I can only graze the pinnacle of the tip of the iceberg of whether or not yoga should be a service that we pay (or get paid) for, but I recently thought of it in a new light – what if we paid for kindness? How do we commodify something that is so innately important to humans’ joy and wellbeing? In this way, perhaps yoga and kindness are not all that different. I am a firm believer that yoga should be made available to everyone, everywhere, as they need and want it. I believe that yoga is among other human rights – the right to learn how to nourish the mind, body, and soul in a society that doesn’t set us up for success (or when one may not have had stability and a healthy foundation earlier in life). Just as we treat a headache, a toothache, a broken leg etc., we can view the benefits of yoga as equally important. This begins to tread the line – the balance between completely accessible universal yoga and exchanging [money] for a service rendered. We don’t simply show up, get handed a prescription to take a yoga pill, then go about our day, completely passive in the healing process. We come to our mats as active participants, and so often, we need a guide. How do we separate the work done for us and the work we do on our own?
There’s nothing like winter in New England to show me how badly we need yoga. As I taught this week, I was reminded firsthand of how out of sync with our bodies we can get. Not any different than most of my other classes, throughout a few poses, I cued, “drop your head” or “relax your jaw”, and everyone’s heads dropped. Not long after, I cued, “drop your head any bit more”, and they did. When I cued to breathe, the whispered chorus of deep breaths rising and falling in sync spoke volumes. Their work was palpable from across the room. How did we forget how to relax, to breathe? Our involuntary systemic processes have been stunted by the stressors of daily living and have simply become our bodies’ default. This isn’t to say that some days, we don’t step on our mats buoyant, primed, already chill, and excited for a juicy and luxurious practice. Most days, we arrive because there’s a need to rest and heal. Why put a dollar amount on this necessity?
It may seem counterintuitive that my teaching perspective involves a possible future of no longer receiving an income for teaching yoga. For the moment, that future seems very, very, very far away. Just as we call on an expert to guide us on a hike, we call on yoga teachers to guide us and hold space for our practice. It is something we can and should do on our own, but we need teachers. Many may criticize the fact that new yoga teachers are getting “cranked out” by the dozens from teacher training programs, but I am totally on board with diversifying the teaching landscape. If this means one new perspective arises among fifteen other same-olds, then that’s what it means. For every individual on this planet, there is a teacher suited just for them. Before we cut out potential and cut down yoga as it stands, we need to consider how we can grow what is good about it. Just as I start my seeds in their tiny pots, I don’t simply plant one tomato seed and invest everything in that one. I plant many, and nourish the best ones to grow. I don’t plant only tomatoes (because conditions may wipe out all of the same plant). Instead, I plant a diverse bounty all with different benefits: lavender for scent, basil to eat, marigolds for color, and peas because I love those little curly vines.
So what if we treated yoga like kindness: “throw yoga around like confetti”? Just as we need love, healthy food, sunshine, and sleep, so too do we need the space to come into our practice unencumbered by cost, self-doubt, or any of the other roadblocks that prevent many people from practicing. Should yoga be a service offered for free by teachers? What if some classes were free to attend? Which teachers “should” get paid and which “should” do it for free? Some, none, all? For today, no, I cannot teach for free. I acknowledge that teachers have worked hard, gained wisdom and insight, and honed their teaching (not to mention they have put a lot of money into their trainings and already spent ample unpaid time class planning or maintaining space). What I would love to see is a shift in where the money flows from and increase grants, health reimbursements, and other public funding, just to name a few. (Hello, corporate yoga studio$ and luxe yoga apparel companie$.) It’s not that teachers are taking what they don’t deserve, it’s that we’ve been set up to compete and scrounge against one another – for pay, for jobs, for clients, for a voice.
As I think about how we could turn yoga accessibility into a confetti-like sustainable entity, I realize that we have to think bigger. Let’s continue to “throw kindness around like confetti”, to empower both new and current teachers to excel in their teaching, to foster the space to be creative and welcoming in teaching and offerings, and begin to soften away from competing and ravaging one another. If we can’t bring people to yoga, we can bring yoga to the people, but our idea of what yoga is needs to change.<3