edits for typos, I lost a bunch of paragraph spaces. Should be fixed. Also, noting other mentions and blogs in intro paragraph. 06/10/15: some edits post-WordPress theme update.]
Recently, I joined the world of social media. One day, a couple of weeks after starting a new Twitter account, I saw a tweet asking to interview yoga instructors. I responded. We have an expression about “things you don’t sign on for.” I’m hoping this won’t be one of them. I was quoted in an MSNBC blog that made the front page, not poorly, but in an abbreviated way that can easily be mis-contextualized, as it was in this conservative blog. Since then, I’ve been quoted in the original author’s follow-up Q&A article, an Op-Ed piece on NYTimes.com, Self Magazine’s blog, and DoYouYoga.com.
Ned Resnikoff’s goal was to explore the idea of feminized labor after the recession. I believe (although after my experience I’m hesitant to speak for another), that part of his focus was showing that certain freelance careers tend to be populated by women, and that these new, post-recession job markets were potentially exploitative, particularly in the use of improper 1099 classifications. I don’t think either of us expected it to degrade into a debate as to whether or not I was allowed to consider my job worth compensation at all.
I’m used to people misunderstanding my occupation (“some of my closest friends,” as the saying goes.) I’m used to people assuming I’m an airhead because of what I do, and thus assuming I have significantly less right to voice an opinion, let alone have one. (Often this is by people who choose to merely possess opinions they’ve found on the street rather than formulate them personally.) Neither of these is really getting to me, but I want to be clear about a few things, despite knowing that most people misconstruing my statements will probably never read this far.
I don’t mind people underestimating me or disagreeing with me, but playing fast, loose, and false with my ideas and statements is contrary to my beliefs. I may as well document my version somewhere.
I am not Dr. Oz. I don’t even play him on TV.
One concern I mentioned was the extra “on-the-job” time that can come with being a yoga instructor people may not consider. My point was two-fold: firstly, there is time that is not compensated that potential instructors should be aware of, and secondly, that there is more to yoga than doing 5 sun salutations and a headstand.
“[F]irstly, there is time that is not compensated that potential instructors should be aware of, and secondly, that there is more to yoga than doing 5 sun salutations and a headstand.”
Unfortunately this was ambiguous without the preceding context, and some rightly took to the comments section to berate instructors who think they are therapists or medical professionals. I completely agree, and I in no way intended for people to think that yoga instructors are qualified to make any recommendations as to medical or therapeutic care. In fact, our sign in sheet requires all new students understand that we are not medical professionals and are not qualified to diagnose issues. We believe in knowing our role.
However, our role isn’t just telling you to turn your right foot out. We also teach breathing exercises for stress relief and self-calming when they have recently lost a loved one, or have had a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder episode triggered. We expose people to different philosophical, sometimes spiritual, perspectives and ways of approaching the world around them, which can come with its own challenges, reactions, and emotional responses. We help them find ways of staying physically active that are accessible to them if they are injured, which sometimes results in them re-processing the events leading up to the injury.
These are just the sorts of things you get asked about or the emails you have to answer when you teach. From the mundane to traumatic, you get it all:
- “What do I have to bring to class?”
- “What if I’m not flexible enough? Will the other students think less of me?”
- “My mom always told me I was uncoordinated, so this is probably a bad idea. I could never do anything right.”
People bring more to the mat than you might think. Any teacher in any subject will tell you sometimes your students stay late and ask you questions. Sometimes students don’t observe boundaries in ways you’d expect. Sometimes you have to find ways to set those boundaries with grace and compassion. Part of my point was that therapists and medical professionals receive training in this, but yoga instructors don’t. In fact, inappropriate boundaries in yoga have led to some serious consequences, and in some cases of sexual assault, emotional manipulation, and embezzlement, perhaps consequences not serious enough.
“[S]ome rightly took to the comments section to berate instructors who think they are therapists or medical professionals. I completely agree, and I in no way intended for people to think that yoga instructors are qualified to make any recommendations as to medical or therapeutic care.”
