Friday, June 22, 2018

Mutual Support in Modern Capitalist Yoga

mutual support
By Kathryn Boland

Have you experienced trials with the business of modern Western yoga? Have you seen yoga instructors facing such trials? Did you support them? Were you supported? In most locations, more yoga instructors are being trained in, and interested in, teaching than there are available teaching opportunities. The result is a market oversaturated with teachers.

Catty, self-interested competitiveness could easily emerge in such a context. Practicing yoga doesn’t mean that you’ve perfected yogic values - it only means that you’re practicing them (at very varied potential capacities and consistencies). On the other hand, I personally have only seen neutrality or overt support from fellow yoga instructors in this matter. I’ve seen fellow instructors give other instructors teaching tips, offer subbing and leads for longer-term work. Other instructors certainly might have a different experience with this.

When we trust that what is ultimately best for us will occur, we will not feel defensive and self-protective. This is a practice of non-grasping (aparigraha). Drastic competitiveness can result in action of stealing what should be others’ - if we think of connections and opportunities as capital for building yoga teacher careers, they’re definitely things we can say can be stolen. The opposite would be non-stealing, or asteya.

As mentioned, I personally have never heard of it happening, but I can imagine teachers engaging in gossip and starting rumors to try and undercut other instructors. These sorts of actions can result from jealousy, insecurity, and/or feeling threatened. Most perpetrators of such actions don’t feel good after doing them. It certainly doesn’t feel good for the person who is the target.

On the other end of the spectrum, we can support each other, recognizing each other’s struggles and do what we can to ease them. This takes open communication. If we see instructor friends struggling, we can ask how they are - opening up space for them to confide in us about their struggles. If we are struggling, we can communicate that. In fact, I’d like to share a story about myself doing this that ended up in me feeling more supported in my teaching work.

A few months ago I connected with a teacher who came back to Boston from Vienna, on Facebook. I was a bit frustrated to see her getting a lot of work quite quickly, and also have the availability to travel and cook delicious, healthy meals. I felt some jealousy rising up within me, and also just confusion about how she wasn't struggling more - considering how long it took myself and others I know to make connections and get teaching work in this city.

I’m not proud of these reactions - I only want to be transparent about them. Then she posted that she was subbing a class at a studio where I had tried to get work, and got absolutely nowhere. I just had to say something - but I was committed to doing so politely. I asked her if she minded me asking how she ended up subbing there. I also described some of my frustrations with certain turns in my teaching career.

She explained that it was through a sale/acquisition of another studio where she’d been subbing. She also opened up that she struggles financially, lives with her boyfriend (who through that is helping her out with housing expenses), works another job, and has to “really hussle”. She agreed that more real conversations about the way instructors are treated, and the values the yoga world lives and works by, are needed.

I had to notice how I jumped to conclusions about how she was really doing. I was entirely susceptible to the positive messages of social media, rather than keeping in mind that people often don’t share the deeper and harder things. I was glad I reached out, checking my underlying jealousy and annoyance to speak diplomatically and kindly. We could agree, and both feel heard. Now, we share opportunities with each other when possible. It seems like we’re in each other’s corner.

Even without that practical support, I can’t speak for her, but I know that I felt validated. It felt better to not hold those thoughts and feelings to myself. Perhaps more individual dialogues of these types of conversations would lead to wider conversations that could bring positive change to the yoga world. Even without that, individual instructors could be in a better place to go forth serving in their work.

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