I love yoga, and I’m a huge believer in the myriad, health, healing and emotional benefits of a yoga practice. Yoga is great for anyone and everyone who wants to try it. However, I have my doubts about the cliques and communities that surround the reemergence of yoga as a widespread practice.
Yoga is fantastic, what’s not to love?
I love yoga, I like how it makes me feel, I embrace the peace I feel during a session, and it helps to keep my joints nicely flexible (now that I no longer dance). It helps with joint and backache and maintaining an active and supportive core. Also, I have expounded the benefits of yoga to friends and family alike; I’ve even encouraged my husband to join me to lengthen his hamstrings.
However, I do wish it wasn’t such a drain on the finances.
I am a member of two online yoga communities, and I utilise their programmes to the fullest, but it doesn’t replace the sense of community within a group, or the opportunity for feedback on the correct alignment of poses.
I believe that yoga has benefits for everyone, old and young, thin and fat, flexible and stiff or fit and inactive. Unfortunately, I don’t think yoga is accessible to everyone.
Given that yoga is an ancient practice, with its roots in spirituality, it’s emergence in western culture as part of a fitness regimen it something other than its origins intended.
A Brief History of Yoga in the West
Initially, yoga was “discovered” by intellectuals from the west in the mid 19th century, but although Indra Devi brought yoga to Hollywood in the first half of the 20th Century, it didn’t gain traction until the 1950s and 60s. In 1954 a Romanian religious scholar and student, Mircea Eliade, published Le Yoga: Immortalité et Liberté, which became the most comprehensive and widely cited source on yoga in the west.
When B.K.S Iyengar published Light on Yoga in 1966, Yogi Bhajan settled in California in 1968 to teach Kundalini yoga, and in the 1970s K. Pattabhi Jois, founded Ashtanga yoga, and taught in both the U.S. and Australia.
It is not particularly surprising that yoga practise, both physical and spiritual saw a significant increase at the dawn of the post-modern era. When freedom and liberation of social constriction began to relax, when social and economic inequalities became more evident, and when life began to become more stressful with changing cultures and norms. People went looking for something that would bring their lives back into balance and harmony.
Modern yoga practise
Yoga has maintained a position in the world, but the increasing different forms and types of yoga have blossomed into a booming and highly lucrative business. From wealthy individuals cashing in on the creation of expensive and exclusive ‘retreats’, to apparel marketing to the yoga crowd, and dedicated yoga spaces. Yoga and all its derivatives have become elitist shades of their origins.
You may not know that most yoga poses don’t date back any further than the mid-19th century. Before the western discovery of yoga, the primary focus of yoga practise was meditation and breathing. There have been claims to have found texts that date back farther, some even written on palm leaves, but the evidence is yet to surface.
There is nothing wrong with the evolution of yoga, especially as life, spirituality, and communication have changed drastically in the past 200 years. My primary objection has to stem from the unbalanced and greedy commercialisation of a practice that venerates balance and harmony.
Exclusive Yoga – My problem
You may have seen the photos of yoga bodies that adorn posters and internet banner ads for yoga communities and classes. How about the ones that display specific yoga attire?
Yes, you’ve seen them. They are still ubiquitous in yoga circles, no matter how many emerging campaigns for equality show up. There has been a recent revolution in yoga photographs and articles showing a fuller-figured woman doing yoga. However, there seems to be a lack of larger men in these articles, although there seem to be plenty of older men (perhaps a throwback to yoga’s origins?).
Exclusivity doesn’t just apply to body appearance. If you arrive at a yoga studio and check out the people in your class, look at what they are wearing, and what they carry in with them. You will see a slew of matching logos on pants, tops, mats (and other tools), headbands, and bags.
There frequently feels like a sense in the air when I go to a new yoga class (to get any alignment tips when I think I’m not doing well), of “You can’t be serious about your practice, you don’t have all the right gear.”
The path to enlightenment seems to be populated by snobs.
Yoga for the middle classes
I genuinely believe that price is one of the most significant barriers to enjoyment and participation in yoga for everyone.
I’m a member of a gym, and I pay €40 per month for the privilege. It’s close to the average price for the region, and for €40 per month; I get access to the swimming pool, the cardio gym, the weights gym and all of the available classes. Unfortunately, there is no yoga class, but I have unlimited access to this gym, if I wanted to I could spend all day, every day, there.
There are several yoga studios in the city, and the cheapest of them charge €10 per session if I pay as I go. Therefore, I can have only one yoga session per week before I have spent the same for my yoga sessions as I have for my fully inclusive gym membership. Don’t misunderstand me, for €60, I can go to two yoga sessions per week, so the more yoga sessions I attend, the bigger my discount.
Now we come to the issue that plagues me. Yoga was never and has never been intended as a comprehensive fitness programme; it has its fitness and health benefits but doesn’t replace other methods of keeping fit. Why, then, is it so significantly more expensive than an inclusive gym membership? No, I don’t know the answer, but I have a pretty good idea.
Collaboration is the key
I may have an idea of why yoga is so expensive, and it’s not a good reason. Yoga studios fixate on yoga, as you would expect, but yoga doesn’t attract the same number of individuals as your average gym. Therefore, their overheads for running dedicated premises are way more than that for a gym.
Consequently, the way to enjoy a full exercise regime, and a yoga regime (with all of its associated mental and physical health benefits) is to more than double one’s health and fitness budget. Yoga would be more financially viable for more people and more teachers if there were more collaboration between fitness centres and the yoga community.
I appreciate the effort that goes into creating a serene and conducive atmosphere in a yoga studio, but it’s not necessary, for effective yoga practice, to have more than a peaceful soundtrack (or silence if preferred) and a yoga mat (additional tools as the participant requires). The very act of creating a space specifically for the practice of yoga to the exclusion of all else is elitist and exclusive, driving up the cost of participation.
, “yoga is great for everyone” becomes “yoga is great for those with more money (than sense)”. It loses something in the transition.