There are many people who think I’m an aerobics instructor, without realizing that the physical aspect of yoga is only one of the eight limbs, which include ethical practices and deep meditation. Yoga can be used as a complementary treatment modality for a number of conditions medical science is still trying to understand, including multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, neuralgia, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and other disorders relating to stress response or the nervous system. Some students, people who have worked in excess of 40 hours a week to excel in their career over decades, suddenly find themselves in continual pain, with a body that has betrayed them, and are forced into disability. Their bosses think they are slacker, but they feel as though they are being stabbed with pins and needles every time they try to get out of bed. When we work with these students, in conjunction with their doctors, we don’t generally do 108 sun salutations. The process is personalized, complicated, self-concept shaking, and rarely easy.
Before I continue on to the issues of labor, please let me reiterate that we strongly encourage our students to use yoga as a complementary practice to a variety of others, including medications, and many of our students bring us recommendations from their doctors for us to follow, etc. Also be advised that we encourage students to learn about their bodies, be knowledgeable about their treatments, and hold their doctors to a basic standard of explaining a diagnosis or recovery. We have held free workshops for local medical professionals in the past so that they could be educated as to the varieties of practices available and make informed decisions as to what is in the best interests of their patients, as well as find places to refer our students.
“What do you know about a real job or small business, Moonbeam?”
I have owned a small business in one small-ish town for over 3 years, and recently relocated to a neighboring small town, in which I reside. This is occasionally awkward, as our lonely high schools compete with each other, and my former location has turned a bit more commercial and socioeconomically striving since I was a high school student there. My town is in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, about an hour and between 15-30 degrees Fahrenheit away (something I’m noticing some have misconstrued as well, perhaps to make arguments about metro yoga). San Francisco is the home of Yoga Journal magazine and many “Master Teachers”.
I have both employed and contracted with a number of instructors over the last few years, some for years, some for days. Some situations ended well; others terribly. I have chosen not to renew contracts, I’ve had to fire people for not doing a good job, and I have been financially forced to let people go. In addition to my yoga experience, I’ve heard about a variety of contract terms in the yoga industry, and I have worked under a number of contracts in a variety of occupations over the last 20 years.
During the dot com boom, I was familiar with 1099s because it was a way some people could run their own businesses and use their talents to earn money under their own control. As a 1099, they became their own legal entity and were able to function as a business providing contracted services to other businesses, but that also meant self-promotion, legal liability, accounting and administrative tasks, contracts negotiation, and other skills some consultants lacked.
Because it was the dot com boom, I was also VERY familiar with people misclassified as 1099s to avoid having to pay certain employment expenses. These expenses included not only Worker’s Comp and payroll taxes, but also the expenses associated with the overhead of managing employees, such as HR, accounting, and administrative functions. Many industries that experience a sudden boom can also sometimes experience a lot of misclassified contractors. Before high tech I’d worked in working class jobs since 15, so I was familiar with sketchy paychecks & labor laws.
When I went back to school after the bubble, I worked multiple teaching and tutoring jobs on the side. I have worked for non-profits, after-school elementary programs, and for-profit colleges. The terms of the contracts were sometimes different, and some of them would probably not qualify under IRS’s standards today. Most teaching gigs are contractor, even though you are sometimes expected to work 20-30 hours in addition to the ones for which you are compensated or expected to follow a precise, micromanaged plan that controls your actions (a violation of the classification.) In the case of non-profits and after-school programs, one anticipates the salary. As an adjunct faculty member at any higher education institution, you accept certain sacrifices.
I began taking yoga when I left the dot com industry. I was on a new path after an extremely volatile time in the industry. Over the course of a few years, I worked my way up from (NOC) Network Operations Center engineer and line provisioner to a Systems Test lab manager for a router manufacturer, where I stayed and encouraged family and friends to come over, including getting my husband his first tech job, which now supports us. When I finally left it was under challenging circumstances, when, after negotiating an arrangement that required 60+ hours a week of work over a 12 week period (including the holidays) to avoid being relocated to the South Bay, our department was suddenly let go and offered the opportunity to re-apply for our jobs (at lower pay) there anyway. The company was shocked that many of us didn’t take the deal, as it was intentional grandstanding in a soft job market. Some of the people who were involved had been with the company over a decade. We had actually gotten out of the worst of the bubble, dozens of layoffs, and based on prior negotiations had an expectation of the future. It was sudden, it was self-concept undermining, and it was painful.
