I was first introduced to yoga in the 70's when my family took me to my first yoga class in Brazil. Back then, there were no yoga mats or props and no yoga fashion. We wore simple shorts or sweats and a t-shirt, and we came to class to learn asana, pranayama, and meditation the way it had been traditionally taught back in India for many generations. When I went to college in the late 80's, I had the opportunity to study yoga therapy with professor Marcos Rojo Rodrigues, who not only helped me to further my studies in asana, pranayama and meditation, but also introduced me to Sāṃkhya philosophy, the backbone of yoga science and philosophy. When I moved to the US in the mid 90's, I was exposed to new styles of yoga. In those days, the practice was still very different from what we see being presented as yoga in the West today. Yoga in its integrity (including yoga philosophy and meditation) was still being taught in traditional yoga schools by experienced yoga teachers. However, more and more yoga studios focusing solely on asana as an alternative form of physical workout were starting to pop up here and there, bringing yoga to the masses. These yoga workouts were taught by often well-intentioned but much less experienced yoga instructors. There is, of course, good and bad in that scenario. It is great that yoga has become mainstream and is now accessible to most people. Unfortunately, yoga is also currently suffering from a McDonaldization process - it has become big business and is being over-commercialized, but the quality of what is being offered has dropped dramatically below standards. There are still good yoga studios with solid teachers out there, but their numbers are dwindling. Unfortunately, even when practitioners know the difference between good and bad yoga, most people are more interested in getting a sexy yoga butt these days (to paraphrase yoga master Andrey Lappa) than delving into a journey of self-discovery.
One of the problems is that everyone in America seems to think they know what yoga is, when not that many people have actually practiced real yoga. Mechanically doing yoga poses with no cultivation of breath, energetic alignment, or Eka Grata (i.e. "one-pointed" awareness or concentration) isn't practicing yoga. Unless the practice quiets the mind, it is not yoga. Additionally, practicing yoga poses on the mat but not living according to the 8-limbed path while off the mat isn't yoga either. The type of yoga-based workout offered at gyms and more and more yoga studios shouldn't be called yoga. Not that the "product" they are offering is necessarily bad (sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't) but it just isn't yoga.
There is an excessive number of yoga studios, many of which are now franchised or owned by big corporations. These new yoga studios are placed in locations where there is an abundance of studios already. The idea is to crush the competition rather than to work in cooperation. The yogic values of karuna (compassion), ahimsa (non-violence), and other ethical conduct values described in the Yoga Sutras and other yoga texts are nonexistent when it comes to opening a new yoga studio these days. Furthermore, as consumerism grows exponentially in America, these studios focus on external appearances rather than on the quality of instruction. Teachers pay thousands of dollars for training and then they are underpaid. They can't afford health insurance. Yoga consumers are more interested in going to a groovy yoga spa with showers, retail space and juice bar than on the actual yoga classes offered. It is all about the packaging... pretty studios with little content. Wannabe yogis are also more interested in wearing the latest yoga outfit and looking like someone who does yoga rather than actually living as a yogi.
Another problem the yoga community faces today is that there is an overabundance of teacher trainings, of which very few are actually good. Most yoga studios offer their own teacher training these days. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, and the market is being flooded with unprepared, unqualified instructors. When I took my first yoga teacher training, there weren't that many offerings and they were mostly taught by senior and master teachers who had practiced and taught for decades. I practiced for 10 years before I even considered taking a training, and I didn't apply until I was sure I was ready. It wasn't that easy to get in - there were many pre-requisites. The requirements have definitely changed over the years. Many people who decide to take a yoga teacher training and start teaching have only practiced for a few months before they apply. Some are actually personal trainers and other professionals from the fitness industry who had never even taken a yoga class before they started their training! And yet, they are accepted to these programs with no questions asked. It is equivalent to going to school to learn to teach Spanish before becoming fluent in Spanish.
