on the professionalization of spirituality (part 1): why is yoga training so expensive?

a few weeks ago, i had a great conversation with my friend, ambroise. here’s a rough roadmap of the points we discussed as they landed with me:

i committed at the beginning of this year to try and practice non-/de-colonized and non-appropriated yoga. it’s been tougher than i imagined.

ambroise, who had been going through yoga teacher training, quit it. there were a couple of reasons. one was that the overall benefits of having a yoga practice weren’t coming. another was that it was really expensive.

that lead to us talking about yoga and it’s introduction into the west. some would call this process colonization. i think i would, but it’s complicated. things and people move. but how and why and through what structures is complex and complicated and often oppressive. anyway…

then, as happens with most things adopted in the west, capitalism infected it (by “then,” i mean over a period of years). yoga became a commodity with its studios and mats to buy and specific yoga clothes, etc. yoga teaching training began to be offered for thousands of dollars. these trainings are often taught by white people who had the money to travel to places where yoga is a historic part daily life and culture. not exclusively, to be sure, but that seems to be the trend.

and then ambroise (or maybe this was a conversation with my friend jay?) mentioned that part of the lack in the training was the over-focusing on asanas to the detriment of the other 7 limbs of yoga. as is common in capitalism, what was/is happening is the extraction of, focus on, and optimization of one aspect of a system which diminishes the value of the whole.

that raised the question: is it possible to be a professional yoga teacher if you’re teaching all 8 limbs?

that led us to thinking about other places where spiritual work is guided by “professionals.” the place we landed that has kept this up for the longest is religious traditions. but the “business model” of most long-standing spiritual traditions is that the leaders take some sort of vow of poverty and then are supported by the broader community.

this clearly isn’t happening in the yoga world. market-based professionalization is happening.

and then that connected to me thinking about my friend casper’s work on studying religious and non-religious, spiritual communities.

ok, i’m way over time, but this deserves more thinking and writing.

in essence, i ended with two questions:

i knew i was having dinner with casper soon, so i figured i’d just paint this picture for him and ask him what he thought… (see part 2)


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