Too Old For Yoga Pants? Depends.

I knew I must be showing my age when I opened my goody bag for this year’s Yoga Journal Live in NY conference and found a box of Depends.

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A yogi for more than 15 years, I don’t feel the same zing when I attend these conferences, which seem to be giving way to festivals and social media. The yoga-lebrity doesn’t shine as bright as in years past, when teachers like Rodney Yee could create buzz just by walking through the hallway.

Although I’ve grown weary of yoga marketing and practicing in hotel conference rooms, I’m sad to see Yoga Journal Live go out of style. Materialism can be fun.

Even though I’ve grown weary of all the yoga stuff, including jeweled malas and $80 tops sold in the market place, I do acknowledge that the yoga I once knew is getting wrinkly. When I walked around the Midtown Hilton today, I felt like a step aerobics teacher hanging on to the last scrunchie. We conference-goers aren’t as perky as we used to be, or maybe there are just fewer of us. The millennials certainly aren’t hip to this scene, which may explain the adult pull-up diapers in our goody bags. While yoga is just as wanted and needed as it ever was, the accoutrements have become as passé as the leotard and as run-down as an un-toned pelvic floor.

My personal practice feels more authentic than ever, even though I’ve given up jump backs and headstands. These days, my regime looks like lying around on the floor. I’m still not ready for Depends.

But I’ll let you know for sure after I give them a whirl. I am an open-minded yogi, after all.

I’m Just Here For Savasana

“Final rest” can lend itself to macabre thoughts. Contrary to the cute T-shirt slogan, the pose is serious – even difficult. In Sanskrit, sava translates into corpse. When we practice savasana, we arrange our limbs in a funereal manner, sometimes with a bolster under the knees and a blanket beneath the head.

In America, we don’t like to talk about death, even though we see it each time we read about another shooting, another vigil. In less sensational terms, how many of us have lost jobs, family members ,or even a beloved restaurant that closed and gave way to Starbucks? These are all deaths, but in our culture, we don’t have a healthy collective way to process or celebrate them.

When I approached my 40s, I wanted more calm in how I approached change. The laugh lines around my mouth reminded me that my body was only a temporary structure for my infinite spirit. While my muscles loved to run and stretch, my soul — which was so big it frightened me — also needed tender care.

For my body, I began researching anatomical donation. Eventually, I donated it to a major hospital (I’m still using it right now), even going on a tour of the gross anatomy lab and attending cadaver memorials. In order to move forward, I wanted a better relationship with letting go.

To my surprise, med students often told me about unusual forces within the lab. Their beloved cadavers — spread open with bone saws — held secrets of scars and old surgeries that made them as real as any yia yia or abuela. Despite religious beliefs, many of these future doctors felt like the bodies watched them, not in a threatening way, but with the benign matter-of-factness of elderly aunts at a wedding.

In the memoir Body of Work, author Christine Montross, a doctor and poet, describes cutting off the face of Eve, the cadaver she shared with her fellow students, one of whom had a panic attack. “Despite the inertia of the dead,” Montross writes, “they actively affect us. Even now as the term winds to a close.”

In Thai medical schools, Montross notes, cadavers are especially holy because most citizens are Buddhist and therefore reluctant to intervene with reincarnation. Students refer to their bodies as “great teachers,” giving them ceremonies before and after dissection.

In a dance of intimacy unknown to most of us here in the West, Thai medical students memorize their donors’ names, forever walking with the dead in order to heal the living.

When we lie down for savasana, we are likewise communing with our ancestors. Corpse pose is not for the weak, a powerful conduit between space and time that is more than a slogan.

This article first appeared in YogaCity NYC.

If You Meet The Buddha On The Road, Google Him First

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After YogaCity NYC’s “Abuse of Power” panel at Yoga Union, I am chewing an interesting concept, brought up during the Q&A .

“Do we need to do background checks on our teachers?” a woman asked. Her question prompted “ohs” and “huhs” in the audience.

My answer to that — as a person who has had negative adventures in dating, kayaking, and yoga — is yes. While background checks may not be available, we do have google.

Google is Promethean fire on a smartphone. Few people use it the way they should. Let’s say I want to look up a teacher to see if he is an admitted sex addict at a prominent studio. (I’m not naming names, but I am using a real scenario.) I enter this teacher’s name into the search bar and voila, the creepy headlines appear in the second entry.

