Money. Standards. Standardisation. Governing bodies.
Who gets to control what yoga is?
How much is it dependent on who gets to make money from it?
There is a fight in the UK about who gets to accredit yoga teachers. Unlike the US where the Yoga Alliance dictates, in the UK there are various players in the field. So when the management of the British Wheel of Yoga recently decided to work on a ‘national occupational standard’ for yoga teaching with a quasi-governmental body without consulting either Yoga Alliance UK, the Independent Yoga Network, the Traditional Yoga Association or the National Council of Hindu Temples, they provoked an almighty row that’s still ongoing.
There are a few different points of reference from players in this debate:
Part of what’s fueling this fight is a misconception. The misconception is that there are thousands of barely trained yoga teachers coming out every year (possibly true) from sub-standard trainings making pots of money (not as true).
Here’s the real background, from someone halfway through a PhD looking at yoga teaching and transmission in the UK:
From yoga teachers to media and academics alike, I keep reading that ‘yoga is an x-billion dollar industry.’
But it isn’t.
It is a billion-dollar commercial industry of studio software, marketing courses, ad copy that uses women sitting in lotus to sell yoghurt, workout clothes, upmarket retreats, 1%, apps that make money for their platforms but pay their content providers pittances, and now $1000 yoga mats made of leather. And often made by people who have no real practice- no real skin in the game as they say in the US.
That industry is a world away from yoga. And yet, it lives and feeds off the millions of people who dedicate their lives to the practice. Yoga is a thousand year old tradition of philosophy complete with many hundreds of years of esoteric magic and a concoction of health-related practices, both produced and influenced by colonial politics and globalisation. The reality here is the river of practitioners barely sees a penny of these industry projections.
When cash-strapped British doctors send patients to yoga classes, they don’t allot the funds to pay for them. A shocking amount of that high-class yoga gear is produced on the Indian sub-continent in appalling conditions for workers. Meanwhile your average yoga teacher is earning less than minimum wage and either has an independent income or sure as hell can’t afford to wear Sweaty Betty’s £70 ‘Chandrasana’ leggings.
We need to get really, really clear about where the money in yoga is going, and upon whose backs it is made. We need to bring politics back into yoga, where it has always been. Otherwise we are merely fighting among ourselves for the scraps, pretending everything is going to be just fine. And the new shadow in the water isn’t National Occupational Standards, it is the future of digital media. Even if you’re pretty enough, thin enough, and well-connected enough to sell yourself as a ‘brand’ on Instagram and YouTube and YogaGlo, the platform most often makes a bundle, and the teacher takes a fraction.
To make this struggle over who earns from yoga more visible, my friend and well-known yoga writer Matthew Remski and I have started a hashtag campaign entitled (and for) #realyogateachers. We want your status updates, tweets, photos on Instagram — whatever you use already. Flood your feeds with the very real, non-glamorous, serious side of teaching yoga- Worldwide.
We want photos of you sweeping the glitter off the village hall floor; heading out to teach 5 people on a dark evening half an hour’s drive away after a long day at work; your piles of philosophy books stacked next to your mat; your tabs of marking for trainees; the scrubby you use on the handstand footprints on the wall; the loose change rattling in the donation box after the PWYC; your studio rent bill; the baby sick on your yoga top after mums and baby yoga; the holes in your favourite decade-old yoga leggings; the charity shop where you buy more; coffee stains on cork blocks and the hospital room where you teach cancer patients; the costume box for your yoga and theatre kids class; your ID badge for prison work; the hug from the student who finally learned to stand on one leg…
Because while the British Wheel of Yoga higher-ups may want people to think too many yoga teachers are undertrained, fluffy types who injure people left right and centre, and are earning squillions doing it, just across the pond, there’s a growing snark directed at young female teachers, who are depicted as vain, clueless, or trust-fund-obnoxious. It’s a distortion. Whether you’re a member of the Wheel, Yoga Alliance, Yoga Alliance UK, Independent Yoga Network, the Traditional Yoga Association, or no group at all, you are real yoga teachers. Let’s show what ALL of that looks like.
Share the real pic and tell the pithy story.
Share this post and tag all the #realyogateachers you know!
photo credit: Poppyfoxathome
Theo Wildcroft is a yoga teacher working for a more sustainable relationship between our many selves, the communities that hold us, and the world that nourishes us. A lover of vulnerable people, of wild things and wild places, of all our ancestors, and of the simple miracle of life itself, she is particularly fond of rhythmic movement and gentle devotion. She is also a doctoral researcher investigating the democratization of physical practice, how it evolves, and why it matters. She blogs and writes articles on this, on social justice, on hope, and on untold stories.
For more on Theo, visit her website here: www.wildyoga.co.uk
Editor’s note: This article is the impetus behind GatherYoga as an online space for the local teachers. We are the platform that share HALF of all earnings with our teachers- never a pittance. We aspire to help teachers be more sustainable in their profession of yoga teaching. We want to thank Theo for bringing this to light and letting us share her voice.