Although I considered tech consulting, I was tired of the industry. I’d dropped out of school to pursue the quick cash and exciting evolution and innovation of high tech. I was self-taught, but my good memory and ability to rapidly synthesize information paid off. Although we were barely out of our teens, my husband and I owned a home in the Bay Area and had investments. I had the opportunity to complete my education, paying in full using my tech money, and I needed a unit of PE. I didn’t want to do anything that sounded too hard, and I’d already taken bowling in high school.
So if you started in STEM, how’d you become a dirty hippy?
Over the summer I’d taken some Early Childhood Education classes. I thought learning about developmental appropriateness was a good idea if I was going to be teaching, not to mention it also filled a transfer requirement, got me a certificate to assist in preschool and elementary classes for extra cash, and sounded like it would be an easy summer back into college after being gone for a while. I was all about the quick, the fast, the efficient, the get ahead, the strategic: the ends. Turns out one of my teachers from preschool class taught yoga. What the heck, I need PE, and stretching should be an easy A…
(If you’ve done yoga, I’ll pause here for laughter.)
Like many in yoga, I appreciated the physical aspects, even though I hadn’t been looking for a workout. I liked that I breathed better, my back hurt less, and my mood and focus were improved. As my prowess in “oooh-aaah” poses grew, I focused on the “cool” aspects– the new mat, the accessories, the cute clothes, the impressive arm balance, or how many sun salutations I could do without being winded. Luckily, my program was also grounded in the philosophy and context of yoga.
Because I started at my community college, papers were a required part of the course, and I studied the cultural traditions, ethical practices (yamas and niyamas), and divergences in Modern Postural Yoga as compared to the classical history. As I continued on in college, I continued to compare philosophy, cultural production, cultural appropriation in my studies to my experiences as a yoga practitioner. While I was working on my masters, I slacked off on the physical practice. but continued to observe some of the ethical practices and meditations, (poorly & imperfectly.)
I have never received a real diagnosis. Each time I went to the orthopedist, I got assigned a different “Xer’s knee” and was treated for tendinitis, bursitis, plantar fasciitis, which was essentially an hour or more of onsite Physical Therapy, lots of NSAIDs, and daily icing. (Although originally diagnosed as a repetitive stress injury, in recent years chiropractors Xrayed my pelvis and found significant misalignment and torque of the sacrum, but that would be nearly seven years later.) All I knew was my legs wouldn’t support my weight if bent, i.e. walking up or down a slope or steps. Living in a split-level, I was barely 30 and had to crawl up my own stairs when I got home. Suddenly, the only yoga I could practice was that wussy, newbie stuff. My body wouldn’t function the way I expected anymore.
When I left high tech, yoga helped me find new aspects of myself so that I could define myself by something other than just the job that screwed me over. Suddenly my own body, something I’d only just figured out how to manipulate, betrayed me and medical science abandoned me. I thought I’d been listening to my body and just pushing through, but I had misinterpreted the signals and caused significant damage. I gained all of the weight I’d lost back. My mobility was significantly reduced and my lifestyle choices changed by orthopedic order. I had to do about a year of physical therapy before I could consistently walk up stairs, and when my knees stopped hurting but my hip started to go out, the doctors said I had only been there for the knee and there was nothing they could do.
The philosophical practices are what helped me get through this, while taking classes & working on my thesis in a city sometimes 2 hours away, and teaching 4 classes as an adjunct faculty member, sometimes to kids who lived out of their cars. My selfhood was changing, but there were few teachers available who could genuinely help me process the shifts happening around me.
What people don’t understand is I don’t do yoga because I am enlightened; I do yoga because without it I’m an angry, impatient, vicious person who, if cut off in traffic, might leap at you and rip your throat out with her teeth otherwise. I’m speaking figuratively, of course– I’ve been grinding my teeth for so long, I doubt I could do much damage. I do yoga because it helps me. I teach yoga because it helps others.