Let’s try another respected spiritual leader, the late Ashtanga master Pattabhi Jois, affectionately referred to by his students as Guruji. I scroll through accolades and obituaries. But on page four, I find this article, “Yoga Teacher FAIL…Is that Pattabhi Jois?,” contributed by Yoga Dork. This picture shows Guruji with his hands in the groins of two female yogis. I first saw the stock photo years ago on a male friend’s Facebook page. The meme made me grimace: “How do I get this guy’s job?” I never would have connected the dots to Pattabhi Jois.

After the YogaCity NYC panel, I know Guruji had another side. Women at the panel discussed misogyny and the culture that produced similar yoga masters. For the first time, I learned that travels to India may not always be the Eat, Pray, Love variety.

Do unfortunate actions take away from a teacher’s good qualities? Maybe or maybe not, depending on how students frame their own narratives.

My point is that when we first seek instruction, we are often hoping to repair a damaged heart and body. We are likely to hand our souls to the first person with authority. Some of that transference is necessary. As a respected colleague said to me, “When you find your teacher, it’s like falling in love.” I agree. Yet before trekking off to an ashram or teacher training, I recommend that if you meet Buddha on the road, google him before you shank him.

-illustration from YogaCity NYC

 

 

Channeling Mom, I Sewed My Own Lululemon Pants

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When Bloomberg News reported the $400 yoga legging trend, my stomach convulsed into spontaneous nauli. Disgusted by this—and my reliance upon these clothes as an instructor—I developed a plan. I would learn to sew my own yoga pants. With my head full of dreams, I decided to skip beginner patterns and committed to a more outrageous venture: By September, I would recreate my favorite Lululemons. Purchased in 2007, these pants still performed gravity-defying properties on my aging backside.

For encouragement, I called my resourceful mother in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

“You’ll hate what you make,” Mom said. “Trust me. It’s cheaper to buy what you want.”

I suspected she was right, but still, thanks for the encouragement Mom. She’d engineered my childhood wardrobe, from Little House dresses to Brownie uniform, until I reached high school and begged her to stop. I can still see her, pins in her mouth, draping patterns on my elongating pre-teen body. For two decades, I’ve lived in big cities, losing daily physical contact with my mother. Now I secretly wondered if my mission wasn’t just about the garment industry. Maybe it was a homage to home and to Mom.

Having re-mastered basic skills, I located a patient teacher, Rachel Blackmon, through my Inwood community Facebook page. We agreed on lessons for $40 an hour, staying within a budget of about $200.

When I met Blackmon in her sunlit apartment, I knew I found my guide. Dressed in a floral skirt of her own invention, she offered red wine while her son played in the bedroom. Like me, she competed in 4-H in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado. Unlike me, she continued through high school and her recent job transition, from middle school teacher to CEO of Rachel’s House of Craft.

“What’s more fulfilling?” Blackmon asked me. “Buying or making? There’s something about creating with the hands that rekindles home.”

Blackmon invited me to touch several samples of knit, one of her favorite fabrics. On her dining room table, she pinned and traced my Lulus onto pattern paper, a maneuver that resembled dissection. Before our next lesson, she recommended two places to purchase fabric: a Mom & Pop in the Bronx and Mood Fabric in the Garment District. As a die-hard Project Runway fan, my ears heard only Mood, the source of sewing porn.

Entering, I imagined the voice of Tim Gunn, warning me to “make it work.” With three levels, Mood was the Capitol. Jo-Ann Fabric was merely a colony.

Impervious to pain, I danced through aisles of notions and faux fur until I was stopped by Jonae, an “ex-con design student” with torn jeans and an Afro.

She led me into a Brothers Grimm forest of knits. My hands reached for a grayish-black material, then to a bolt of stretchy denim. “You’re not allowed to make jeggings,” she gasped. Overwhelmed, I grabbed my first choice, a gray-black ponte. A blend of rayon, polyester, and Spandex, the ponte shared qualities with my olive capris. Jonae cut a yard-and-a-half for $12. “No more murder pants for you,” she said, referring to the 2011 bludgeoning death of a Lululemon sales clerk by a fellow employee.

Jonae was a poem.

After I washed and dried the fabric, I went back to Blackmon who spread it onto her table. “I have a philosophy,” Blackmon said, smoothing wrinkles. “Sometimes we avoid what is most healing to us. It reminds you you’re a physical being with an end. We avoid the things that self-sustain because they connect us to our mortality.”

