Over the last few years I’ve been open, actually over the decade plus I’ve been practicing, an industry has risen. Not all of it represents the same thing as what yoga means to me. We are Type A Yoga because when I started practicing, Type A personalities were the least likely to try yoga, and the ones most likely to be helped. Unfortunately, in the years since, the practice of yoga in some areas has grown progressively more Type A: competitive, impatient, shallow, materialistic, driven past the point of safety, and “posier-than-thou.”
The reasons for this shift remind me of working for Kinko’s Copies in the early 1990s. We underwent a lengthy off-site training where we learned a lot about the business, including its history and information about the founder, but mostly how to follow processes and procedures of various departments. Just like I learned in an intensive quick program what it meant to fill out an order for double-sided copies cut to thirds, yoga students are graduating from programs in droves knowing how to put everyone in a Warrior I that is Program-Approved. Some corporate studios are able to accommodate hundreds of new teacher-trainees a year– for thousands of dollars each– and smaller mom-and-pop studios are struggling to compete with this newer, more fitness-oriented representation of the practice.
Worse, I’ve seen some of the people from these programs use their recent, sometimes superficial education, as a weapon against others. Rather than using their studies as a springboard for exploration of the hundreds of various traditions in yoga that have emerged over the centuries, I’ve seen newer instructors tell other teachers they’re “wrong” for teaching from a different tradition, try to bully them into following prescriptive methods they themselves don’t fully understand, judge students for not doing complicated enough poses or not pushing themselves hard enough, and restrict their view of yoga to only following a rote script they blindly follow because their one teacher told them to do it that way.
The emergence of massive corporations and fitness chains getting into the “yoga business” has caused it to become more of a cut-throat industry. In the short four years I’ve been open, I’ve seen at least a half dozen Mom & Pop shops collapse under the pressures of a tight economy, increasing rents, stricter employment laws, or some facilities catastrophe, and hundreds of new teachers entering a market news organizations claim is one of the fastest growing job markets.
All the while, yoga students learning within this system value the practice less and less and learn less of its internal lessons. In the time we’ve been open, we’ve had people lie about their name to get a free promotion a second or even third time, repeatedly skip out without paying, rudely throw their ID at front desk people trying to check them in, complain about other students in their class taking up their precious space and time, and threaten to extort Yelp reviews if we don’t comp them free classes. None of these behaviors is in alignment with yoga ethos, and I had to question where as a school we’d gone wrong.
The more we tried to create an atmosphere of welcoming non-judgment inclusive of all people and bodies, the more resistance we got from people who demanded fewer people in their way and more Corepower classes at times that were convenient for them (but times at which no one, including them, attended!) Many of us came to yoga from an impatient, frustrated place, so we understood that it takes time to experience the internal benefits, but after years of practice our students seemed to be more disconnected from what yoga meant to us. It seemed the more effort we put into serving our students looking for hardcore yoga practices, the more they exhibited behaviors contrary to yoga philosophy.
Many of these students came to yoga as a result of reading studies about the health benefits of yoga. However, the styles of yoga taught in many of these studies are NOT the styles that students are taking, and there is no guarantee that they will experience the associated health benefits. In some cases, students are referred by doctors who are familiar with the slow, calm, meditative practices of yoga, and then they take classes that tax their bodies, energy levels, and cause them to risk further exacerbating their conditions!
When we moved to Martinez from our Pleasant Hill location, one of the things we wanted to change was this huge schism between what the practice means to us, and how our students were practicing it. I deeply believe that an excessive focus on asana, the poses, causes a superficial and flawed understanding of yoga. Although many people start with asana and move into the other eight limbs, it is becoming harder and harder to find classes that will teach them!
This cultural shift in perception of yoga from an inner practice of openness and empathy, joining people together, to a quick way to get a tight butt and 6 pack abs causes many people view yoga as just another Zumba exercise fad that they will pick up and drop when the next fad comes along. That the practice could teach them to move beyond fads and find something that can help them make day-to-day choices that lead to lifelong transformation rarely seems to come up.
Some of the oldest and greatest studios of the Bay Area are closing due to these market pressures. Students who want to feel like they need to kick up into handstand because everyone else is doing it, regardless of the health and safety to their shoulder girdle, neck, and spine, have ample choices. People recovering from chemotherapy, PTSD, neck injuries, surgery, neurological disorders, obesity, or even just looking for a space that allows them to explore body awareness without pressure or negativity, these people are finding it harder and harder to find a welcoming home.
If your view of yoga is a 20-something, size 2 former professional gymnast wearing the Right Brand of pants and using the latest $200 mat doing 108 Sun Salutations to warm up for her Acro-Contortionist Aerial PaddleBoard TRX Yoga-Pilates Fusion class, there are dozens of options available to you. If you want to learn more about how to restrain the fluctuations of thought that hold you back from your full potential and replace them with something more productive, your options are becoming more limited each day these studios fold under market pressure. If you want a studio that considers savasana an afterthought, I can name several. If you want a studio that will guide you into practices to manage the inner monkey mind, frantically swinging from random thought to random thought in every moment of stillness, we can help.
Asana practice is VERY important, and I in no way want to tell people not to practice it. Too many people suffer from work or activity related pain that can easily be managed and even prevented. Our sedentary lifestyle leads to many physical problems that can be corrected with a diligent yoga practice.
However, solely focusing on the physical can render a practice as only going skin-deep. The body is of the material world and as such, there will be times when it fails. There will be times you’re injured or dealing with a serious medical condition, times when people need yoga the most to remember that what is happening isn’t the same as who they are. There need to be yoga classes in our community that support you when the most shallow part of our practice, the body, does what bodies will all do, sooner or later. The material world changes, decays, renews. We don’t teach bodies: we teach people.
When we moved to our new location in 2014, we redesigned our studio from the ground up. With our membership model we’ve built a real sense of community. Our students make friends in their classes, we have more community events and are more active in charitable causes. Our students are experiencing real overall life transformations in their anxiety levels, interpersonal communications, and various aspects of their work lives from focus to dealing with difficult coworkers. We have the time and space to check in with each of our students on a meaningful and personal level.
Some of our students have gone through things over the last year that make it hard to get to class. For this reason, we’re starting a number of new classes that teach the inner practices of yoga more explicitly, although still from a secular and scientifically grounded perspective. Students who’ve undergone surgery or are recovering from an injury or condition need yoga more than ever, but there are few classes in the East Bay available to them.
The business aspect of yoga means that there are more gyms that do “yoga”, more fitness instructors watching tapes and teaching poorly understood sequences and routines, more people glancing at a brief handout on philosophy they got in training (a handout that may even contain things that are overly reductive or culturally ignorant.) There are fewer and fewer places representing open-mindedness, continuing study both internal and textual, and sitting quietly in stillness.
We’ll still offer active asana classes, but we choose to represent a yoga experience that we believe is fundamentally necessary, one that helps combat the negative health effects of a Type A Personality-world. Unfortunately, many people recently entering the yoga world think that yoga is a tool to enable them to be more Type A, without recalling that the origins of the expression are connecting these tendencies to an increased risk of health problems and premature death. There are many, many places to get the Latest Yoga Fitness Fad. There are fewer and fewer places to get a Scientifically-Supported Therapeutic Practice.
We are proud to expand our schedule in therapeutics and inner yoga practices to help you make yoga a tool that improves every aspect of your life, not just your muscles.