Had a listen to the entirety of a fascinating Town Hall hosted by Yocoto to discuss the sustainability of yoga instruction, training and standards. Notes on the event are available here and here, but you can access almost the entire meeting on YouTube.

Regarding the intention of the meeting, Matthew Remski and Scott Petrie state,

We are hosting this event because the market-driven standardization of yoga has made it difficult for yoga practitioners to connect with one another around a common language. It also serves to reinforce the ghettoization of yoga into its physical practices, which do not at least on the surface require philosophical and/or social cohesion.

I was under the impression that most yoga studios were sustainable businesses. Judging by the saturation of studios in my neighbourhood, I assumed that they were by and large, very successful. This town hall really highlighted the many tensions there lies underneath what appeared to me to be a largely commercialized, profitable industry.

Some points that were brought up:

  • Studios running into the red to deliver yoga classes and relying too heavily on teacher training as a source of income
  • Students who are not interested in being taught yoga (especially anything beyond asanas), or having a student-teacher relationship. They prefer the fragmented, low commitment, drop in, work out experience
  • A glut of certified teachers in Toronto with minimal training/experience and a rise in yoga injuries
  • Lack of centralized leadership on a greater scale, studios functioning in silos
  • The desire to be normalized through (third party) procedures of standardization, auditing, certification etc., for various purposes including insurance, recognition and all the other social, financial and legal privileges that come with normalization; the related resistance to loss of flexibility and state interference
  • The fundamental challenge of practising and teaching yoga within a capitalist context

Regarding the last point, one participant wished to hold a separate meeting to discuss

… the fact that our ideals are perpetually in conflict with the business models that we engage in. Consistently. It’s heartbreaking, and I don’t think any of us know what to do about it. But we do know that we’re trying to do the best that we can within an essentially wider alienating consumer society at which competition and price cutting and forming economic allegiances is kind of the norm.

What I liked about the discussion is that participants did not get trapped into black and white, either-or scenarios. But that doesn’t mean the tension isn’t there. Because once you begin the project of normalization to access the privileges that come with it, you must begin to fit within the boundaries, and the logic of those boundaries, of normality. The modern processes of normalization, standardization, commodification, scientific measurement, etc. all go hand in hand with leaching out any forms of the radical, the subversive, the resistant.

You can see this de-radicalization with the GLBTQ community and gay marriage. You can see this with marijuana users and legalizing medical marijuana. You can see this becoming an issue with new American laws regarding psychic services like tarot reading (more on this at the Wildhunt’s Psychic Services and the Law series). There is a tension between desiring the privileges of being normalized, and fearing the oversight, the regulation, the meddling and the loss of the elements that are the source of a community’s marginalization, vibrancy and resistance. Because with normalization, a community runs the risk of having the values and logic of the normal being imposed upon them, then being internalized by them and then being reproduced by them. And right now, the values of the logic of normality, values that drive consumerism and modernity, are very much at odds with the principles and ethos of yoga.

But that’s just me framing something as a win-lose, either-or situation. And I don’t think we need to look at the future like that. To be honest, I don’t think anyone can really normalize yoga, no matter how many standards or restrictions or business models we throw at it. Yoga will have its adaptations, its bastardizations, its faddish variations, but the breath, that will never change.

More thoughts on the town hall with great comments to read at It’s All Yoga Baby. And finally, thanks to Yocoto for sharing an amazing discussion online and for taking the initiative to open up this dialogue. <3