Watching the satirical online series Namaste Bitches, a parody of the yoga world, reminds me of my own experience as a teacher, namely training as one. On my first day my teacher said something I will never forget; “Everybody leave your egos outside the room…there’s only room for one ego in here…mine”. That was just the start of the many things she had to say about ‘her ego’ and to ensure our egos stayed in its rightful place…i.e. outside the room. That set a precedent on how I viewed the yoga industry. So this series (albeit tongue-in-cheek), really resonates with me.
Why it’s so good, is because it’s created by a former yoga teacher (Summer Chastant) who has used elements of characters she’s met while teaching. So she is more than qualified to poke fun at the yoga industry. Set in Los Angeles, the six short episodes introduce us to the world of west-coast yoga, where teachers are hired on merits such as the size of their Instagram following – which, of course is responsible for elevating yoga teachers to superstar status.
Fair play to Chastant too, because she not only created this series but, plays the lead character too, who is…far from the stereotypical view of a yoga teacher. A series like this is long-overdue in an industry which is becoming saturated with…ironically…egos.
This was depicted in the documentary last year with the aptly named title; Who Owns Yoga – produced by yoga teacher and journalist Bhanu Bhatnagar. You get an idea where the film is heading in the first few minutes when watching the World Yoga Sports Championships, with the winner declaring; “It’s not about getting up there and competing with other people and beating them, it’s about demonstrating that total present knowledge and finding it on stage in a three minute routine.” Perhaps the winning prize should have been a book on yoga because competition is the antithesis of what ‘true’ yoga is.
I’m sure the founder of Iyengar yoga, B.K.S Iyengar could never have imagined this type of competition when he told the New York Times back in 2002: “I think many of my students have followed the advice I gave years ago, to give more than you take…the commercialism may wash off sometime later.”
But of course, it hasn’t. If anything it has escalated, which has resulted in a ‘fight back’ from the Indian community with a campaign called; ‘Take back Yoga’. Launched by the Hindu American Foundation, they have finally had enough of seeing the mass commercialisation of this ancient practice, with the underlying meaning, philosophy and purpose of yoga getting lost. The rebranding of yoga even has the backing of India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who aims to promote yoga and make it as popular in his homeland, as it is within the rest of the world.
Ownership of yoga (as Bikram tried to do and failed in copyrighting his 26 posture sequence) is as crazy as yoga teachers becoming superstars, especially as its origins (as has been suggested) dates back 10,000 years. To quote the Indian yogi, mystic and philanthropist, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev; “If something is for the wellbeing of human beings nobody can ever own it…it must belong to everybody.”
So it is a good thing we are starting to see the humour in yoga – a side we don’t often get to see, just to address the balance a bit. It was because of this ‘underbelly of yoga’ that I took a break from yoga three years ago, having become disillusioned by the industry, and instead became a science writer. But yoga had its way of enticing me back and, to use my experience as a science & mindful writer, to form WriteIntoYoga. Because, it has been proven (by science) that, when the mind and body is relaxed, the brain is at its most effective in producing a plethora of creative ideas and inspirational thinking. In combining the two crafts, the aim is to really open the mind and, prove just how powerful ‘true’ yoga can be.
And so far, it’s been a very interesting exercise, especially hearing other people’s stories which, yoga is very good at bringing out. The most recent one came from a man who had been so enamoured by a world-renowned male yoga teacher (I will not mention the name to spare any embarrassment), that after the class, he gave the teacher a hug…only to find the teacher was as stiff as the plank posture he had just taught. Of course, the teacher may have been caught unawares, which could provide an explanation…but it does make you wonder…perhaps we should all adopt the ‘hug test’ to see if yoga teachers are practising what they preach, and indeed teach. Now there’s a thought…
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