The Commercialization of Yoga

WARNING: If this post reads like a rant, it’s because it is.

I moved to Vancouver in 2000, joined an ultimate team ( the popular sport at the time ),  injured myself ( just like all ultimate players eventually ) and took up yoga. When I first started yoga in 2001, I practiced for healing and restoration. I was not interested in the spiritual aspect at all, didn’t want to recite mantras, chant, etc… At that time, yoga in Vancouver was becoming more and more popular but hadn’t reached the masses yet.

A couple of years later, both myself and Vancouver were different. I no longer practiced just to exercise, but truly understood the benefits of a deeper practice. I also realized there there were all sorts of teachers. Some simply went through the motions while others actually taught! At the same time everyone was sporting Lululemon gear and you couldn’t go two block without seeing a new yoga clothing store.

At the time there were a few established studios with very reputable teachers and if you went to yoga, it was both to practice and hang out with other yogis. I remember being angry when my studio started welcoming all sorts of new teachers. First it was the crazy folks from Hong Kong who introduced chanting, singing bowls and handstand. I got over it pretty quickly, still can’t do my damn handstand, but got over the rest. Then Anusara came to town. More chanting, totally different practice, extremely polite teachers ( this was odd )… but I kept going and slowly learned to love all of this. What I now realize is that what we had was choice and variety. I loved my studio, because all the teachers were different, unique, brought their own styles, opinions and thoughts. We had a teacher (which I lovingly called the yoga Nazi) who would prevent us from leaving to go pee, or drink water, or just leave… You had to remain focused at all times. He was intense. While another used to bring singing bowls and put tuning forks on our heads during shavasana.

At the time I didn’t appreciate what we had and, of course, it was too good to last. If I could just get into that damn time machine, I would go back and do more yoga classes.

Since then, my studio got bought out.  This meant better/multiple facilities, showers, saunas, more classes, mat rental, tea lounges.. ooohhh it sounded so good. And it was, for a very long time. The studios are nice. I love the showers, mat rental, tea, lounge etc… but the variety is gone. Now that the studio is a “Brand” and offers all of these additional services it needs to bring the punters in and make them happy.

I no longer see the same strong community of yogis, but instead a community of clients who have paid good money and thus expect results and services. The teachers are still good, but they can’t teach beginners and seasoned practitioners at the same time. They’ve also been warned on many occasions, that clients need to be treated well so that they come back. In essence they need to treat students as customers who have come to the spa instead of yogis.  As you can imagine the yoga Nazi was fired a long time ago, very few teachers do any hands-on adjustments, I haven’t seen a singing bowl in 5 years, two hour classes are too long for beginners ( insert whiney voice here ), ugh.

I totally understand that one has an idea and wants to grow and empire, I get it.  If you’ve read the Starbucks story, you’ll know what Howard Schultz went through to get to what Starbucks is today. But when things get too big, people feel left out and disappointed. This wouldn’t be so bad if marketing departments didn’t just spew out newsletters requesting feedback and then not even bothering to respond.

I can hear you say it, boo hoo, poor you, just go somewhere else.

And I am, this year was my last year at my studio and I haven’t renewed my membership. I plan on doing my own practice, visiting other studios and we’ll see where it takes me. Already having been to a few other studios, I realize that there’s a world of yoga out there.

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7 thoughts on “The Commercialization of Yoga

  1. I’ve felt the same – about both Vancouver (couldn’t stand it, so I left) and yoga (left that for a while too, although sort of practicing again). My biggest rant is pseudo-teachers (I’ve had my share of real teachers, that I don’t feel bad calling most that) who word-vomit what they think to sound enlightened before/after asanas. Yoga didn’t used to be a bunch of hippie bullshit 🙂 I remember harsh adjustments and flowery talk from some of my favourite Asthanga teachers.

  2. I’m currently taking a class with a teacher who’s been teaching for over 20 years and she’s a no bullshit teacher. She has no qualms about putting you in your place right there and then. I love it.

  3. Practically everything I know about yoga, I learned from 2 DVD’s. I live in a small fly-in village with not even a gym, let alone a yoga studio. Save for a nurse who is here temporarily, I think I’m the only person in this little village of 250 people who practices yoga.

    One of the things I’m really curious about is what it’s like to be part of a yoga studio, and part of a community of yogis. I wish that were an option for me…yet I’m a bit nervous about the experience putting a damper on my whole yoga experience.

    A few weeks ago, I was in a city in the south, visiting over the Christmas holiday, and I popped into a Lululemon shop. It was past New Year’s, but it still teemed with people eager for post-holiday sales. Everything was so commercialized, ridiculously overpriced and generic. It made me appreciate my at-home practice in my 10$ tights and even cheaper tank top…It made me appreciate my practice that’s about the practice…not about image.

    I hope, when I do make the move back to a city in the south, I can find a yoga studio that promotes an authentic practice rather than a commercial façade.

    • Hi Jodi, Thanks for stopping by and posting your thoughts. My only suggestions to you is to try as many as you can. There are some amazing studios out there and some don’t have showers, but once you’ve found a community, it’s very inspiring. And yeah, you don’t need fancy schmancy yoga gear.

  4. I totally see what you mean. My solution is to travel to India regularly to put things back into perspective. And of course my home practice helps. I strongly believe that self practice can teach us more (on a personal level) than blindly following a led class all the time.

    • Hi Andrea,
      Yes you’re absolutely right. Having a home practice is essential. I do like to go to the studio to balance it out though, otherwise, I catch myself not doing the poses that I dislike. 🙂

  5. I completely agree with you. I dislike how commercial things have gotten. As a student this meant less variety. Now as a teacher it often feels like wearing handcuffs and trying to do a handstand.
    “They’ve also been warned on many occasions, that clients need to be treated well so that they come back.”
    This has led to big egos and white-washed teaching. I feel it everytime I walk into the classroom and struggle to stay connected with the roots of my teachings rather than the cashbox of the studio. I want to be asked to teach, but I don’t want to lose my integrity.

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