On yoga and labor:
Recently I was quoted in an article. The quote was abbreviated, but my point was that in many teaching jobs, but especially yoga, there is time “you haven’t contracted for.” Sometimes that means an elementary school requiring you to be there 45 minutes before class to avoid blocking the pick up line. In college that means the not-officially-mandatory faculty meetings, office hours, and weekly phone calls to absent students that weren’t mentioned in the contract. (This was a for-profit college as a 1099. Public would be different.) For many freelancers, it means the 6 hours a day you spend in the car getting from gig to gig. When I taught in the afterschool program, “time I wasn’t expecting” also included waiting for late parents. Legally, if the office and after-care were closed, my hands were supposedly clean. Many teachers, myself included, would wait until there was a supervising adult, especially in cases where the parent was unexpectedly late and the child was frightened. That was not a part of the job, and I understood it was a choice I was making.
The problem I was trying to express is that I am not most yoga instructors. Many are people who were professionals in a limited industry for a long time, displaced by the recession, misled by overly positive articles and occasionally a desperate need to feel useful after losing so much. In certain regions, yoga is big business, and people are being churned out of programs at a rapid rate.
These programs sometimes only cover the physical practice and a limited, dogmatic philosophical view, which doesn’t prepare students for the types of issues they may actually face when they teach the public: sexual harassment, contractor taxation, marketing and self-promotion, lawsuits and liability insurance, and sometimes even the actual practice of teaching itself! Sometimes students leave a few weeks later with a practice printout and the injunction to go “teach in the park for free and it will eventually all work out. Trust in the universe.”
“Many [new & potential instructors] are people who were professionals in a limited industry for a long time, displaced by the recession, mislead by overly positive articles and occasionally a desperate need to feel useful after losing so much. […] Sometimes students leave a few weeks later with a practice printout and the injunction to go ‘teach in the park for free and it will eventually all work out. Trust in the universe.’ “
There are many single moms out there trying to make a living. There are people who have lost their retirement in the recession who are trying to help others better understand the deeper aspects of the practice in a world that thinks you can just watch a 20 minute youtube video and be a guru. There are students trying to buy books. They often don’t realize that they will be responsible for their tax bill in full until the end of the year. If they are injured and can’t work, they have no protection. They don’t realize they need liability insurance, or how to acquire it. Their training program never mentioned any of it, nor did the articles they came across in their research.
There are also many, many yoga business owners who lack a clear understanding of 1099 taxation, something the IRS recently announced it wasn’t going to mess around with anymore. And yet many studios are still FALSELY and illegally classifying employees. In many cases, it is a lack of awareness of the law. In some, it is an intentional cost cutting measure because, “that’s how it’s always been.” In an industry that is eating it’s own “tale” with free classes for the public and expensive and questionable teacher trainings for the students who teach the free classes, it’s also a case of intentionally side stepping expenses and labor.
There are many, many teachers who can absolutely make a good living as independent contractors in the yoga world, and they are acting appropriately as such. Under no circumstances am I arguing to abolish this classification, as they tried in New York a few years ago, as for many it is a valid classification. But for each Master Teacher, jet-setting around the world giving trainings and demanding high hourly rates and attendance percentages from dozens of studios, there are hundreds if not thousands of people scraping $900 a month together from multiple gigs, much of which goes to covering one’s own insurance, transportation, class materials, and taxes at the end of the year.
Because of the perceived political leanings of the site that interviewed me, MSNBC, some feel my interview was designed to promote increased wages. I’m a business owner, and payroll is my greatest enemy, I recently had to let people go, and my state just increased minimum wage! Believe me, I am not advocating a standard $60,000 a year for people who just run through a yoga video with rich CEOs and spoiled housewives.
I am suggesting that if a person is an employee, they be classified as such, even if that means I have a greater administrative and/or financial burden of paying payroll taxes, worker’s comp insurance, training, SDI, posters, meeting legal requirements I didn’t know existed, dealing with paperwork for false EDD claims, etc. Following the rules means I lose a competitive advantage in a now highly competitive industry. Arguably, this industry has grown so much and so rapidly, we’ve only just realized it was grounded in tax evasion.
