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yoga culture

Yoga Culture: Selfless or Selfish?

I started my own personal yoga journey back in 2008. I was a brand new yoga student, with yogic knowledge limited to what I had seen or heard on movies and television. My mat was a basic $15 version from target, and I wore exercise clothes purchased at the second hand thrift shop. My introduction to yoga came in the form of donation-based classes held in a church basement. Nothing about the dawn of my yoga career was glamorous. But it was this humble practice that I fell in love with, and that has kept me coming back to my mat for the past eight years. My dance and gymnastics background, coupled with my natural anatomy and ability proved useful in my yoga practice, and I advanced quickly through intermediate and advance poses. But it was not the Asana (physical postures) that had me returning to my mat day after day. The subtle energetic experiences ignited my desire to take my practice deeper, study meditation, yogic philosophy and ultimately pursue a 230 hour Yoga Teacher Training at the Yoga Center of Minneapolis in 2015.

 As my yogic journey progressed, I could not help but notice the stark contrast between the yoga that I loved and practiced and the yoga of the ‘mainstream’ yoga community and culture. When I was practicing on a $15 piece of rubber, my fellow students were on $90 mats. While I was wearing a thrifted outfit costing at a max $40, other yogis were sporting $100 yoga pants, custom crystal prayer beads and were taking fabulously expensive retreats to Bali in the name of enlightenment and self-realization.

 Nowhere in the yogic texts does it mention the need to accumulate fancy yoga ‘stuff’ as a means of developing a personal practice or gaining self-realization. In fact, the foremost yogic texts: The Yoga Sutras by Sri Patanjali  and Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Yogi Hari , evoke the idea of losing ones ego, simple living and selflessness. Yogic culture is ‘cool’, I get it, that’s why I teach upwards of twelve yoga classes a week- but at what cost? Making the yogic culture a commodity to be consumed only by those with disposable income and time to kill, makes the practice exclusionary: the opposite of the intent of the founders and wise masters. Western Yoga and wellness culture has unfortunately become elitist, where the degree of your ‘awakening’ is determined on the dollar amount your willing to shell out.  

 The practice of yoga is intended to give rise to personal liberation through movement, breath work and meditation. This personal liberation is attained when mind and body are one, and the soul is reawakened to the idea that all beings are inherently spiritual and interconnected. Yoga asks that the seeker freely lose the sense of ego; the sense of self.  

 Another underlying principle of yogic philosophy is the idea of impermanence. This life and all the worldly things included in it are impermanent: they wont last. They are not eternal; they are not ‘divine’.  What is eternal is the soul, spirit or in other words your actions, your good deeds. The impressions and impacts you create into the world will last long after you are gone, long after your ‘stuff’ disappears.

 Don’t get me wrong- I love me a good pair of yoga pants, a cute Lululemon top (only if it is severely on sale), and if I had the disposable income a yoga retreat somewhere beautiful and tropical would be ah-mazing. But face it yogis, our current culture is paradoxical. A practice that is aimed at giving rise to selflessness produces a lot of selfishness. A community that is purported at being peace-full and loving can be seen as competitive and exclusionary, I know because I have personally experienced this.

 I need to mention this, and honestly I could dedicate an entire blog to his topic, but the inherent white privilege that is in the yoga community is alarming. This elitist yogic culture of the west is rooted in white privilege.  Yoga is seemingly identified as a ‘white-centric’ practice. Let me acknowledge my own white privilege. I grew up in a wealthy, suburb where white privilege runs deep. Thankfully I woke up through some fantastic social justice classes, and fabulous professors at Hamline University.  We need to recognize the flaws within our community before we can evoke change. And change needs to happen. I love yoga, it is my passion, my profession and my life, but I can’t stay silent.

 So what can we do? For starters, as yoga teachers it is imperative to create a safe and welcoming environment in your classes for EVERYONE. The teacher sets the tone for the class, so be mindful of your words, environment and the culture you are creating by your energy, clothing ect.

 Yoga is a personal practice. It is not a contest, nor a competition. Consider creating classes that are open to your community, and can reach a wider demographic- try offering a donation-based class.  Not only will this provide a positive service in your community, but also it will give you a larger reach to grow your own yoga business. Actively engage in your community and be knowledgeable about current events. Yoga teachers are just that- teachers! And as teachers it is imperative that we are knowledgeable and informed, not just about poses and anatomy, but about the current climate in our communities and how these events may impact our classes and students.  

 If you are interested in a down to earth yoga practice, please consider attending one of my donation based drop-in classes weekly: Mindful Flow, located at Svasti Yoga – a community yoga studio dedicated to making all students feel welcomed. Lets collect moments and experiences not things.

Namaste, Kara.