For the next three Wednesdays, Blackmon coached as I cut, ironed, and basted parts together. Then came my first fitting: a moment of truth. The pants were going to be beautiful. All we had to do was rip basted seams and re-sew with permanent stitches. Confident, I agreed to finish my project using the $10-per-hour unsupervised option. I stitched. Blackmon did laundry. When Blackmon checked on my progress, she turned pale. I had sewn the outer seams together without incorporating the gusset. In a matter of minutes, my promising pants had turned into a long-waisted pair of bootie lederhosen.

“You’re going to have to cut the seams, which means we now have less fabric,” she said. “This ponte may stretch enough to fit you. But you may need to give them to someone who is smaller than you.” I walked home close to tears.

For the final lesson, Blackmon gave me healthy discounts. We would be done in an hour, she said. We were so close.

Four hours and several thread balls later, I did indeed have a pair of pants. I tried them on in her bedroom. Fantastic! But I had mixed feelings. More flattering than the Lulus, they were also more expensive at more than $300 in cloth and instruction.

“This project was difficult,” Blackmon said. “There was an impenetrable quality to the fabric. We solved the problem by changing needles, from ballpoint to a sharp universal. Every fabric has its surprises.”

I wasn’t convinced.

“If you make them again, it would be easier,” Blackmon coaxed. “You were learning a lot at once. I suggest you take a break from knits and go with wovens because you can take out the stitches without ruining the fabric.”

We agreed to leave the pattern at her apartment. I would tackle the pants again, once I’d mastered easier projects. In the meantime, I wore my pants to Jivamukti. They held up in hanuman. They also rocked in CrossFit. Stok
ed, I walked into Lululemon on 14th Street.

“What do you think of my Lulus?” I asked, glowing. “Is there anyone I can talk to about the care and fit of a pair of pants?” A friendly clerk pointed to the manager. The manager directed me to media relations online. I tried the same dialogue at Athleta and Old Navy. I got the same results.

When I sent emails to the media departments of Gap Inc., which owns Athleta and Old

Navy, I heard nothing. When I wrote to Lululemon, I received this from a p.r. person: “Thanks for your email and for thinking of Lululemon for this opportunity. We’d like to respectfully decline . . .”

Yoga For My Favorite Netflix Homocide Detectives

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Like a lot of New Yorkers seeking quiet and inner stillness, I brag I don’t own a TV. What I omit is that almost every night, I pull down the shades, crawl into bed, and scarf down Netflix murder shows from the theater of my laptop. My favorites are River, The Fall, Broadchurch, and more recently for me, The Killing. If you know these shows, you may notice the common denominator: None of these grisly plots take place in New York. In other words, my viewing of sociopaths and stalkers feels like a vacation, simply because the action takes place in Belfast, Broadchurch, London, or even Seattle.

Also, each of these programs focuses on one major crime for full, whole seasons. American crime shows give me whiplash, fitting way too much info into too few episodes. With these slower-build dramas, I feel invested in the well drawn characters and the twists and turns of fine writing.

Because I love these characters so much, I have designed a yoga practice for each of my favorite Netflix detectives:

  1. The Fall: Stella Gibson, named after a guitar, finds stillness in repetitive solo exercise. When she’s not trying to capture her nemesis, serial killer Paul Spector, also named after a guitar, she enjoys swimming laps in local Belfast pools. She always swims indoors and alone. Played by Gillian Anderson, Stella is so cool under pressure that when she weeps over victims or journals about her nightmares, she becomes exquisitely human. For the one and only Stella Gibson, I recommend Iyengar. She wouldn’t trust anything with music or heart language, but she could benefit greatly from an obstinate focus on alignment and self care. For the complicated dreams, I would recommend she download iRest sessions with Richard Miller.
  2. The Killing: With all of Sarah Linden’s Seattle street smarts, she struggles to show her vast resources of love to family members, including her own son Jack. Instead, her heart bleeds for victims like Rosie Larsen. For Sarah, played by the petite but formidable Mireille Enos, I suggest family yoga, something taught in a social work setting, perhaps by her own social worker, Reggie. As an avid runner, she might gravitate more toward a vinyasa style. So would her music-loving preteen.
  3. Broadchurch: Detective Inspector Alec Hardy may be an annoying Scot who hates local fish and chips, but he cares deeply about solving the murder of young Danny Latimer. An outsider in this seaside hamlet in Dorset, England, he privately nurses a very sick, unhealthy heart. He believes that if he cracks the case, he will heal himself, or at least die with a clear conscience. For DI Alec Hardy, I can see him doing well with either yin or Kundalini styles, perhaps both once he is healthy enough to do more challenging krias. My reasoning is that Hardy has dwelling thoughts. While he could benefit from the forgiveness and yielding of yin, chugging through the chakras might do him good.
  4. River: My favorite Netflix detective may be DI John River, played by the amazing Stellan Skarsgard, whom I recognized from Good Will Hunting, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. In short, the man is a sensitive, complex giant on the screen. Because he sees and regularly talks to dead victims including his old partner, Stevie, River is especially awkward in almost all settings involving “normal” human interaction. But for all his visions, he’s less crazy than incredibly perceptive. The people near him love him and value his gifts. Yet they want him to find peace. That’s why I recommend iRest, offered in a one-on-one setting with his therapist.