“Because of the perceived leanings of the site that interviewed me, some feel my interview was designed to promote increased wages. I’m a business owner, and payroll is my greatest enemy, I recently had to let people go, and my state just increased minimum wage! Believe me, I am not advocating a standard $60,000 a year for people who run through a yoga video with rich CEOs and spoiled housewives.”
There are many, many flakes and ill-prepared, unprofessional teachers. When I first opened I had contractors, but legally treated them as such. They lacked the skills to actually function as contractors, self-promotion, accounting, taxes, etc., and most were unaware of how their legal status would affect them. Although the Yoga Alliance 200 hour teacher training is not a complete understanding of yoga, and the YA has a deeply flawed history, some teachers have significantly less experience or education than that. There are people who have taken multiple choice tests online for $50. There are fitness instructors who watched a couple of exercise tapes, but who are ill-prepared to handle the issues of an arguably Americanized cultural appropriation of an Indian national identity and religious history (which itself may have had post-colonial cross-cultural influence as a result of the World Wars.) Because the industry is built on these casual employment connections, you get casual classroom and studio connections, causing frequent hiring crises, cancelled classes, and schedule adjustments that harm the clientele. I converted to an employee status because I believe it creates an appropriate type of studio, in which the teachers are more committed to the studio community and students in general.
“Although the Yoga Alliance 200 hour teacher training is not a complete understanding of yoga, and the YA has a deeply flawed history, some teachers have significantly less experience or education than that. There are people who have taken multiple choice tests online for $50. There are fitness instructors who watched a couple of exercise tapes, but who are ill-prepared to handle the issues of an arguably Americanized cultural appropriation of an Indian national identity and religious history (which itself may have had post-colonial cross-cultural influence as a result of the World Wars.)”
I have staff meetings where I can train our staff in a variety of yoga styles. I can make sure they are familiar with our procedures and know about upcoming events, be aware of any customer service issues, and discuss any concerns that may have come up in the class that they haven’t faced before. With contractors, this could be construed as trying to control the output of their work, a no-no. Contractors also can’t be made to attend, and as they rage from “Have 8 other jobs to get to today” to “I don’t get out of bed for less than $60,” having the entire staff in the same room if virtually impossible. Even with an employee model, teachers who have been in the contractor model long enough and who are contractors at other locations, retain this lack of availability.
Casual employment, casual requirements, and casual studies yields a casual industry. Unfortunately, this is the prominent public image of yoga. I have not been practicing or teaching that long, so I imagine there are teachers who are equally frustrated with me. They may not understand that I opened my studio because there were few options for students who needed options outside of the gym fad model, and most of them were in the wealthy areas. Some people in my community couldn’t afford the gas to get there and park, let alone take a class. Although another studio was open LITERALLY across the street the same week I opened, and since many more places have opened to offer yoga, there weren’t as many opportunities in 2011 in our part of the county.
Some might also take offense to the fact I ran a teacher training program last year, and may run it again. It is certainly not all-inclusive or everything anyone could ever need to know. Arguably, it is just exposing you to all of the things you need to find out about and all of the things you need to decide for yourself. Yoga has suffered from a limited representation in some areas for a while. Trying to expand that out of the physical practice or out of a Westernized context, or within a postmodern one in anyway is worthwhile. There are many programs available because there are many versions of and perspectives on yoga.
Many of the people who have used me in quotes out of context do so believing I am a flake, some girl in spandex prancing around some venture capitalist’s wife’s foyer. Here is my glamorous yoga lifestyle: I’m in a “folk Victorian” (aka “old plumbing”) next to the historic train depot, which is down the street from the CURRENT train station where one comes by about every 15 minutes. There are homeless in my neighborhood. There haven’t been many businesses in this part of town for the last few years. Our space had been vacant for quite some time, and the locals are happy to see new life in the area. We pay the bills. I sell my investments to cover payroll during the slow seasons.
