The Disillusioned Yogi

Maybe I was wrong about becoming a yoga teacher.

Riding home from my office job on the Red Line train in Chicago one gloomy day, I had an idea, a proverbial lightbulb moment. The faces around me looked gray or maybe beige, tired, grumpy.

This was nearly 10 years ago, before smartphones had completely taken over the urban commute and iPods were still only a novelty. So the metallic sound of the train on the rails, the occasional snore, and my own thoughts were my evening soundtrack.

I didn’t feel like those people looked. I was hopeful, full of ideas and excited to get home and start working on my audition pieces, the screenplay I was writing, or whatever creative project du jour.

I mean, sure, my job wasn’t what I intended it to be after graduating college. Yes, I wished I was making more money. And, no, I didn’t have a clue as to how I could finally become and do all the things I had envisioned for my life.

But I knew that I was not destined for the same fate as my fellow beige-faced commuters.

I had hope. I had faith. And I had a seemingly endless supply of energy.

So what was different?

Yoga.

I started doing yoga at my student rec center as a 19-year-old college sophomore who couldn’t touch my toes. It was about the only form of exercise I didn’t hate. (Tae Bo with Billy Blanks was hot at the time and it totally kicked my ass!)

When I moved to Chicago in 2000, I discovered my first yoga studio and I stuck with it, not for the exercise, but because somehow going to yoga classes eased my exhausting, overachieving type-A tendencies.

I was practicing with a teacher named Brett who wore plaid pajama bottoms and a plain white t-shirt to class (did Lululemon even exist then?)

We started every class with a reading and discussion of the philosophy of non-attachment and freedom from suffering from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (which covers virtually nothing about asanas, the physical positions we twist our bodies into during most “yoga” classes.)

Then, Brett would lead us through a challenging, slow-paced practice, echoing Patanjali’s words of wisdom to focus our minds away from distractions like whether my arms were going to fall out of my shoulder joints as I extended them out for 10 very long breaths in Warrior 2.

And then, savasana, the part at the end where you lie on the floor and close your eyes and do nothing… savasana was well-deserved bliss.

That class opened up a whole new way of thinking. It’s like my mind would slow down in the midst of the chaotic urban rush and I could see people, events, connections, relationships, and most importantly, my own reactions. Clearly.

That was my lightbulb moment on the train.

Life doesn’t have to be miserable, exhausting… beige.

I wanted to jump up, shout it out to everyone, and invite them to come to yoga class!

Instead, I sat in my seat, silently watching the clouds whizz by outside the window, a half smile on my lips as I contemplated becoming a yoga teacher for the first time.

Nearly 10 years ago.

A lot has changed since then.

I’m no longer in my 20s. I became a yoga teacher, ditched the office job, started my own yoga studio, lost a lot of money, traveled to India, co-led one yoga teacher training, closed my yoga studio, experienced my first real depression, stopped teaching, filed bankruptcy, started building a new “brand” beyond the studio, fell back in love with teaching yoga…

The industry has changed.

When I started my teacher training, there were merely 4 programs choose from in Chicago. Last I checked, according to the Yoga Alliance, there are now over 40… and that doesn’t include retreat-based, online, or those studios who have decided specifically NOT to associate themselves with the Yoga Alliance…

It seems like everyone is a yoga teacher these days, or at least thinking about becoming one. You can teach yoga to football players, kids, dogs (and their owners). You can become a “yoga life coach”, buy a franchise, or sign up for a yoga cruise!

It’s fantastic, right? All that peace and love and joy…

And yet I have concerns.

I worry about $20 Groupons for online certifications that promise you can make up to $150/hour as a new yoga teacher.

I worry about the growing number of yoga related injuries (serious ones) due to inadequate training, overcrowded classes, and an emphasis on achieving “advanced” postures.

I worry about yoga pants made in sweatshops in developing countries that retail here for $108+.

I worry about the term “yoga celebrity.”

I worry about a business model that depends upon attracting would-be yoga teachers into $5000 training programs and then releasing them into a crowded market, with very little business training, where it’s damn near impossible to make a decent living.

I guess you could say I’m a disillusioned yogi.

Maybe I was wrong on that train 10 years ago. The part about helping people find happiness, fulfillment and peace through yoga.

Or maybe disillusionment isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe it’s only when the veil is lifted, that we can truly see things clearly.

And maybe this is our genuine opportunity to make change.

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