Yoga as Rebellion
When I got into yoga it was a fairly weird thing to get into. I remember the first yoga studio I ever went to, Integral Yoga in the West Village, New York. Despite being a multi-storey space, it still managed to feel like a bat cave. Bathed in dim light with wall to wall off-white carpet onto which we rolled out the studio mats, worn to little PVC pellets from years of down dog hands and feet. Attached was a hippie-dippy health food store, which sold like, one brand of soy milk. Vegans were really weird back then ...
The people who bent their bodies, breathed and meditated around me were definitely not the instagram yoga types of today, nor were they the busy, designer handbag-clutching career women I see sitting on their mats in the Mitte yoga studio I sometimes go to, tense and texting up until the class starts (and sometimes during).
These people were way more counter-culture. But without any trace of hipster-dom.
The year was 1995. I liked the practice. I liked getting out of my head (which wasn't and still isn't a very nice place to be), but I was a bit too punk to totally peace out with the Aum and the patchouli, so my practice remained quite spotty until year 2000, when a new studio opened near where I worked in Brooklyn. Go Yoga. The teachers were younger and hipper (and one of them played Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana in class which rocked my world), but still, nobody seemed to spend very much money on work-out clothes back then. Instead most people showed up to class wearing their shittiest torn t-shirts, tank tops and hole-y sweatpants. Work-out fashion wasn't a thing. Myself, I'd much rather spend what little money I had on beers, effect pedals for my guitar and records. Until I got into the yoga, and started spending some of my hard-earned dollars on coming to class. I became hooked. A riot grrrl doing yoga!? It was pretty un-cool ...
Nobody else I knew was into this. Nowadays nearly everyone practice yoga (the ones who don't are about as rare as the people who don't have any tattoos ...). Yoga is no longer the least bit counter-culture: It's full on mainstream. It has been co-opted by the man. For the same reason that soy milk and veganism have become big business. Because wherever there is money to be made, there will be people who will want to make this money.
Me too. I am a full-time yoga teacher. Or rather, right now, yoga is my only source of income. But I really try hard not to promise results that I can't guarantee. Or to sell a bunch of stuff that's either bullshit or that nobody needs. Like yoga shoes or chakra cleansings. Or to have crazy high prices.
Anyway. Call me a snob, but I have always had a hard time being into something that everyone else is into. And yet, here I am: A yoga teacher. All wrapped up in something that has become a bloated mega-industry with loads of problems.
Every now and then I meet people, usually intelligent, thinking people: artists and activists, who tell me that they hate yoga. When we talk a bit further, it becomes clear that what they hate is the image of mainstream yoga. For example: the instagram yogis whose underlying false message seems to be that the more you pretzel your body (and look good while doing it) the closer to salvation/happiness you are. And the yoga magazines only featuring young, skinny (and mostly) white bodies on their covers, while the pages are full of ads for products -- most of them totally shattering the yogic concept of aparigraha (non-greed, not taking more than you need). And the way yoga has been co-opted by capitalist culture, offering it to workers to temporarily relax them, get the pain out of their shoulders/backs only so they can work harder and longer. I hate this part of yoga too.
But then again yoga, just like a hammer, is a tool. You can use it to build a beautiful home, you can use it to beat someone up, or to destroy.
And because yoga has gotten so huge, there is room for many interpretations, many fractions. I'd like to carve out my own little corner, and build a community of people who like to see positive change in the world, not just in their bikini bodies. And who are willing and able to question everything that they've been told, and everything they tell themselves.
The yoga I try to channel is less and less about fancy asanas, and more about self-exploration, of a revolution of the consciousness.
Yoga is both a practice, a path, a road. It is also the final goal. Yoga is the state when we don't need anything. And not needing anything; not a new face cream, not a Buddha t-shirt, not a new mobile phone or a new pair of sneakers, not more likes on social media -- well, the less we need, the more of a threat we become!
And if we know how to take care of ourselves, and not to burn out, perhaps we can feel better equipped at fighting the good fight. Not to keep the wheels of capitalism rolling ...