The Chitta Behind Yoga Pants

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“You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins?” inquired a 15-year-old Brooke Shields in the famous 1981 ad campaign.

After attending Yoga Journal LIVE!, I see the trend has changed from denim to knits, prompting a similar question: “You want to know what comes between me and my sprayed-on shiny yoga pants with strategically placed graphics? Nothing. Not even my dharma.”

Cfm6knSWQAQoIKnCfm7JasXEAUVmQjSurrounded by an overwhelmingly female crowd in newly purchased leggings and designer jewelry, I entered the event at the Hilton detecting a sexual charge as I signed in and walked to my 8 a.m. class. That energy only intensified inside the dark conference room. We 30 participants, 27 women and three men, settled onto our mats and waited for our famous teacher. Any authority figure could have walked through that door and been the object of messy projections. But it was Vinnie Marino, a good-looking man in his late 50s, whose struggles with drugs changed his mission to one of recovery.

After leading a oms and basic stretches, I got a healthy read from Vinnie. He seemed aware of the crowd’s expectations — possibly even the yoga pants — but focused on the practice instead of collecting phone numbers. I wondered: Where was this sexual energy coming from, if not from him? As I moved through the poses, I picked up on my own thoughts and was shocked at how many times they landed on Instagram vanity, a combo of spirituality and commerce: I want those cool Day of the Dead yoga pants. They make that woman’s butt look so perky. I like that girl’s glitter mala. Did she buy it in the Yoga Journal marketplace?

Here I had shown up in granny sweats, wanting to keep centered on my internal needs rather than all the crap I could buy from vendors. As much as I loved the artistry of shiny leggings decorated with ocean scenes and flowers, I noticed the styles were tighter, if that were even possible. Fabric was less supportive. Seams accentuated crevices, not just curves. Mesh patches revealed vulnerable bits of thigh. It was distracting. It made a pubescent Brooke Shields look like a nun.

Out of curiosity, I googled “yoga pants fetish” and found porn sites dedicated to the genre. What I thought was innocent — wearing trendy althleisure — had become a whole production, a heady mix of paraphilia and consumerism better suited for selling muscle cars than healing anxiety.

Before I go further, I’m not selling my yoga pants. I am an modern American woman who loves easy-to-wash leisure wear that doubles as work-day casual or running gear. I celebrate my femininity and the innovate times in which I live. Today’s fabrics have become more breathable and functional than cotton, Spandex, or even denim. In my closet, I have three pairs of capris (one with a built-in skirt), two pairs of quality full-length tights, and two pairs of looser stretch trousers that cover me for a full-day’s worth of sweating and going to meetings.

While I’m not giving up my workout clothes, I’m struggling with my intentions: Am I desiring comfort, or am I wanting people to find me sexy?

Usually, my answer is the former, but the latter plays a part.

As a compromise, I will stick to basic shapes. And when teaching a class, I can wear a long tunic, out of respect.

Yoga Is A Great Place To Meet Lots Of Attractive Single Women

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photo from washingtonpost.com

To calm my urban brain, which was doing a series of jump backs and handstands, I recently attended my first class at MNDFL, New York’s first meditation studio with gym hours.