But It’s Only Yoga…
People who think of yoga as a fitness fad may not see the point of qualified and compensated yoga instructors. Many people who read the article thought that yoga instructors just shouldn’t exist, and that would solve the problem. Others say that you shouldn’t become a yoga instructor if you expect to make money. Still others commented that yoga is like any other worthless occupation like sociologist, psychologist, historian, artist, humanities major, creative writing freelancer, literary theorist, and from what I can tell anything that isn’t STEM: No one should pay for these services because they are just silly hobbies that don’t provide the world any value.
I’d like to point out that even if I weren’t being paid, people would still need yoga. The difference between myself as yoga teacher and myself as English teacher, is that if I screwed up as an English teacher, people would never know how to avoid a split infinitive or avoid ending a sentence with a preposition, something considered excessively formal today anyway. If I screw up in yoga, I could contribute to someone having a stroke or becoming paralyzed.
“The difference between myself as yoga teacher and myself as English teacher, is that if I screwed up as an English teacher, people would never know how to avoid a split infinitive or avoid ending a sentence with a preposition, something considered excessively formal today anyway. If I screw up in yoga, I could contribute to someone having a stroke or becoming paralyzed.”
I was always more studious and clinical than athletic or spiritual, so being as involved in yoga to the extent that I am always surprises people, especially those who know me as an engineer or from publishing critical theory. Part of this is because they are only familiar with one aspect of yoga, the physical, and are unable to see the whole. Part of it is because perceiving the many, many, many manifestations of yoga ranging from physical to metaphysical and from ancient to postmodern, is unsettling. The idea of being a little unsettled is far, far too much for some people to bear as they would have to assume the world is more complicated than they’d thought, might need a little reconsidering, and they would rather electrocute themselves than be alone with their own thoughts. (No, seriously.)
Yoga is not just stretching. It isn’t a workout (although it can be), it isn’t a therapy (although it can be), it isn’t a religion (although it can be, and to some Hindus, Christians, and Muslims, can’t be divorced from it). Yoga is not. Yoga is. <— see that? It’s called a koan, epigram, paradox, dichotomy, etc. You might think it’s stupid, because it says two things that are contradictory. You might be offended at it’s simplicity in structure and that because it holds two meanings, you think it holds no meaning. You think there is “duplicity” a word meaning just two things (duplex), but that we take as “false.” Part of yoga is learning how to accept that two things might both be true, depending on your perspective. Part of my practice is learning how to sit with that and respond, rather than react on limited assumptions.
From Ethos to Pathos: Expanding our Views of Yoga, Selfhood, and Humanity/ies
I realize that multiple perspectives can be true. That there is no simple definition for complicated things runs contrary to the ways of the internet, especially to those reading comments on MSNBC on a blog post that came to be because of a Twitter reply. These are not territories known for sensitivity and tolerance.
This may seem to be veering into the metaphysical too much, but being able to be a little unsettled is necessary in a world that has such propensity to be unsettling.
Over the last 30 years, people consider themselves to be under far more stress. Many people lost jobs, houses, and lives (and selves) over the last decade, and how we think about ourselves has changed in social policy. People had to suddenly cope with things not being what they expected. Yoga fills a need for many people, and the economy has been a significant contributor to that need. People out of work turned to yoga, as students and as teacher training consumers, and there is an economic effect that comes with that. Admittedly, I don’t know that the article deserved front page news, but it certainly could be more of an economic indicator than one might think.
“Many people lost jobs, houses, and lives (and selves) over the last decade, and how we think about ourselves has changed in social policy. People had to suddenly cope with things not being what they expected. Yoga fills a need for many people, and the economy has been a significant contributor to that need. People out of work turned to yoga, as students and as teacher training consumers, and there is an economic effect that comes with that. Admittedly, I don’t know that the article deserved front page news, but it certainly could be more of an economic indicator than one might think.”
I think yoga is about helping people find out what yoga is for him- or her-self. We tend to identify with one part of ourselves, be it race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, occupation, civic role, when we can be all of these things at the same time. We tend to classify others in much the same way, until they press against the limits we put on them and redefine them. A lot of our current social turmoil can be traced to these problems.
I am not any one of those identifiers or roles, I am all of those things. And if one of those things is lost, it does not mean I am lost. For a lot of people living in a world where their occupation, social role, and way of viewing themselves in relations to others are drastically changing, yoga is a tool to help them feel intellectually and psychologically flexible and overcome those challenges more easily.
