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Opinion: Abuse of Power Throughout Yoga?

The other night I attended a discussion on the abuse of power in the yoga community. It was both disturbing and eye opening as the panelists discussed their own sexual abuse and a few in the audience broke into tears talking about what had happened to them. As the discussion moved into legalities, insurance, background checks, it dawned on me. The entire yoga industry is rife with abuse. And not just sexual.

The economics of the yoga studio business are challenging. Many rely on the income from their boutiques and teacher trainings to make money. Students who practice at these studios, become teachers, and graduate with no straightforward career path. And, because some studios hold two or three trainings a year, there are tons of teachers out there.

New teachers find themselves competing first for subbing opportunities and then for their own spot on the schedule. Studios are different, but in my experience, there are no performance evaluations so it tends to be unclear as to how it all works. In addition, social media has contributed to the competitive environment and a sort of desperation sets in. In order to make a living, teachers end up working at all hours, many without health insurance and for low wages. There is little job stability and if a teacher gets sick, they are out of a paycheck. Self-confidence is damaged, negative self-talk sets in and questions about the yoga practice arise.

Why? Because we are taught at teacher training that we should follow the teachings of the Yoga Sutras – the yamas – and be truthful, not violent, not steal, walk in the path of God and not hoard. Yet, they don’t seem to be applied in the day to day business of yoga. Instead, they are being used to justify all kinds of behavior in the yoga community. And, using the spiritual teachings as weapons, excuses, or even enticements is a corruption of their essence.

So, as I sat at this panel discussion, I realized that the yoga business as we know it should not be called yoga. Call it asana aerobics. Call it Yogacize. Just don’t call it yoga. Because yoga is a very special and sacred spiritual practice, one of the six traditional philosophical systems to come out of the ancient world. Yoga is a personal mental health regimen. And, according to the Yoga Sutras, when the crazy whirlings of the mind cease, we stand in our true nature. This is difficult to attain no matter what business you work in, let alone the yoga business.

I am not saying I have the answers, but I taught in this city for 10 years and decided to retire 18 months ago. I no longer wanted to be part of the system – the low pay, the yoga politics, and the negative thoughts that started to creep into my mind. It was time to take back my practice and my peace of mind.

--Lisa Dawn Angerame

--Illustration: Sharon Watts

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