Upon entering the swanky West Village space, I was blown away by the lush decor and the group of four men sipping tea in the inviting living room area. These were normal gentlemen in V-neck sweaters and scarves who have long escaped the snares of my eHarmony search engines. I’ve rarely seen more than a few of this endangered species in vinyasa, restorative, ashtanga, hatha, Bikram, Kundalini, Anusara, yin, aerial, aqua, power, hot, or even naked yoga (although there were more than the average clothed class).

Yoga Journal, which loves nimble cover girls, noticed the disparity. Recently, the publication conducted a survey. As you might have guessed from all the athleisure-wear, yoga practice is stretching like a pair of factory reject compression shorts. As of 2016, 36 million Americans practice asana, up from 20.4 million in 2012. Of that large group, 72 percent are women.

In my experience, yoga is the best place to meet legions of really attractive single women. Yet I remember the days when boys weren’t just potential sweethearts, but brothers and confidantes. I miss male friends. Yoga should be the best place to find them, an incubator of healthy communities on and off the mat. Maybe meditation was less intimidating.

As I approached the cloud of testosterone at MNDFL, I noticed they were sitting Don Draper style, with one ankle crossed over thigh. I tried not to alarm them for fear they would break formation and disperse into the ether. Not only did I hear chatter about gainful employment, I also picked up on how they expressed feelings. I had to investigate further.

One extremely tall gentleman, a triathlete who called himself Fernando, allowed me to interview him for a feature in YogaCity NYC. Through our discussion at MNDFL and others to follow, I collected evidence as to why males don’t flock to studios.

Here’s what Fernando said to me that I couldn’t fit into my published article:

Me: What is it about meditation that may or may not be more attractive to men than a yoga class?

Fernando: Fewer yoga pants. We have to look at them all day on the streets. Fine. We get it. You’re on your way to yoga. Always. All day. Every day. But a room full of those. The concentration of yoga pants is simply too much for most men. The visual effect is basically a naked ass covered in black or grey spray paint. That’s not conducive to concentration or introspection or even lowering your gaze. If the women wore burlap dungarees, men would do more yoga.

Me: What is it about yoga that may or may not be intimidating to men?

Fernando: For men, the main problem with yoga is what to wear. Sweats are too loose. Shorts are too loose. Speedos are for the pool. I’ve gone to Reebok and Lululemon and Nike, and they just don’t make yoga pants for men.

Me: Why are there fewer numbers of men in yoga in your opinion? Is it flexibility? I’m aiming to be helpful to yoga teachers. We DO NOT KNOW!

Fernando: I do think that flexibility is one issue. When the instructor says to lay your face down on your knees, or if you can’t, then do something similar, that might be tough for men to take. One thing is tone of voice. Some yoga teachers can speak in a “calming” whisper which can be more aggravating than relaxing.

More to follow on this important issue. I did tell Fernando about Moon & Son yoga clothing just for men.

I Interviewed The Yoga Mall Woman And Am Better For It

After 12 years teaching yoga, I celebrated my 41st birthday a jaded crust of the gal who once traversed three boroughs with a pocket of playlists. Currently a full-time recreational therapist, I offer free asana to older adults. It’s rewarding. Yet when I look at my earnings — less than the New York median household income of $50,711 — I wonder if I should have married a rich guy and developed integrity after growing my brand.Partner-Yoga-Photos-Instagram

I’m kidding. (Kind of.) As a survivor of the boom that bloomed yoga-lebrities like Tara Stiles and Seane Corn, I saw potential in this $27 billion a year industry that ultimately left me without enough money to live on. Crushed in the cycle of rising rent with no promotions, I realized my shame looked nothing like navasana against a cerulean sea, the barf-inducing image teachers are posting these days on Instagram.

As I transition into a more profitable career, which will probably include yoga, I wondered: With average New York rents at $3,100, couldn’t I just sleep with a skanky dude with power?

“Oh, it’s not too late,” quipped Theresa Elliott, director of Taj Yoga in Seattle. “That time-honored ascension technique will never die, although 20 years ago, it brought you closer to enlightenment. Now it just gets you a ClassPass.”

I connected with Elliott after I read her viral editorials, including “After 27 years of teaching yoga, I got a job at the mall” and “12 months later, mall therapy works.” You also might have caught her in the gorgeous New York Magazine piece, “The Brutal Economics of Being A Yoga Teacher.”

