Small Business Saturday: High time to decorporatize yoga!

McYoga | this is so crass. | jpmatth | Flickr

How’d we get here: $100 + yoga pants (guilty), gymnastical poses, pyramid-scheme teacher trainings, #instayoga?

Is there even such a thing anymore as practicing yoga alone in a quiet room? If there’s not a post w/ a million hashtags, did a yoga practice even occur?

We’re in a mess, and “Big Yoga” (CorePower, Lifetime, Equinox) has a lot of explaining to do. Yoga used to be more about living in the world and being a good person, a wellness and longevity philosophy for the ages. It was for seekers, in search of a higher “true self” –peeling back the layers, letting go of the bullshit, not creating more of it!

Somehow making sense of the messiness of human existence got sanitized, made over, and ultimately merchandized, often by investors who knew next to nothing about it! An entire industry sprung up with magazines, clothing, props, mats, and more. While some of the “schools of lineage” back to India attempted to enforce teaching standards a few decades ago under the banner of the Yoga Alliance, they too got swept away by the commercial tsunami. The best way to grow the Yoga Alliance was to certify more programs, more instructors, more-more-more!

Yet, at its heart, yoga is a practice of minimizing, seeing the facades and props of life (from yoga blocks to BMWs) for what they are: props, props to hold ourselves up in a dog-eat-down-dog world. We can never have enough. The lucky ones realize this sooner rather than later. They stop looking for meaning in acquiring, obsessing about their veneer and start…seeking.

It may start with just one breath in one class: for the first time, a deep awareness of the body, mind, and interplay between the two. Maybe there’s a brief glimpse of something bigger that’s new on one hand, eternal on the other. That glimpse somehow felt so peaceful and was so awe-inspiring, it made all the other stuff–the props of life–seem small, insignificant.

Chances are that little peek didn’t happen during “flying crow” or “scorpion” with new-agey music blaring. Likely it was during a quiet interlude, in a less challenging pose, or savasana at the end. Those are the moments when seekers are born! They return to class, maybe borrow a mat for a while. This kind of seeker doesn’t really “get” #instayoga. Beautiful photos have nothing to do with it.

For a practice that requires no equipment, was based on a simple mentorship between a teacher and a small group of students, had a code of ethics (non-stealing, non-violence, non-lying to name a few) how’d we end up with 30-person classes in a roomful of mirrors, following someone who barely knows us and is in it to “get paid to work out?” (How Big Yoga justifies minuscule salaries).

The good news: it seems Covid made even mainstream yoga a bit more introspective. People are re-evaluating what yoga is and even what the term should mean. Big Yoga like LifeTime and CorePower may not be able to continue controlling the conversation. New voices have emerged and they’re getting louder: #decolonizeyoga #accessibleyoga #authenticyoga #yamasniyamas –even in the most superficial and unlikeliest of places: social media.

My mission from the beginning of YogaHotDish, in 2001 (before hashtags), was #decorporatizeyoga. Even back then, I could tell that the gyms offering yoga had their definitions askew, reducing the practice to exercises. I had just returned from studying yoga in Singapore. My teacher was in her 60’s back then, wore the same white polo and blue sweat pants, was a Buddhist who studied in India. Nothing I saw happening in the US gyms had any resemblance to what I had practiced abroad.

Though I figured I didn’t have near the life experience necessary in my 30’s and a new Mom, I decided to become a yoga teacher because I couldn’t find a class anywhere. I created a student-focused business w/o any “layer” of management (read: politics, profiteering, pettiness) between me and my students.

If you’d like to show up to a class and find out what “Small Yoga” has to offer you, please do. Some people even do both “Big” and “Small” yoga. After all, yoga is about finding balance, dancing between the poles of opposites, sitting in contradiction. Yes, you can do Yoga Sculpt one day and YogaHotDish the next. What an adventure that would be! We likely won’t ever really #decorporatizeyoga because convenience is a necessity in our culture. Small business Saturday might be the time to google “independent yoga near me” and see what alternatives exist.