Obstructions to Yoga Practice
While I have practiced yoga regularly since the mid 1990’s, I have never taken a yoga teacher training course. But I have taken a number of trainings to teach martial arts, and was in fact trained specifically for it day in and day out for years. Aikido and yoga are both contemplative practices. I would like to talk here about a couple of common obstacles to practice: Distraction of class size as it affects the perception of quality of instruction, and yoga and the consumer mentality.
Distraction of Class Size and Perception of Quality of Instruction
I would like to mention something that occurred in our aikido dojo a number of years ago, when we were quite small. We had a group of students who all loved small classes. Everyone would ask me when the small classes were. When I told them, they all crowded in and it became a large class – they became quite frustrated. This went on for some time. Then the members of the dojo changed a bit over time. The next group preferred large classes. But as we approached the slow summer months, we had a few of small classes. The students started second guessing when the other students would not come. If a class was small, they would avoid it. Soon all classes were small. By the middle of that month, all classes were empty. If everyone speculates that people will not come to each class, then everyone stops attending all classes. That actually happened.
So I contacted all of the students. I told them that aikido is a martial art. In martial arts, we don’t do this. Obviously, if martial arts schools behaved this way in general, all martial arts schools would close and the practice would die out.
I explained: you come, you train. That’s it. If class is large, you train. If it is small, you train. You do not discriminate the size of the class. You do not discriminate who is teaching. You experience the class without preferring one over the other. You just practice.
Aikido is a profound discipline. So is yoga. When I practiced yoga myself, I did not bounce from school to school looking for the popular teachers or popular studios. I did not concern myself with how many people were in a class. I learned from my tai chi classes – the teacher who was renowned for winning the push hands competition had the smallest school in NYC, with the lowest price. How could it be that the best teacher’s classes were empty (and inexpensive) while the most popular teacher (and expensive) only knew half of what the practice was about? I learned not to rely on the opinion of the other students, but look for myself.
I learned enough about the philosophy through study. I would see a teacher and evaluate what they were teaching. Did it conform to the principles of the practice? When I began to take their advice, was it helpful? Was I learning? Once a decision was made that this teacher was providing valuable instruction, I came and practiced.
As I continued to learn and develop, my ability to understand which are the better teachers developed as well. I sometimes cringe when I think of some of the people I studied with very early on. But I was also fortunate. In a number of disciplines I studied (meditation, aikido, tai chi, yoga), I did not consider how large the following. Those teachers really proved to be some of the best.
Yoga and the Consumer Mentality
If you were like me, you started yoga to feel a little better physically, and get a slice of peace during the day. We start out as consumers. We buy a little bit of peace and feeling better, and then go on with our business. But as we practice more and more, we realize yoga is a commitment. It takes work and an ongoing effort. Suddenly we find a bit of cognitive dissonance when we compare the actual yoga practice to the consumer mentality when we began.
The article on The Business of Yoga addresses the side of selling yoga services. This article addresses the issues that arise when purchasing yoga services.
This subject presents a common question in yoga practice. How much is “a good deal” for yoga classes? We think this way. I pay a certain price per class on average, or a certain amount for a month. How does that compare and is it worth it?
This line of thinking can get you into trouble rather quickly. The problem can be seen very clearly with the structure of the aikido program. We give students an option of getting a free uniform ($50 value) if they pay for three months of classes. It is optional – they can just pay for the month. We really do it to encourage people to commit to 3 months of practice, which is usually the most challenging period. More significant benefits start to show after this period.
But a fair number of students pay for three months and then only come for one. If you’ve already paid for classes, there is no additional cost to take them. In that sense the remaining classes are now free. That is the best deal ever, but still people stop. They find if they lose interest, their time and effort is not worth it. Thus we tell people, you don’t pay for martial arts training with your money, you pay with your time and effort. Money is only that which is necessary to keep the doors of the center open.
In reality, making a monetary judgment on the value of a class actually devalues the practice. What price does one put on genuine happiness? How many truly wealthy people are not completely happy? I understood this process intuitively when I was practicing tai chi with my teacher many years ago. My schedule would only allow me to train once a month for about six months. I could have taken off and saved the money, but how could I place a value on that one class each month? So I came once a month and paid the full amount for the month. I practiced every day on my own and really prepared for that one class. It helped my teacher pay his bills, and I learned tai chi. I was learning, so I got a “good deal.”
The point here is that as one realizes the profound benefits of practicing yoga, it begins to dawn on one’s consciousness that the consumer mentality is actually destructive to the practice itself. Best is to drop these ideas and just practice. For those who struggle financially, as a nonprofit we accept sincere practitioners on work exchange or scholarship, so lack of funds is not an obstacle either.
As explained in “The Business of Yoga” we are a nonprofit and do not have to pay owners of a corporation that need a return on their investment. There are no owners. What we charge is the just the cost of the classes. We do pay our yoga teachers towards the upper end of the pay range, but current compensation levels only lead to a marginal living. We feel it is respectful to pay dedicated practitioner a fair salary. Acting without greed is our job. For those who are interested in our programs, supporting them so they can remain active is the interested student’s job.