I just had to meet this woman, not just because of her wit, but also her candor regarding the yoga world outside of New York. In my interviews with her for YogaCity NYC, I laughed so hard I nearly dropped my phone — proving my theory that the most serious yogis are also the funniest. Elliott and I both love yoga. But some of the trends are downright ridiculous. Our side conversation topics ranged from Bikram’s “atomic balls” to Zumba as a DSM-5 addiction. Here’s a screen shot of one phone call:unnamed (10)

She’s in the upper left-hand corner. Cute, right?

I remember her wonderful demos from Hugger Mugger ads and Judith Lasater books. With her refusal to submit to Groupon to fill her studio, Elliot, 55, was my General Leia in a uni-tard. For a time, she banked six figures. Elliott, who still practices but is on a teaching sabbatical, said this to me:

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“I didn’t abuse anyone to get there. I didn’t do Groupon and the subsequent practice of not paying teachers for those students. I also didn’t go the route of setting up franchises, or opening multiple studios because I felt my strength was teaching, and I was afraid I would be swallowed up by the required administration. I was just successful in setting up a low-key, low rent studio that supported my goals in every way: financially, artistically, “yogically.” I was aware I was making lots of money, and I was aware I needed change. I have reinvented myself so many times as a yoga teacher, but I needed a major remake even though, as an instructor, I had never been better. My nature was changing in a way it never had before, and so was the field of yoga.”

In 2013, attendance at her teacher trainings diminished because of 40 simultaneous trainings in the Seattle area. More trainings happened the next month, signs of a boom gone bust.

Today, Elliott continues to work at the mall. She lived through the holiday season but not without scars described in “Don’t Piss Off The Help.” I especially liked her latest blog about her personal issues with sun salutes. Guess what? She created her own.

That Theresa Elliott. She’s going places.

Author Sharon Salzberg Blew My Work Mind With Meditation

gSQwOUVEDue to a recent dental surgery, I promised my doc I would avoid pain-coping go-tos like yoga and running that could put additional strain on my body. With these temporary limitations and a glorious sick day to re-coup, I waddled into the Rubin Museum for a Wednesday Mindfulness Meditation with author Sharon Salzberg.

When she arrived on the stage, this co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society reminded me of one of my Midwestern aunts in a plain button-down blouse. Sitting in front of a projection of a stupa, Salzberg radiated grounded-ness and warmth. Smiling, she discussed the deliciousness of workplace gossip. But with mindfulness, we know that dish fests rarely have positive outcomes. Salzberg then led two meditations, a long one followed by a Q & A and a few minutes of silence.

Impressed with her digestible 45-minute lesson and sweet manner, I walked to the bookstore to buy her latest book, Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace.Real Happiness At Work

Puzzled by some of my own work scenarios, I resonated with the title. I clock in as a recreational therapist at a senior center, where, once again, I learned another wonderful client had passed away. Given the frail population, death is part of the job. But lately, I had become distrustful and found myself taking that home.

Salzberg wrote in the introduction:

Adults who work full time spend more of their waking hours at work than anywhere else, and Americans spend more hours per year at work than citizens of any other nation in the world. It can be difficult to keep from confusing our core sense of ourselves with the role we play at work, but clarity about this is critical to our peace of mind.”

I sat in the Rubin’s cafe devouring Real Happiness to the final pages. It’s that good.

Salzberg divided Real Happiness into eight sections: Balance, Concentration, Compassion, Resilience, Communication and Connection, Integrity, Meaning, and Open Awareness. I especially loved the Concentration chapter, which addressed our addictive need to check our phones. “Distraction wastes our energy; concentration restores it,” she wrote. To help, she recommended two meditations: Letting Go of Thoughts and Walking. She also offered a body awareness exercise.

I got the most from Resilience, where she revealed symptoms of burnout and compassion fatigue made worse with a lack of self care. She explained the human body is designed for breaks; it can’t continuously “be on.” Nor can it always be in control. Salzberg illustrated by telling a story of being in a New York City cab. Never had she seen such traffic. The driver said, “Madam, traffic is not your fault.” Then he added, “Nor is it mine.” For those in care-taking roles, Salzberg offered a loving-kindness meditation and three exercises that can lead to shifts in view during difficult situations. My favorite was to list all the stresses at work and then to match each with its self care opposite. As I flew through my list, which included a hot office, I realized I had a gift of being able to leave the room and socialize with clients and co-workers. That afternoon, I went for a 10-minute walk break to cool off. I greeted a new employee and admired a newsletter produced by another department.

