Is the rising popularity of yoga both a blessing and a curse?
Doctors take a Hippocratic oath to uphold ethics and standards in the medical field. In the yoga industry, I’m starting to wonder if we take a hypocritical oath: preach healing, practice injuring.
Now, I’m not talking about everyone in the industry. I’ve been a teacher, myself, for nearly 20 years, and learned from and practiced with talents and minds that have truly shaped the path of yoga. But as yoga grows more popular, I can’t help but notice the changing chi. Here, in my hometown of Sarasota, Florida, there used to be one yoga studio when I began practicing. Now, I can hardly keep track of the new ones, which are opening up like a blossoming lotus. And the more the studios spread, the more the traditions—and trainings—get diluted.
While I love the attention that yoga is receiving, I can’t help but cock my head like a curious cocker spaniel, as I listen to people talk openly about their quest, not for self-growth on a deep and meaningful level, but for bigger guns fromtheir yoga practices. I’ve seen a studio that offers nearly every pop yoga du jour trend, while cranking out teacher trainings like a puppy mill. The owner doesn’t seem to care that the trainers of the teachers have less than one year of actual teaching experience. Really?
I saw another studio with a photo of young teachers doing a Fallen Angel pose, inviting visitors to “Come Get Your Zen On, Y’all!” When I read taking away is this slogan: “Why not try? We are only a few miles from the hospital!”
I don’t want to be a scaremonger, but I do want my beloved industry to embrace ahimsa (non-violence). And I want yoga students to be aware that just because it looks like a lotus and just because it smells like a lotus, it isn’t necessarily a lotus. Does a lotus even smell, by the way?
As it stands, anyone can become a yoga instructor, with or without training. Anyone can open up a yoga studio, with or without skills. Even though yoga is a practice that, today, is often preceded or followed by the word “healing,” in fact, yoga does have the power to do harm. Particularly if you get a poorly trained instructor who has no knowledge of sequencing.
Last summer, I auditioned teachers for my studio and it was a great opportunity for me to practice non-judgment. Maybe I should be practicing pratyahara, a withdrawing of the senses, rather than spending my energy wondering about how we filter or don’t filter our yoga teachers. But from what I’ve seen, I worry that maybe we should add a new limb to yoga —trauma yama baby!
Of course, there’s also a high level of accountability for each yoga participant. The truth is, the American body, as it is today, is not exactly at its prime. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 69.2 percent adults 20 years and older are overweight or obese. The CDC also found that only about 20 percent of adults 18 years and older met the physical activity guidelines for aerobic and muscle strengthening activity. Translation: we’re too sedentary and, because of that, we tend to lack body awareness. That can lead to injuries when a man or woman starts any new kind of exercise program.
I see these injuries all the time: strained wrists, lower back pain, pulled hamstrings, neck pain and injuries. They stem from overzealous yoginis and inexperienced instructors who leap in, full speed ahead, and ignore the pain messages their bodies communicate.
When I began practicing yoga, it was a true leap of faith. I was a stressed out businesswoman seeking calm and relaxation. My friends encouraged me to try yoga, and, after many protests, I begrudgingly agreed. What I found changed my life. For the first time that I could remember, I felt at peace. All of my frustrations and physical pain melted away.
Today, 20 years later, I’ve come a long way in my yoga studies. I’ve worked hard and studied hard, registering with the Yoga Alliance at the highest possible levels as an RYT 500 and E-RYT 500 instructor (and paid lots of fees to do so, but that’s a discussion for another day), while training dozens of instructors, in the process. But as yoga becomes more popular and training becomes more careless, I feel that sense of stress creeping back.
Yoga teachers are in a conundrum. Many of us want to uphold high standards, and yet, as small business owners, many of us also oppose formallicensing by local, state and federal government.Because of that, we search for a happy medium.
Right now, I’ve found calm and strength in training capable and confident instructors, getting the word out to the public about what to look for in a yoga instructor and encouraging students to do their homework when researching yoga studios. I’ll continue to do that, and, along the way, practice plenty of ahimsa and remember to keep breathing.
Won’t you join me?
Lynn Burgess’ Top 3 Tips for Vetting a Yoga Studio
- Ask the instructor what kind of experience and certification he or she has.
- Look into the studio where the instructor was trained (i.e. find out if it’s a puppy mill of yoga instruction).
- Ask for references.