This article was originally written for Prague Spirit Festival's magazine and published March 2017
Yoga is about consciousness, unity and compassion, but are we modern yogis truly becoming more aware? Or has embracing yoga as a business shifted us away from these deeper levels of practice?
After suffering an injury while working as an intern at a sanctuary, I gained a substantial amount of weight (65 pounds) for my small frame. When I returned home to pursue an 800 hour Jivamukti yoga apprenticeship, people noticed the change. I was suddenly seen as “not your typical yoga teacher.” It impacted not only my career but my personal life as well. Time and time again, at interviews I was praised for my skills but denied the job as I was "not the right look for the studio" or they wanted “a teacher who looked like they practiced.” It became socially awkward for me in studio offices as well, where I became marked as a social outcast for my looks.
After a few life altering events, I lost the 65 pounds and returned to what had been a more average weight for me. I began to notice again a radical shift in my life, especially in the yoga studios and yogic social circles. Fellow teachers (especially those of the opposite sex) who prior to my weight loss pretended I did not exist, all of the sudden wanted to be close buddies. Time slots and jobs I had been refused before were magically opened to me. Moreover, I was told I had to redo my promotional photos. Studio owners and head managers pushed me incessantly for new photo shoots of myself in postures for social media posts. From a shift in my outer appearance, it was like a flick of a switch, with every yoga avenue suddenly opening up for me.
Is any of this yogic? Has this become an industry in which we have to look like a Lulu Lemon ad to be worthy of teaching? I began to question how I felt about an occupation that was all about helping people without judgment and creating a safe haven for liberation, while behind closed doors it was looking so shallow, in fact a little too reminiscent of the high fashion world I had previously inhabited in Manhattan. I know there is a business side to yoga, but when we live yoga it is supposed to be more than that. I had hoped we could all find a way to operate in this business with a less of a superficial mentality.
This is a topic that is not talked about enough: yoga is for everyone—all bodies, all people, everywhere. Teaching yoga should not be about your shape, but rather your experience, your education, and the way you live as an example. My experience suggests a need for us all to return to a deeper yogic consciousness, to remember that outer appearance changes, but we are not this physical vessel. We are the spirit and the experiences that vessel holds. We are all here to teach; we all have something to share. All eyes we have the grace to meet are those of a beautiful remover of ignorance.