Thousands of yoga instructors finish training and flood the market, eager to leave their mark and create their own brands, sell their product, and gather followers. Yoga is about letting go of the ego, and yet the American yoga industry is very ego-driven. Many of these new yoga instructors open a yoga studio before they even teach their first class, not only lacking the knowledge required to hire competent teachers but also lacking the ability to continue to mentor them after they are hired. More and more yoga studios are being opened by such individuals. They hire freshly minted instructors who are their peers and haven't been through a proper mentorship program under a senior teacher after training. With no constructive feedback from someone who actually knows more than they do, these novice instructors never grow or learn to teach beyond the scripts and sequences they memorized during their inadequate training. When these inexperienced instructors get bored and want to teach something different, they copy portions of classes they take from experienced teachers at other studios and incorporate them into their own classes. However, since they haven't learned the art of sequencing, the sequences are presented out of context, making their classes choppy, energetically imbalanced and physically unsafe. Yet, this is what many beginning practitioners end up experiencing. One doesn't know a bad teacher until he or she has experienced a good one. There is a difference between a yoga teacher and a yoga instructor. The first is a yogi; the second a technician who has memorized a few scripts and sequences but who doesn't have enough knowledge to instruct people beyond the scope of the limited content they acquired during training. A yoga teacher, or yogi, not only has a home practice that he or she draws from for inspiration and wisdom, but also continues to study and grow under one or more master teachers for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, there aren't that many yoga teachers teaching at yoga studios nowadays.
Furthermore, daily deals such as Groupon and Living Social are simply killing the yoga community. The excessive use of daily deals is creating a society that doesn't want to pay full price for anything anymore, not even for their own health and well-being. The idea behind offering a discounted deal is to allow new students to sample classes in order to decide whether the studio is a good fit for them. However, Groupons for yoga studios are building neither community nor loyalty. Students simply jump from studio to studio, from deal to deal. It's a bit of a conundrum: studios that refuse to offer deals don't get new students; studios that offer such deals get new students who don't stick around after their deal has expired. Furthermore, these deals take a major chunk of the proceeds of already heavily discounted prices, and the studio actually gets next to nothing. Even regular students have started to demand discounted prices as well. To make matters worse, students who haven't practiced at a particular studio in a year or two buy their deal and claim to be new students, even though they've been to several classes at that studio before. How is a studio to survive? Most studios (with very few exceptions) are actually struggling with this right now. I understand that we are still in a recession. Nevertheless, it is usually the people who come in wearing the latest $100 pair of yoga pants who complain the most about paying $99 for a full month of unlimited yoga. There are those people who have lost their jobs, and really can't afford to pay full price. However, when those who are struggling financially are offered a karma yoga position (that is, cleaning the studio in exchange for yoga classes), most of them turn it down. We've developed a culture where everyone wants yoga for free or really cheap, regardless of the actual value of what they are receiving.
I could go on, but you get the picture. Is this the end of yoga? Are we to give in to bitterness and give up? My initial, human reaction to all that is wrong with the yoga world these days was one of sadness and resignation. However, in the course of several meditation sessions, I was able to find clarity and see the bigger picture. I think this bubble is eventually going to burst. I don't know how long it will take, but people will eventually want more and realize that there is more to yoga than just practicing in 110 degree heat until they get red in the face and drop down like flies in their own puddle of sweat... and they will start to demand more. Furthermore, not all studios will survive. There aren't enough students for that many studios, even if the entire population decided to practice yoga. Those studios that actually offer high quality classes, foster conscious business practices, and treat the workplace as an extension of our core beliefs as yogis and human beings will stand a better chance.
