Last week during my short visit to France I led an informal “meditation soirée” for a group of people in Paris. We were sitting in the very well appointed parlor of my dear friend’s apartment in 1st arrondissement (near the Louvre). The apartment was built in the 1700s and had wonderful air of mystique. The streets around it had seen so much history! They had seen the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire! They had seen World War I, and, of course, they had witnessed the Occupation by the Nazis during WWII. I was told that the Nazi’s headquarters in Paris was just a short walk from where we were meeting. As we sat there, I remembered the valiant men of women of the French Resistance.
Quick history recap: In case you forgot, when the Nazis came into France in 1940, the French government surrendered to and then collaborated with the Nazis. Most of the French population had no choice but to cope with the occupation, but there was a smaller, activated brave group of men and women who fought back, aided allied troops, provided valuable intelligence, and ultimately aided in the liberation of France in 1944. And they looked super cool too.
But that’s not the point. That Friday evening, the group gathered was made up of seekers, teachers, and dear colleagues who all had something in common: they were NOT into corporate, superficial yoga. I taught about the power of vision and led some deep meditations. We weren’t in a yoga studio sitting on rubber mats, we were in a living room, sipping tea, and going deep. After the session I had a conversation with Anne Vandewalle and Marc Holzman. Anne is a stalwart of the non-superficial yoga scene in Paris and Marc spends half of every year teaching yoga and Ayurveda there. Like any professionals talking shop, we gossiped a little, talked about our current projects and gave each other some good peer support. All three of us are “senior” teachers and have seen – and in some cases been a part of – many modern yoga movements over the years. We’ve seen a lot “out there” and we’ve also had the chance to live decades of our lives while trying to keep up the practices and (more importantly) live the teachings of yoga. You might know by now that I am doing some really cool collaborations with Adriana Rizzolo. She was with me in Paris and was part of the conversation, too. It feels so good to dish with other teachers who are on the same wavelength! Anyway, at some point I realized that we were part of a movement – a sort of yogic resistance movement.
Like France in WWII, mainstream yoga has clearly been overrun and conquered by corporate America and has surrendered. Over the past 30 years or so Yoga has gone from being a spiritual practice, to a part of the alternative medicine movement, to part of the wellness industry, to the star of the fitness industry to nowadays being a part of the “beauty” industry. Think about that for a moment. And it’s not just physical āsana based yoga either. Meditation has been co-opted by corporate America in the form of mindfulness. Yoga-rooted devotional music is now its own industry with music festivals and concerts in massive halls. I could go on, but I really don’t want to harp too much here. Just to say, the teachers became studios and the studios became companies and the companies became corporations that let many of the essential elements of yoga slip through the cracks of their business plans. Social media can either be a great platform for teachings and teachers, or it can be a way for very superficial “industry” stuff to gain popularly and influence – deserved or not.
Full disclosure I and many of my esteemed colleagues have benefitted from this yoga-boom. But many of us feel it has gone too far and there needs to be some balance. We want to make super conscious choices to teach the from the deep-end of the yoga pool. To balance the over emphasis on exercise-based gym yoga āsana classes, we will focus our āsana classes on alignment, nervous system balancing, and therapeutics. To balance the over-emphasis on the physical, we will continue to teach inner practices like meditation, mantra, and kundalini science. To balance the trends of compartmentalization, spiritual bypass, and hypocrisy, we will keep practicing and teaching the embodiment of teachings in our lives. As teachers we will go to therapy and seek the counsel of senior teachers. To balance the beauty-centric, heteronormative, westernized, patriarchal aspects of corporate yoga we will continue to examine our own privilege, strive to include more LGBT/POC voices and continue to visit and practice in and lead trips to India, keeping the practices and teachings grounded in their tradition. To balance the trend of assembly-line yoga teacher training, we will conduct in-depth, ongoing training programs and we ourselves will keep learning and training always.
Will you join us? Will you help us resist corporate yoga and keep yoga real?
In the body of this article I have mentioned and linked to a few of my colleagues that I consider co-resistance teachers, a few others include Gabriel Halpern, Hareesh Wallis, Nikki Costello, Sally Kempton, Stephanie Snyder, Parvathy Baul, Matt Kahn, Scott Schwenk, David Elliot, Susanna Harwood Rubin, Mirabai Starr and Mark Whitwell – just to name a few. And please forgive me if I left you or your favorite teachers out. I’d love it if you could post yours in the comment area below.