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 dozen 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 40 billion-dollar 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: things to hold ourselves up in a dog-eat-down-dog world. The lucky ones realize this sooner rather than later. They stop looking for meaning in acquisition.

It’s no wonder so many “successful” people are drawn to yoga: they “have it all,” yet still feel a void. They’ve lost track of the simple pleasures in life and perhaps even of themselves along the way. So much focus on the veneer reduces awareness of what’s real. I can’t tell you the number of times “busy and important” people have walked right by–even through–one of my outdoor yoga classes without so much as lowering their voices. They probably can’t understand why anyone would want to sit quietly and see no value in it. Surely what we’re doing can’t be important than their conversation about the upcoming kitchen remodel.

Awareness begins with maybe just one breath in one class: for the first time, a subtler plane of existence is noticed, if just for a few seconds. Maybe there’s a glimpse of something bigger that’s new on one hand, eternal on the other. That glimpse somehow feels so peaceful and even awe-inspiring, all the other stuff–the props of life–seem to melt away into insignificance.

Chances are that little peek didn’t happen during “flying crow” or “scorpion” with new-age-y 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! Sramana is a Sanskrit word for “seeker,” but implies a level of energy that makes “striver” a better translation.

For a practice that requires no equipment, was based on a simple mentorship between teacher and student,, has 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?” (Big Yoga’s go-to justification for minuscule salaries).

Trust me w/ 20 yrs experience and a top teaching credential: if the teacher is up in front getting a workout, you’re in a group exercise class with a yoga theme, not an actual yoga class.

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 the transformational practice I had experienced 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. Heck, I just joined LifeTime Fitness for the Winter because I need a place to do cardio, a bit of weight lifting/rehab to keep things in check –consider it my “workout office.” I like the fact that I can take a nice long shower there and no one is going to knock on the door shouting so-and-so is on the phone and do I want to take the call. No phones at the dinner table OR in the shower, how’s that for a rule to live by?

Frankly, the Lifetime staff are rather pleasant and gregarious, rare in these parts come Winter. Mind you, I live in a neighborhood where pedestrians have to be directed by the HOA to wave. The nice kid who checked me in for the first time noticed the “yoga” in my email address and said, “Oh, man you’re gonna love our yoga classes.” I deflected, “Is that a PopTart you’re eating–maple and brown sugar perhaps?” He laughed nervously, “Yeah, I guess it’s the Breakfast of Champions.” I laughed too, and said, “I haven’t seen one since I was ten.”

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Shaila Cunningham

Shaila Cunningham

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