As you begin your journey of becoming a yoga instructor, one silly issue that is bound to come up is “Yoga Politics.” What exactly does this mean? Well, like in any industry the ego will find its way into individuals intentions and basically taint it so that even those who are well intentioned lose sight of the goal and focus more on what they think is more important rather then the end result. The politics of yoga can be very disheartening if you are not aware of it and this article will point out some things to look out for so that you have an opportunity to not fall into this downward spiral.
In the “do good” and “lets change the world” movement, there are many people who really have beautiful intentions. Lets face it; this world could use some love and adjustments in how we go about our day-to-day lives. However, there are many individuals who lose sight on the end result and can focus more on their way being “the” way of solving a problem
Whether someone’s approach is environmental, charity/cause, health, yoga, personal growth, spirituality, and so forth…many can get lost in thinking that their way of changing the world is the only way of going about it. And in yoga, this is the case as well. Yoga politics is a sad case of the ego finding its way in something that is meant to be “good” and trying to turn it into something that causes hurt feelings and separation.
One of the most common arguments or discussions that you will hear as you start to insert yourself in the “yoga industry” is how many teachers and studios will argue that certain styles or practices is not yoga. Styles such as power yoga and even today’s version of Hatha yoga, many will argue is not true yoga because it does not have a spiritual practice to it. And while this may be intrinsically correct from a historical perspective, since yoga has come to the West, it’s methods and meaning have changed to fit what is relevant in the Western world. Does this mean it does not impact peoples lives in a positive way?
Many will argue that this is a bad thing and that it should not change. However, others could argue that with any art such as music and literature, it is constantly evolving and changing to fit what is relevant in the environment it is being produced from. Yoga originally was a spiritual practice where one devoted themselves to their guru and went through a process of spiritual cleansing. The physical asana practice was not even introduced until much later. Does this mean what teachers such as B.K.S. Iyengar taught was not yoga?
While yoga in the West is hardly practiced in the same way it started in India, as the saying goes, “Change is the only constant.” Basically, just like art and music, people are taking bits and pieces of other peoples perspectives and then modifying it with their own take and now calling this yoga. Just look around and you can see that people will call almost anything yoga. So is this bad? Does this mean that if you as a teacher decide to make your own version of yoga that somehow you are desecrating the name of yoga for others?
When addressing the politics of yoga, one sad issue that you will be faced with is that some teachers and sects of the community will somehow think that their yoga is better then yours. They may not say it outright, but their essence will convey it loud and clear. Yoga means so many things to so many people these days and as you make your stand in the world as a yoga instructor, you are going to need to have the confidence and strong sense of self to stay true to who you are and not get caught up in yoga politics.
Another issue that may come your way is whether or not to register with the Yoga Alliance. Many in the community feel the YA is a scam and that their should not be any regulation of yoga. While others in the community will argue that the Yoga Alliance is nothing more then a group of people extorting money from teachers and schools so that they can list a few letters next to their name. Basically the same way corporate driven organizations will make you “pay to play,” it is argued they are doing the same exact thing.
Another issue of the politics of yoga is that some will argue that you are not ready to teach. One of the biggest debates in the community is “When is a student ready to become a yoga teacher?” And because there is no law or definitive answer to this question, then there are as many different responses as there is yoga poses. Many people will say that if you have had one year of dedicated practice then you are ready to start. Others will say a few years. And others will say when your teacher tells you you’re ready.
At first the politics of yoga can seem a bit overwhelming. All of a sudden this thing you love so much and felt was so pure now feels like it is tainted. That somehow this thing that changed your life now feels like its just negative as any other business out there. But the truth is that what is really happening here is that the negative ego will find a way to insert itself into anything it can. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the yoga industry. And there is nothing even wrong with some debate when people’s opinions differ. The real issue here is how these discussions are unraveling and how others in the community are interacting with each other when their opinion differs from another.
My mother used to work with the Self-Realization Fellowship started by Paramahansa Yogananda. In the 80’s she became a devotee of his and by the time I was eight years old I was frequenting the Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades. After some time she moved up the ranks (per se) and took on more responsibility there. As her role evolved, she started to notice a lot of bickering with people having different opinions on how to change the world. It became so overwhelming to her (mainly because she thought that everyone there was well-behaved) that she was disheartened by the whole thing and stopped working with them.
The point of this article on yoga politics is not to dishearten you from taking your yoga teacher training and becoming a yoga teacher. Quite the contrary as the intention behind this article is to make you aware of it so that when it comes your way, you are not taken back by it. Many people who start off working with a charity, a green company, or a health cause are so motivated by their passion to help change the world. Then they start to see the politics of it all and this keeps them from wanting to continue with their efforts.
So as you start your path of teaching yoga, just be aware that yoga politics do exist and to just do the best you can and not get caught up in it. Remember that the ego is a tricky character and can figure out ways of distorting anything good, including yoga. So remember who you are, stay focused, and use your yoga practice to not get sucked into the politics of yoga!
By: Sergio DiazGranados
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