I've been pondering about yoga and capitalism. In the early days, students who really wanted to learn yoga had to go beg the teacher to teach them. The guru would make these bright-eyed hopeful students go through crazy difficult tests to confirm their determination for this practice. I guess when the (western) students have experienced the benefits of the practice, they want to share it with people back home. They knew such a disciplined practice wouldn't appeal to the masses, so they've modified and marketed yoga in a way that people would want to try it out. There is nothing wrong with that. I think anyone who has tried yoga has received benefits of relaxation, improved breathing, more limber body, and more. The thing is, when yoga turns into a business, rent and electricity costs money, and studio owners end up having to recruit more and more customers by whatever means they can to pay the bills as opposed to teaching it in the strict traditional form. People would only pay so much money for practice, so all these other things are born - clothing lines, jewelries, expensive mats and mat cleaners, and - teacher training! Initially meant to uphold the quality of yoga teachers, in a capitalist society this screams "career opportunity", and everyone jumps at it, because seriously, being a yoga teacher and make other people feel good feels 1000 times more meaningful than, say, a bank job where you count other people's cash all day, or a secretarial job where you do the most boring administrative paperwork stuff for the rest of your life. Most friends I know with traditional jobs often talk like they work in a prison, or just avoid talking about their work at all.
So then we get into this situation where the market is filled with well-intentioned yoga teachers who have practiced yoga themselves for barely a few months. The market demand for yoga classes are so high that sometimes these teachers end up teaching full time and have no time for personal practice. We get students who take classes with these teachers for awhile, who want to dig deeper into yoga, but the only option to go deeper seems to be to sign up for $3000+ teacher training, because a lot of these teachers are too inexperienced to offer adjustments or teach headstands (for safety/liability reasons I'm glad they don't). What a brilliantly crafted money-making business plan (that I think happened somewhat accidentally)!
Yoga nowadays is kind of like Christianity. It is spread broadly by people who have felt the benefits of the practice but don't fully understand the history and the deepness of the tradition. You get a lot of teachers who take bits of what they like about yoga (or what students might prefer) and sell them to students, while ignoring bits that they don't quite understand/believe in themselves, as well as parts that might clash with conventional beliefs and personal comfort zones. Don't like talking about spirituality? OK, we'll take that out of this yoga class. Jump backs and jump throughs frustrate students? No problem. Just don't introduce them in class and students will never know they existed. Feet together in Samasthiti feels unbalanced? Let's teach people to stand feet hip distance apart instead. The teachers who first started teaching this way understood the intentions behind the modifications, but new yoga practitioners subsequently taking teacher training programs don't seem to realize these are modifications (partly because they can't do the full form themselves, which takes years to achieve) and teach them as strict rules instead.
What ends up happening is a lot of confused yoga practitioners. I attended a yoga conference last year when barely started practicing yoga, so some of the classes and variations were kind of confusing to me. What was really daunting for me, was that about half the attendees claimed to have gone through some sort of yoga teacher training program, yet they seemed more confused than I was. It made me really appreciate having encountered a great teacher at the beginning of my yoga journey. My yoga teacher is a total stickler for teaching the original Ashtanga form (e.g. hands together in warrior I even if one has tight shoulders, grab the toe in trikonasana even if one has super tight hips, etc). I wondered for the longest time why he doesn't teach the modified forms like all other teachers seem to do. Some students (and even yoga teachers) stay away from his classes because of this reason. It took me awhile to realize but now when I encounter variations, it's obvious to me (without anyone informing me the reasons) that they are modified forms to make beginners' lives easier. I've heard some teachers complain that Ashtanga doesn't seem to teach a lot of alignments. I've been to classes with a ton of verbal alignment cues, but half the cues didn't jive with my body. Even when the cues felt helpful, I saw a lot of people in class still had crap alignments, and the teacher didn't do anything to physically assist anyone (which Ashtanga teachers tend to do). Since the results are about the same, the preference is up to the students then. It's good to have a choice between the preferred method of being taught.
In the beginning I totally disagreed with reformulating yoga into marketable products (anti-gravity yoga, yoga for runners, yoga for weight loss, yoga with live music, etc). Now I no longer think it's wrong, because just like it always has been, the mass public doesn't want to be put through a disciplined spiritual practice. They want to entertained and to feel good -- instant gratifications. Maybe I'm a bit of a weirdo but it's happened so many times that when I went out friends for a drinking gathering, I would join them for a few drinks, but as I noticed people started behaving funny as a result of intoxication, instead of "catching up" I wold stop myself because I didn't really feel like becoming the same way (plus I get a headache right away from too much alcohol anyway). When I attend a yoga class with good music and lots of feel good messages but no challenge, I feel entertained but at the same time I would sense that something is missing. When the sequencing of a yoga class doesn't feel quite right or if a class is all about getting a work out I also become very disappointed. However other students seem to enjoy the class no less. Perhaps I'm just too hard to please?
I guess I like things I do to have meaning, and Ashtanga seem to be so well crafted that every pose as well as the details of the sequencing have reasons to back up this practice. Not everyone needs every activity they do to have meaning. Not everyone wants to read into the history of yoga. Not everyone wants to have the basic alignment for each pose memorized. Hence the yoga industry shapes itself to fit mainstream crowd's desires. I am just glad that I came across a yoga style that suits my personality and that the system is rich enough for me to explore for many years to come. I've heard people complain that yoga should be cheaper and be available to more people, yada yada. I wonder if they really mean that everyone should be taught basic breathing techniques and basic stretches, because not all yoga styles are the same. I think at the rate that current teacher training program churns out yoga teachers, we would soon have enough yoga teachers qualified to teach exactly such at every school, hospital and community center. This would indeed benefit the public at large. However, for a deeper yoga practice, it is up to me to put in the effort to go find the right teacher for proper guidance. To be able to study with a good yoga teacher is a privilege rather than one of the basic human rights. I must remember that.
Also, there's nothing wrong with doing yoga for social and entertainment purposes. Ashtanga will always be my grounding practice, but I am still allowed to attend other styles of yoga for fun!