I wasn’t Disney World happy, but I did feel a spark. Also, I felt grateful for sick days when I need them.

 

Disgruntled Yogis: What Happens When The Yoga Bubble Bursts?

Since this story appeared in YogaCity NYC last Tuesday, I have been getting personal emails and tweets noting shifts in the health and wellness industry. Here is a re-posting of the article on my new improved site.

Anna Hughes, 38, began teaching yoga in her twenties, before pediatricians and babysitters were in her budget. Recently, she became a real estate agent with Urban Luxe Realty in New Jersey. Hughes observes: “When I started teaching, I did it to serve. Today, self-promotion is half an instructor’s job. You don’t necessarily have to be good. Studios are looking for social media presence. I’m average looking. What average person do you know who has 6,000 followers?”

I feel Hughes’s pain! After more than a decade of teaching yoga, commuting on off peak subways to three different boroughs, I exhausted myself. Now I am a full-time recreational therapist and offer free asana to older adults.

Hughes, who still has private clients and group classes, couldn’t make ends meet as a teacher. When we started, we both saw potential in a growing $27 billion a year industry. But rising rents combined with no raises left us without enough to meet expenses.

I don’t regret 12 years of education and practice—more than it takes to be an IT technician or doctor—that led to real expertise and strong daily rituals. Still I can’t help feeling like I was duped into believing I could make a living as a yoga teacher. Hughes suggests a real paradox, “How do I do what I’m doing, but make it lucrative?”

Hughes displays the skills of a seasoned pro when teaching: a well-sequenced class thoughtfully interspersed with music, simple cues and purposeful silence. In a noon class I took at YogaWorks, she finished with her own beautiful recitation of the Guyatri mantra. Beginning instructors never ground me in the way she does.

At Roosevelt Hospital she co-created a mindfulness curriculum in an addiction program. When she asked her boss if he could give her more hours, qualifying her for benefits he said, “We love your classes, but yoga is a dead end.” She now sorely agrees. “As someone looking 40 in the face, I am aware that health and wellness is more cutthroat than most industries. I’m waiting for the email from the studio I teach at that says, ‘Thank you for building attendance for 11 years, but we’re moving in a different direction.’ And I get it. Studios have to stay on top of trends.”

Is this endless promotion and fleeting financial picture any better outside New York? Theresa Elliott, director of Taj Yoga in Seattle says it’s the same in her area. She recently celebrated her first year as a sales associate at the mall. I remember her wonderful demo pictures in Judith Lasater’s books. Elliott, 55, refused to submit to Groupon to fill her studio. She thinks the “Golden Era of Yoga” reigned from 2007-2009, but in 2013, attendance in her teacher trainings dwindled because of a saturated market.

“I have reinvented myself many times as a yoga teacher, but I needed a major remake even though as a yoga instructor, I had never been better,” Elliott said. I realize that’s the sad true statement for many mature teachers. Unless you teach classes that meld yoga and surfing, you can’t make it work anymore. And, now you can’t help students ascend to enlightenment without ClassPass.

In Williamsburg, J. Brown, owner of Abhyasa Yoga Center, tells his novice instructors—keep your day job.

“Before the recession, it was possible to make millions,” he said. “There was a period of conference circuits with personalities like Shiva Rea, but money is made differently now. It used to be how many people showed up to your conference. Now, it’s authors. It’s festivals like Wanderlust.” And for studios, it’s churning out teacher trainings.

Brown, a long-established instructor, works hard to stay marketable, recently introducing podcast talks. His blog attracts up to 20,000 readers month. Yet Brown earns nothing from these. “My intention is to create useful and inspiring content that people find helpful,” he said. “I believe I can then potentially make money off that service. Selling is secondary to the soul of it.

I asked if yoga is losing terrific dyed-in-the-wool teachers forced to reduce their hours. He answered philosophically: “What’s happening is a paradigm shift in the world economies and use of the Internet playing out across many sectors, not just yoga, which had always been on the margins. Now, yoga is mainstream and subject to the same stipulations as other industries.”

Brown noted growing backlash against screens and an increasing demand for quality instruction. But what happens next? Brown, a yogi since his early 20s, couldn’t answer.

—Illustration by Sharon Watts