In the 1960’s, in India, yoga had become an art form only the middle class and wealthy could afford. Everyone else was busy trying to feed their families. A Brahmin pastime, sort of like flying your Gulfstream today.
B.K.S. Iyengar said ‘the west saved yoga’, because around the same time, young people flocked to India to learn and then bring it back home (specifically the US – yoga’s second home).
Today, $27 billion is spent annually on yoga products & services in the US, $1 billion in Australia. Lululemon, the Vancouver-based yoga-apparel brand, earned $1 billion plus worldwide last year. This spend is anticipated to continue at a rate exceeding most other physical activities (about 5% a year).
When compared to other similar forms of physical activities, yoga not only dwarfs the competition, it’s the only activity experiencing steady growth. This growth has not gone unnoticed by the thousands of media artistes, studios, apparel and nutritional companies attempting to reap the benefits.
Last year, one of New York’s most famed yoga studios, Virayoga, went out of business because its owner, Yoga ‘Superstar’ Elena Brower, could not make it work financially. More yoga studios go belly up than other form of small business in the US (and probably the same elsewhere).
The average hourly rate for a yoga teacher in Singapore can be as low as $35 per class (in the US, some teachers are paid as little as $5 a class, on the basis that they are ‘new’).
Yoga is intended to teach mindfulness – the yoga industry now needs its own dose of mindfulness.
Yoga is sold through Groupon, Living Social for as little as $2.50 a class. Don’t want to pay that? Go to the growing number of festivals around all things green and spiritual or practice in your nearby park at a ‘free’ yoga event. These events often donate to charity, but it’s small compared to what companies make through sales of their ‘soulful’ goodies. People conduct yoga classes as branding exercises, donation to a worthy cause optional (it looks good).
Or go to ‘that’ store for a free yoga class. Surrounded by temptation, and of course, they didn’t think of that.
Studios offer specialized workshops, tapping into our desire for more, while preaching less. One-day workshop on wall rope yoga? 3-day workshops on meditation. Another teacher training.
The yogi consumer is spending on clothes, workshops, master classes, retreats, food, anything that may buy them that peace of mind that yoga promises.
Yoga was a practice invented to create enlightenment – not to make money.
When the money comes first and the soul second, the karmic blowback is inevitable.
My greatest fear is that the yoga will be dumbed down, to an activity that is part circus, part performance art, where Namaste is just another word for hello.
A practice originally intended as a vehicle for transcending the ego will become a vanity-driven pursuit. Already, wellness junkies share Instagram shots of kale smoothies, and ‘Monday to Friday’ yogis post selfies of figure-contorted inversions and balancing postures – 400,000 photos plus tagged #yogi on Instagram, enough for the New York Times to write a piece on it.
As depressing as this all sounds, there are some yogis who understand the great responsibility teaching yoga places on them. That we are the change we wish to create. For example, Sarah Powers, one of the Yin Yoga gurus, runs yoga teaching training to women in countries pockmarked by racial violence and poverty. She is not the only one, but there are not as many as one would like for such a ‘soulful’ industry.
We’d like to think that our growing ANZA yogi community has been based on the timeless principles of loving-kindness, friendship and selfless service. It all starts and ends with us.
If you want to be a better you, come along to our classes. All shapes, sizes and gender (we would love to see more men at our practice). We practice mindful service to others – but you will have to come along and find out how that works. And really don’t care about your fashion style, but would like you to think about who has made your clothes, and choose wisely.
We do yoga outdoors. All the negative ions – we are near a lake. Black Swans are our regular buddies, as are the old men who do Tai Chi. Some days to stand in Tadasana and feel the earth chi rising up through your feet, it is beyond description, but the notion of universal oneness springs to mind.
A large portion of our class fee goes to good deed projects (like the Cambodia River Kids), our teachers get something, and you get value for money.
Sometimes I dream of a yoga community that was that big, we could…..
Have the next 30-day ‘challenge’ donation based, from the participant and us to a charity of choice. Our class fees would include donations to a choice of mindful projects. We would have open days where people can come and do yoga for free. Our meditation workshops would be free. All our teacher trainings would have free places for people who wished to learn to teach others less advantaged than ourselves. Imagine what that community would be like?
If you would like to join us for a trial class, you are welcome – a donation would be gratefully appreciated. Otherwise you can buy class packs. Send us a message via WanderingYogi.
An edited version of this article appears in the October edition of the ANZA Magazine, Singapore. Find out more about ANZA here