We live in a world where The Machine of our body with a brain control system is prized most under STEM. Technology and science further our productivity and longevity, the churning of the body until it runs down. We have so othered the physical parts of ourselves from our thoughts and emotions that we are derisive of the aspects of humanity that led to those scientific innovations, the creative spirit and awareness. Those who continue to be successful under this economic system of running themselves ragged sometimes fail to acknowledge the struggles of other people who are unable to find help or relief in the educational, economic, health care, or spiritual systems and institutions we have at present.
We don’t value the human. We don’t want to have emotions, so the idea of someone becoming emotional instantly ignites little flamer fingers in the comments of people who have identified the problem and must fix it. When someone tells us they feel a certain way about something, we immediately leap up to tell them they are wrong, rather than attempt to understand their perspective. It is the most essential characteristic of our culture that we disavow subjectivity in order to serve a supposedly truth or fact-viewed world that is built on unstable ground.
We live in an era that turns upside down on a regular basis: conflicts we thought were over rise again, nations built by the Greatest Generation revert back to pre-colonial states amid civil wars, and our professions are overhauled and re-invented with technological advancement more rapidly than we can fathom. We attempt to house this chaos in a gilded cage and keep a stiff upper lip. We are astonished when this doesn’t work to assuage an inner lack of center, and we turn to our computers, smartphones, and neuroscience to explain it. We despise anything that reeks of the chicanery and the illogical statements of the arts or humanities. We think we are on the verge of eradicating the emotions that hold us back. What we are wanting is facts, facts alone are wanted in life.
We are wrong. We are ignorant, because we don’t value reading history or frankly anything that might require depth or contemplation. We are ignorant to the fact that this sort of shift in perception toward only science and industry has already happened several times over the last few thousand years, and the pendulum usually swings back. We live in a world that is grounded in our labeling ourselves and limiting ourselves, while our culture derides and demeans the aspects of humanity that help us to cope with the turmoil of our daily life.
Some people are able to expect the same sorts of things from day to day and begin to think life is truly that simple, each and every day until the one when they lose their job, house, friends, family, and entire view of how the world works. Then they need some of that silly, frivolous crap no one cares about like sociology, psychology, humanities, art, makers, builders, and the art of basic self-study and introspection.
Sometimes the most complicated or divisive dualities can be negated by accepting both may be true. I am not this or that. What am I? I am. Yoga is not this or that. Yoga is.
This philosophical tool that constantly changes is centrally concerned with integrating body and mind, emotions and thoughts. The physical practice serves as a guide to finding steadiness and ease.. The internal practice is learning not to cling to things we would like to be true if they are not universally true for others. The inner practice is about finding calm in your innate existence no matter what the circumstance of that existence is in this moment.
For some, it means a workout. For others it means a religion. For still others, it means a therapeutic form. When people think of only one of these as representing all of yoga, they diminish and even disrespect the many, many forms of yoga that have existed in a number of cultures throughout history. When we view yoga as only one of these things, just as when we make other ignorant, reductive, blanket statements, we forget or suppress all of the other people in the room who also have a valid claim to the word and idea. The goal of yoga, the history of yoga, and the science of yoga are all about seeing oneness in a multifaceted object, while still understanding why it may seem multifaceted. Our culture’s view of the human devalues perspective itself, instead of expanding it to a wider view.
The devaluing of teachers of yoga is an extension of the devaluing of teachers more generally, and the humanities, more generally still. The simultaneous increase in popularity in both the output of these devalued yoga teachers (free and cheap classes) and the increase in quantity of teachers themselves (produced by training mills), merely exposes the tensions present in our culture. We want something more out of life than this startup culture, high-tech, economic rollercoaster, illusory culture of Western material success. If we find this something more, however, we are unable to afford it, or even offended someone would be so gauche as to put a price on something either too trivial or too spiritual to be worth financially sustaining.
It is true that yoga teachers only teach yoga. The misconception is that yoga is only a single thing, when yoga is all things. This further leads to the misconception that everything priceless comes without someone paying a price.