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Yoga and Capitalism: Can They Coexist?

Thought leaders discuss where yoga is heading and how to create a new, more accessible platform to better serve students and teachers in the pandemic era.

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As yoga has exploded in popularity over the last few decades, the practice has become increasingly commercialized. Yoga Unify, a new non-profit working to preserve the tradition and steward the forward evolution of yoga, brings together the experts to talk about whether that is a sustainable trajectory.

Co-founder and yoga teachers Ravi Singh, Judy Weaver, and Heather Sheree Titus, sat down to discuss how yoga should move away from being transactional and return to being a practice that is instead passed down from teacher to student, from generation to generation. 

Yoga as a Transmission Not a Transaction

Heather Titus: During this time of great change, there’s a real opportunity for us to come together as a yoga community and demonstrate what unity as opposed to divisiveness looks like, to support the people around us with the practice. In order to do that, we really need to shift the paradigm away from the commodity of yoga. Yoga is transmission, not transactional.

Judy Weaver: We, as teachers and practitioners, have a say in how we want to disseminate yoga, and how we want to show up out there. We are acknowledging the fact that this has largely been, in the West, a physical practice for white individuals that have money.

Ravi Singh: We’re seeing that that isn’t sustainable or workable—that it never was. So we’re actively seeking a way to be of service to previously marginalized communities, and will find a way, through grants and support for everyone to do yoga.

HT: There are two parts of our organizational structure to serve the purpose of reaching people who have never had a practice before. One is the community investment piece: scholarships, grants, and funding for research. The other is that we’re trying to change the face of yoga, the reputation that yoga has had in its commercial heyday of this last decade.

A Focus on Personal and Industry-Wide Accountability in the Yoga World 

RS: As yoga has existed in that narcissistic framework, so to speak, ethical breaches were almost enabled. A main pillar of Yoga Unify’s structure is ethics and integrity. We will have a system in place so that people who feel there have been ethical breaches can further the process of follow-up and accountability. 

JW: If you think about the image of yoga being taught one-on-one, which was the way the lineage was really designed to be handed down, it becomes deeper. By having the Yoga U Catalog—I call it a GPS system for the yoga practitioner—wherever you are in your journey, we’re creating for you a way to navigate your own customized journey as a practitioner.

HT:  The more we shift the conversation to personal responsibility, the more we’re empowering individuals to take their practice into their own hands. All Yoga Unify members give input, hold each other accountable, and receive support in their individual yoga path. We reject the idea that X number of teaching hours make a teacher—it’s a journey that requires consistent support and study.

RS: I was with Unity in Yoga [later Yoga Alliance] from the beginning. Yoga Alliance has been of great service to the yoga world. We see Yoga Unify filling some unmet needs in the greater yoga community in this time of profound change.

JW: What yoga doesn’t need is a regulator, the regulation of an ancient practice and a science. Instead of having boxes, we’re taking a global look at practice, and putting it together in a way that is interconnected. I think that will inherently foster community, and bring all teachers and practitioners together, regardless whatever style or tradition you’re in.

RS: We want to create a feedback loop between Yoga Unify and the greater yoga world, because Yoga Unify will be informed by what we hear and what the need is. I think everyone agrees that the idea that yoga only happens on your mat is an erroneous assumption. It’s a lifestyle, it’s a worldview and a conscious commitment. We want to help people make yoga their life and life their yoga. If that can happen, we believe we will start to see some amazing things.

Join the Founding Circle and share your ideas so that the yoga community better serves you! Please feel free to reach out to directly with any questions.

Conversation facilitated with commentary by Lisette Cheresson