Temptations of a yoga teacher sell-out

Creative Commons License photo credit: AZRainman

Sometimes my conscience tells me to do something that goes against the grain of my pocketbook. 

Things like, Stick to your guns when it comes to teaching your yoga, don’t sell-out and teach work-out yoga. Yes, Higher Consciousness, Work Out Yoga isn’t worthy of my yogic lineage, my lineage has deep meaning (if not pockets).

Consciousness continues. (It has a voice eerily like that of consciousness guru Jiminy Cricket.) “Psssstt…back to your meditation mat, Barbra. You’re a student of non-judgement.”

Okay, Jiminy, but how am I going to earn a living sticking to your standards? 

I used to be a museum curator. Back then, I would not have kitsch, or “festival art” in my exhibitions. Unless it was part of a political statement, of course, or if the theme of the exhibition was something obtuse (if fun) like “Who let the velvet paintings in the museum?: Camp in Contemporary Art.“ I was paid to be selective. I had a salary, benefits, paid holidays, even something called an IRA. I was paid respectably  to do what I loved in the way I wanted to do it. I had the freedom to present whatever my over-educated mind dreamed up, knowing I’d still get the same paycheck, no matter what. Consciousness and I were endowed, so to speak.

As far as art with deep meaning, what would I tap? Given my druthers paved in a paycheck, what art do I find up to snuff, if not that of the velvet Elvis and “Sunday painters?”

I’d happily “select” the atmospheric installations concocted by Olafur Eliasson. Be sure to view this, you’ll want to explore his work for hours. As Holland Cotter wrote in the New York Times, “Stand Still; A Spectacle Will Happen.” Any experience, be it art, yoga, or a watching the moonrise, that brings spectacle in stillness is “worthy” to me.

Olafur Ellasson installation, Creative Commons License photo credit: uair01

Okay, so I do hold the bar high when it comes to “fine” art, and I do the same with my yoga lineage… which makes my life about as fine as it gets. It’s a yoga tradition that has little to do with that “workout” I know many people want, and more to do with living one’s life purpose — and, no, that is not the most in demand yoga these days.

Damn having to use either art or yoga as a commodity. But what to do about putting tofu on the table?

To keep my integrity pristine, I might, like commenter justthisbreath noted in another Yoga Modern post, make a choice to get a second job. I could work at the corner store (or a Big Box one if times are wearing my integrity a little lean). Or I could spend some studio time crafting things I know people will buy. The fact is, unless one is celebriyogi or blue chip artist, we all have to make concessions of sorts. The vast majority of yoga teachers, artists, athletes, writers, etc., do not make a rotund bank account by doing what they love most.

Untitled, cast-ice zip ties, photo courtesy of Noellynn Pepos

I know an artist who is a master metalsmith, and an inspiring art teacher. Noellynn Pepos’ sculptures and installations don’t fly off the shelves so to speak — they are large scale, which means they are priced right out of the pocketbook of most of us. Whether or not she can support herself with it is not why she stays up all night, mad with ideas, making art. She relies on a sideline business of felting art scarves for her bread and butter. Her soul wants to create glorious installations such as this cast-ice fence. She makes wearable textiles to make a living.

To bring things back to my “enterprise of yoga,” I could, I guess, in the interest of having a roof over my crown chakra teach a kind of yoga just because it packs the studio. I do know there is a middle path. As my teacher, Rod Stryker says,“Give them what they want, then incorporate what you know they need.”

Is it selling out to change the way you teach yoga to get more students in the studio? Would you rather have a “job-job” than “sell-out” and teach a style of yoga you don’t really like just so you can do some version of what you love full time?


Posted by:

- who has written 41 posts on Yoga Modern.

Barbra Brady is the Art Editor at Yoga Modern. She holds an MA in Museum Exhibition Theory & Cultural Studies, which she has exercised as a museum curator of contemporary art, nationally published writer, leader of a venerated nonprofit yoga retreat foundation, and now, yoga with a slant on channeling creative energy. When not practicing or teaching yoga in the tradition of her teacher, Yogarupa Rod Stryker (as a Certified Level IParaYoga teacher) or as an iRest Yoga Nidra practitioner, Barbra practices the yoga of “curiosity.” The curiosity that fuels her imagination may be through writing, curating, a turn of leaf or phrase, cinema, a century ride on her road bike… She’ll be sharing her curatorial picks and original musings, as she whispers in the ear of the Yoga Modern community: “Hey, look at this!” She lives in Sonoma, California, an Eden which naturally prompts her reflections on nature, food, and yes, wine (in meaningful moderation).