According to the yoga tradition, history unfolds in a cyclical pattern that takes humanity from a golden age to world ages of progressive spiritual decline, and then back to a golden age of light and abundance. These ages are called Yugas. We are currently living in the Kali Yuga, the age of darkness, when moral virtue and mental capabilities have reached their lowest point in the cycle. We are living a time of great transformation as we transition to a new world order, a new era. The end of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012 didn't mark the end of the world after all but the end of a cycle and the beginning or a new cyclical stage in the human evolution. As with any transition of this magnitude, these are scary and challenging times. In order for a new golden age to emerge, things have to be unstable, volatile and chaotic first. This is a collective rebirth, a metamorphosis: we are larvae in our cocoons in the process of being reborn as butterflies. No one really knows for sure how long the metamorphosis is going to take but we can feel that it has already started. In order for things to get better they will have to get temporarily worse first. Nothing last forever so it is comforting to know that this too shall pass.
I have to admit this process was very hard for me to accept for a while. It wasn't until I shared my concerns with my teacher Rod Stryker last December and started to do the specific meditation practices he prescribed that I finally started to lighten up and find joy in the midst of chaos. I knew in my conscious mind what I had to do, but it wasn't until I managed to access and reprogram my subconscious mind that I was able to manifest and actualize the empathic joy and compassion that come from living according to my dharma and in harmony with universal dharma. The cultivation of empathic joy has allowed me to restore the emotional balance of my mind so I can move on; it has also allowed me to feel compassion and empathy towards those who, in their ignorance, are promoting the McDonaldization of yoga. Spending time with my other teacher, Shari Friedrichsen, earlier this month also validated the dharma work I started doing with Rod and paved the road that I am about to take for the rest of the year. This road may not be the easiest one to take, but I know in my heart that it is the right one for me.
As human beings, we have the tendency to resist change, which is often the root of our suffering. However, impermanence is the only constant in this life of ongoing change. Nothing stays the same. We practice our living yoga when we are open to life's happenings. Yoga equals adaptability. It is about being willing to accept change, knowing that change is inevitable. Let's embrace full-heartedly the reality that things evolve, transform, and become something else. As such, it is now time for us all to embrace our evolution and accept that Terra Yoga is at the end of its life cycle. By letting go of my role as owner and manager of Terra Yoga, I will have more time to focus on what I do best, which is being a teacher, not a studio owner. I will also have more time for introspection and self-study, which are necessary so I can continue to develop as a teacher.
I have been planting the seeds of yoga in the hearts of Terra yogis for the last 10 years and I feel many of these seeds have already taken root and started to blossom. The time has come for me to start planting seeds elsewhere. This is necessary for the fulfillment of my own dharma. If I am to make my contribution to the world and do my part in facilitating this difficult collective rebirth I spoke of earlier, I need to plant the seeds at the highest possible level. What I mean by that is that I need to plant the seeds in the hearts of future yoga teachers so they can, in turn, plant more seeds in the hearts of yoga practitioners in multiple yoga studios and gyms out there. If I stay exclusively at Terra Yoga, I am hiding from the world and living out of sync with what I now know to be my dharma, or life purpose.
I will continue to offer workshops and annual retreats, and you will be able to take a few classes with me occasionally, but I will work mainly in the development of yoga teachers who can make a difference. I envision a future where, if we can plant enough seeds, lotus flowers will start blossoming again everywhere, rising above the mud of the distorted yoga mentality we are experiencing today.
Terra Yoga will be officially closing its doors on June 30. However, there is still a strong possibility that someone else will take over after that date under a different name. If that becomes a reality, I will do everything in my power to provide a seamless transition and to ensure the new owner honors any previous commitments.
I also understand that many of you will have questions and concerns after you read this letter. I will be on a spiritual retreat in Peru with very little access to the outside world for a few weeks, but I will be back and available to address those issues before the studio closes.
A special note to the pregnant goddesses in my prenatal yoga class: I will continue to offer this class either at the new studio or somewhere else in Issaquah, since prenatal yoga is hard to find anywhere. I will provide more details when I'm back from Peru.
Until then, I ask you all to be patient and understanding.
I close with a quote by Charles Du Bos: "The important thing is this: to be able, at any moment, to sacrifice what we are for what we could become."
Thank you for all that you have taught me for the last 10 years, and for sharing that portion of your yoga journey with me. May our paths cross again.
In Love & Light,