I can tell it’s that time of year again. My first clue arrives as my Facebook home page begins filling up with requests from yoga studios asking me to cast my vote for “Best Yoga Studio” in Western Washington. Preferably theirs. In years past, I didn’t give it a second thought. I logged on, cast my vote and crossed my fingers that my favorite studio would win. After all, we like to show our support for our favorite local businesses, right? Absolutely. And then someone turned the light on.
My husband travels a lot in his work and had recently spent a good chunk of time in Spokane. (The Pacific Northwest’s Little Hollywood, in case you didn’t know.) When he’s in a location for awhile, he’ll often sniff out a local studio and take some yoga classes. He had taken a class at a studio in Spokane and had noticed that it was voting time for the “Best of Spokane” competition. But rather than enthusiastically campaign for votes, this studio had instead linked arms with a community of other (independently owned and operated) yoga studios in the city to proclaim that they were ALL The Best and therefore would not be participating in the balloting. They went on to explain that as yogis and teachers of yoga they speak all the time to their students about the non-competitive nature of yoga. They believed that each of them offered something wonderful and unique. Each offered something that could be “The Best” for someone. When they thought a bit deeper about it, they found themselves in ethical conflict with this whole idea of who wins and who loses in these “Best Of” competitions.
Wow. Just hearing about that made me want to gas up the Prius and high-tail it over I-90 and take a class at one of those studios. Okay, not really, but suffice it to say I was reminded of what it means to live our yoga off our mat.
Aparigraha is is one of the “yamas” in yogic philosophy. Simply put, it is the concept of non-hoarding, non-grasping, non-possessiveness. Take only what is necessary, be it food, resources, and yes, even yoga students. It also speaks to the idea that when we practice aparigraha in our lives, we live with the belief that there is enough to go around. In essence, we can all be successful yoga teachers and yoga studios without having to compete for votes (or students) between one another. I believe in that wholeheartedly. As a yoga teacher, it’s never been my intention to become The Pied Piper of instructors, with a bevy of loyal students following me religiously from class to class, location to location. And although I love and appreciate my regular students who have been taking class with me for years, I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute to recommend another teacher or studio to them if I felt that was best. I once had a studio owner tell me that she would be willing to give me additional classes to teach if I would drop one or more of my established classes elsewhere, with the idea that those students would follow me to her studio. Excuse me, but WTF? Needless to say, that was enough to convince me it was not the place for me.
Baron Baptiste has said “You get powerful by making other people powerful.” I love that. I have recently been fortunate enough to be in community with other yoga teachers that absolutely live this philosophy and I can tell you it is as rare as it is transformational. As teachers, we can agree to work for the greater good, to hold each other up, to have each other’s backs, and truly embody the idea that we can make a greater difference together rather than separately. This idea may not mesh so well with our egocentric capitalist mentality, but so be it. We yogis tend to be a bit counter-cultural anyway.
So what makes a yoga studio “The Best” anyway? Just as there could not be one “best” asana for everyone, there cannot be one best studio. Would a studio that focuses on a gentler, Hatha yoga style be The Best for someone who has experienced significant healing through the practice of hot Bikram yoga? I think not. I know that my current yoga home where I practice is The Best for me right now, but I also acknowledge that my practice is dynamic and always evolving. Two years down the road, my Best Yoga Studio might be somewhere else. And how in the world can I speak to my students about letting go of competition in their yoga practice if I turn around and try to “compete” with other teachers and studios? In my yoga mind, that just does not compute.
I’ve often thought that the path of a yoga studio owner is a slippery slope. Just by claiming yourself as a yogi, you silently agree to a different code of conduct than say, the CEO of a large financial institution. While there is nothing wrong or immoral about making money and turning a profit, we as yogis also learn to pay greater attention to our choices. Whether it’s what we choose to eat, the lifestyle we live, how we interact with others, or how we run a business, there is usually a greater level of mindfulness that goes along with living our yoga off the mat. The studio owners who seem to effortlessly strike a balance between yoga, ethics, and business are the ones who will continue to grow and prosper and inspire others. And those are the studios I will take my practice to.
What’s the answer? I can only speak for myself. This year, I think I will abstain from voting. I love and support my yoga home like family, but I truly don’t believe that my vote (or anyone else’s vote for that matter) will determine it’s future success or failure.
I love that a light was turned on for me by a group of yogis in Eastern Washington who I will probably never meet. I appreciate that their mindful actions encouraged me to think deeper about something I never gave a second thought. Often, light has a way of illuminating that which we don’t want to be bothered with–shadows, cobwebs, old ways of thinking. As Baron would say, “Shine on!”