State of the Yoga 2017: What's Next?

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I’m taking a break from teaching group yoga classes. In the last almost 20 years (hard to believe it’s been that long!) that I’ve been practicing yoga, I’ve witnessed a shift from yoga classes being a fringe activity to a mainstream fitness-oriented group class model.

Even in the last few years, the context for yoga teaching in a group setting has changed a great deal. Like any other kinds of group fitness class, people want to buy packages of classes and drop in when they want, to not have to think about their real life for an hour or so, and for maybe their back not to hurt so much. This is fine, I guess, and I can certainly lead a practice that does that. However, it’s extremely difficult to create continuity over a long period of time, or to deliver any real depth of teaching when people are constantly coming and going.

Teaching in a fitness club as I did for eight years, is, in fact, a very challenging teaching environment. There is the potential as a teacher to do some really good work making connections with people and introducing the fundamentals of yoga practice. It is possible to give people deeper teachings in that environment, but it is hard, which is why we need good teachers to work in that context. I learned SO MUCH from teaching in a bustling gym. I had the opportunity to look at literally thousands of bodies over the years as they executed poses and figure out how to communicate complicated ideas to a very diverse group of students. If you are teaching in that context, do your best to learn from it. I can help you if you're in it.

I thought that when I left the big fitness club, it would be easier, but the group fitness model has expanded out into yoga studios. It's not just gyms. Yoga studios now sell packages of classes and drop-in memberships which is a change from series-based classes that were prevalent some years ago. Some old-school yoga centers still do it the old way but the new places are drop-in, like other kinds of group fitness classes. It's the same challenges as teaching at a gym (OK but except there aren't weights dropping and I don't have to freak out on people who are texting in class).

I want to do more than simply lead a practice, I want to educate. For me, it’s no longer the best platform to communicate my knowledge and experience and I don’t think it’s to the students’ benefit either. I am hearing the same from other experienced teachers. Just as I am doing, experienced yoga teachers will not want to stay in the group-fitness oriented realm forever because it's hard and unsatisfying and the pay is often pitiful. It's a shame that the experienced yoga teachers are either pushed out or choosing to leave the current scene. It's sad when I go to workshops or trainings with master teachers with 40+ years experience and there are only a handful of people there. That's how transmission of teachings gets lost. So what do we do? Hard to say.

In the new year, I’m going to work on sharing my knowledge and explore other contexts of teaching yoga. I’m not 100% sure what form that will take yet, but it will include:

  • Empowering people do do their own yoga practice through one-on-one instruction and custom designed yoga practices

  • Supporting new yoga teachers through mentoring and continuing education

  • Teaching the deeper inner practices of yoga including breathing and meditation techniques and philosophical studies

  • Sharing a lot!

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