8 Responses

  • prettyhumanbeings says:

    I started doing yoga at a gym when I was 18 and fell in love with it. From there I went to work at a studio that taught power yoga and ended up doing my 200 hr training with a corporation that teaches power-"work out"-yoga.
    Since then, I have studied with a wide range of teachers and practiced in different traditions. Yoga is now my spiritual practice and it is my path into an activist-contemplative life. I see now (just as I'm sure I will have equal hind sight in another several years) that yoga was never only a work out for me, even if that was the most conscious reason of my class attendance. It was always giving me something deeper and it was always my spiritual teacher, even when the actual class teacher was a (smooth talking) gym nut.
    I say all of this to acknowledge that I struggle with the shame of my yogic path. Now that I am more deeply participatory in a highly aware yoga community, I hear all the condescension about workout yoga. When people ask me where I got my training, I cringe and mumble under my breath (and if they hear me, I receive some nice eye rolls).
    It is in my power to redeem and disclose the shame I feel in my path, but I am concerned about a lot of the yogic rhetoric that is not helping me to do that.
    This is difficult because I know exactly what you are saying in this article and I wrestle with this same tug in my classes and with my students. How do I "give them what they want and incorporate when they need"?
    But I also want to have that conversation in a way that is not shaming to the people who do yoga "for the work out" or shaming for those of us who indulged in that path for a time, to have it lead us to something deeper. I know that in five years, the reasons that feel so conscious now will be revealed for some level of shallowness. Aren't we all always participating in the shallows and the depths of our practice?
    I really love this article and I resonate with what you share. Another, younger and more vulnerable part of me cringes and hides. I would love to hear any further thoughts you have to offer to either of those parts of me :)

    • veloyogi says:

      So many thoughts have come to be regarding How To Earn a Living since I drafted this post…I (sort of) laughed when I thought of the stereotype of all the waiters in NYC who are waiting to get on Broadway, or all the writers working as Baristas waiting for their manuscript to be published…part of what I was picking at here is the difference in doing a job that has little (directly) to do with your passion in order to support yourself and doing work that is in ballpark, but seems to (judgmental word alert) demean the integrity of your field of passion…

      • prettyhumanbeings says:

        This can especially be tricky when you are working at a studio where you classes are monitored and watched by someone else who is growing their business in a specific way. I feel really blessed to work with someone who values the independent values of the teachers who work at her studio, however, it can still be a point of contention even on the smallest issues. It kind of reminds of church…..
        Thanks for digging into this!

        • veloyogi says:

          I have not taught anywhere that prescribed how I must teach, that would be extremely difficult for me, especially on the "smallest of issues." I have never had my classes monitored, only the once for my review for receiving certification, but that is different. Yikes!

  • Carol Horton says:

    This is a huge issue and one that can really be gut-wrenching. I experienced exactly the same set of dilemmas in academia. However I WAS able to get a good job even being non-conformist (although not nearly as prestigious as I could have gotten otherwise).

    If it's really a question of needing money for the basics, I'd say there's a pretty compelling case for being practical, doing what sells, and making it the best that it can be. On the other hand, if everyone were so risk averse, they might not realize their true greatness and real calling.

    There is no right answer. It is something that each person needs to work out on their own. I do see, however, that it's a question that some struggle with MUCH MUCH MORE than others (and some, in fact, not at all). I really believable that it's an honorable issue to struggle with, whatever answer you come up with (and that may change) – you are facing the tough questions rather than pretending that they don't exist (which I see happening a lot in the yoga blogosphere).

  • Barbra Brady says:

    Well, something sweet comes of this: Just saw this on Huffington, and was able to cross-post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jd-samson/i-love-my

  • Vision_Quest2 says:

    @veloyogi, yes, I would agree but only in part—there is a smaller market out there for the "real thing", as well.
    As well as diversification if you really can't tap into that market (such as renting out studio space, selling other things) …

    That is tougher if all you want to do is teach, though …

    For my part, though, as an avid student I can do all the work-out yoga I want for free at home … it's the intangibles such as seated pranayama instruction (which should not be reserved only for beyond-beginners), and standing-still or seated chanting (not just "OM"), that I seek …