Usually, when I sit down to write a blog, I know vaguely what I’m going to say. At the very least I really know the message I want to communicate. Today is a little different, I know there is something I want to say to all of you, but I’m struggling with what exactly that is! I’m going to just let it flow and see where we find ourselves in a few minutes.
I've been on a wild ride with the yoga “biz.” Many of you may not know, but I hold a five year degree in Engineering Physics. Thats right. Before I was living in stretchy pants and learning sanskrit, I was working in a solid state physics lab working with lasers and crystals (an entirely different variety than the ones said to open your heart or protect you from “bad energy.”) My story is not the point of this post, so I won’t get bogged down However, I wanted to illustrate that many of us who have dedicated our lives to the transmission of healing arts practices gave up another kind of life, one that perhaps would have granted more security and safety financially, would have granted more “esteem” in the eyes of society. And most of us did it for love.
I gave up life as a physicist, because I wanted to heal, and I wanted to understand even more of the mystery of our existence. I felt that even physics could not go beyond a certain point and yoga philosophy (and practice) DID. Once I saw real, concrete results—that in fact we could transform our lives, we could use our consciousness to make friends with ourselves, we could heal ourselves a little at a time— I felt that it was incredibly important to share those techniques with others.
Fast forward to today. I now “own” a Yoga studio. I am immersed in the world of commerce, and of service, and it is not anything like what I expected it would be. I’ll be honest, it has broken my heart in many ways. I would like to make a bold claim:
Yoga is not a commodity to be manipulated and designed to suit popular trends and fashions. It is not another identity to be collected and worn about. It is a collection of rich cultural traditions and philosophies, physical practices and observances and above all, a relationship with ourselves, our teachers and our world.
We need physical spaces in which to learn and come together in community. I do not believe we can make much progress with only our iphones and an online tutorial, though those lessons may be convenient, and extremely helpful in dealing with specific issues. The mystical connection between teacher, student and peers is an important one.
When I began to practice, it was in a small college town in Oklahoma. It was the only studio in town, and it happened to be run by a yogi who was (and is) extremely dedicated to transmitting the practices authentically and without a lot of “dressing up.” It was my mission when I made an agreement with the inner voice that was guiding me here, to carry on this tradition of radical authenticity, of fearless commitment to healing in my own studio. After nearly two years, I am struggling to maintain this. I have been challenged forcefully by the giant monster of capitalism, consumerism, over-saturation as well as confusion, fashion and competition and economic fear.
Did you know the average lifespan of a yoga studio in the United States is only about 2 years? How can this be?! Anyone who has dedicated even a small amount of practice with physical yoga, breath-work and/or meditation techniques will likely tell you that, THEY WORK. My own story, as well as the stories of countless others attest to the fact these practices, and the community support that accompanies them can bring RADICAL change and healing to our lives (or even just small, incremental changes!). Diabetes, mental instability, anxiety, grief, addiction, chronic pain, auto immune disorders, severe back and neck pain, isolation, loneliness and despair—there are innumerable stories of incredible healing or improvement of these kinds of health issues through yoga practice. Although Diety worship and spirituality— soul work— can be used with these practices, the philosophy absolutely supports completely secular practice, AND the alternative. You do not have to believe anything to use them, this means that people from all walks of life, all belief systems can come together in the exact same space to utilize these techniques.
So why are our studios closing and being bought and sold constantly? Why is it so hard for an experienced teacher to be able to cover even their most basic monthly expenses? Why do yoga studios have to depend on selling clothes, nick knacks and other services as well as high price point offerings such as teacher trainings (many that do not even scratch the surface of the information and experience needed to adequately teach!? )
In the United States alone, we spend over 3.2 TRILLION dollars on mainstream health care. This is a number so large it actually loses its meaning. 3,000,000,000,000. That is so many zeros that my vision starts to blur…..Yet it seems that it is challenging to ask even $15 for one yoga class. In many places, you can use your health insurance benefits at a chiropractors office, but the places dedicated to health practices which are more effective long-term than almost any other form of therapy in many cases, are going out of business left and right. In many cases we have fundamentally CHANGED the practices so that more people come—just so we can keep prices down and beat out the studio down the street. This is unacceptable. It is heartbreaking. And it is something that will ultimately rob us of an incredible wealth of healing practices.
We must resist the force of commercialism that is so ingrained in our society when it comes to our physical health and the health of our culture. We have to resist the isolation that our devices lead us into. We have to honestly ask ourselves what we will lose if the yoga studio dies—and it will— if we no longer support these community spaces. We have to ask ourselves, “How can we support deeper understanding, safe and compassionate teaching, how can I use yoga practice to bring my individual gifts into this deeply troubled society, without checking out of it?”
Frankly, we have to stop relying on over-saturating a system of health and healing that is not yet well understood in the west, with more misunderstanding, more trends, and more brands. We have to stop quitting our jobs and our education and throwing out work in the world in the name of spiritual growth, and we have to start doing those jobs with more intelligence, compassion and creativity. This is the most valuable result of good practice. I’m also asking myself these difficult questions. Did I abandon gifts that could be helpful in solving some of the environmental crisis that we are collectively facing, because I wanted to be a yogi? I’m not sure I know the answer to that yet.
Over the past few months, I have sat for hours and hours looking at spreadsheets, pouring over financial statements and budgets trying to understand how to keep Om Shala afloat when attendance continues to drop, and I continue to hear from community members that they simply can’t afford it. I feel fiery and passionate about solving this issue, not simply for the financial sake of my own family, but for the person who was like me ten years ago, asleep, suffering deeply, and a victim of their culture, their history and their own chaotic mind. I am on fire to understand the issue deeply, and take real action to correct my own misunderstanding. I want to support only teachers who are deeply, deeply immersed in improving their teaching and understanding, their commitment to helping others from a place of balanced, and well-rooted practice. This takes YEARS, not 200 hours.
I have changed our pricing structure to be simple in an effort to reach you and meet you where you are. I am writing letters and collecting research on the benefits of yoga practice to lobby our health insurance providers, community health organizations and businesses who may be willing to help off-set costs of yoga classes to benefit public health. I am looking for your stories. I want to hear how yoga has helped you. I want concrete examples. I want to have a pile of evidence so huge and convincing that people like Samantha Akers, who is an absolute jewel in our community, continues to have a space to offer her gifts, regardless of the financial situation of her students.
Yoga does not make us different people, it isn’t yet another costume to wear. It gives us tools. Tools that bring us into power and out of victimhood. Please support the physical spaces and experienced teachers who make it possible to share these tools in community, because one day you may look around and really need them, but they may have vanished into the mist of tropical retreats, you tube tutorials and instagram yoga— the tools and guidance you need may exist only in the mind and heart of a teacher who gave up, discouraged and unable to pay their rent. Help me help this community. Send me your stories.
You can send your testimonials to Kelly@omshalayoga.com, and they can of course be anonymous if that is a concern for you.