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  • The Examined Life by Bram Levinson

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    Bram Levinson

    Bram Levinson

    Author, Yoga Teacher, Retreat Coordinator, Mentor

    Author of The Examined Life (www.theexaminedlifebook.com), Bram Levinson is a nationally known yoga teacher, blogger, mentor and lecturer based in Montreal. An enthusiastic yogi since 1999, he began his Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training with Darby, Shankara & Joanne. With additional training from Luna Yoga's Jennifer Maagendans, Bram incorporates all his experience on and off the mat into his yoga classes, workshops and lectures which offer insight into alignment, breath awareness, and the ability to use laughter to get through the more challenging postures, sequences, and difficult moments in life. He is an iRest® Yoga Nidra Level 1 Trained Teacher, as well as an alumni ambassador for Lululemon's Ste-Catherine Street location. He has been on the faculty of the Montreal Yoga Festival, as well as multiple Wanderlust Yoga Festivals. His yoga retreats bring students across the globe 2-3 times a year, with previous locations including Istanbul, Berlin, Tulum, Santorini, Paros and Mljet in Croatia. Bram is forever grateful to the Darbys, Jennifer Maagendans, Richard Miller, and Joan Ruvinsky who initially offered illumination on his yogic path. His insights and observations can be followed on his blog connect to the sky at http://bramlevinson.wordpress.com, his website at www.bramlevinson.com.

Surviving Yoga

Posted by Bram Levinson on August 10, 2009

I am literally immersed in the world of yoga. I manage a yoga studio, Centre Luna Yoga (www.centrelunayoga.com), am more than halfway through my 200-hour Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training with Darby, Shankara & Joanne at Sattva Yoga Shala (www.sattvayogashala.com), am teaching substitute yoga classes at Luna Yoga and as well as  some rooftop yoga classes for Lululemon’s Ste Catherine St location (http://www.lululemon.com/montreal/stecatherine). I also find time to teach some private classes when I have some free time, so with this massive yogic flurry surrounding me, I’m obviously learning about the business of yoga at an exponential rate.

Managing Luna Yoga is, in itself, all-encompassing. There’s a shockingly enormous amount of work to do, from website updating to retreat planning, marketing to plant maintenance. The “to-do” list grows as the priorities change daily. Understandably, all these things go on behind the scenes, so it’s no wonder that when a student comes to a class, all he or she is concerned with is having a great experience and walking out of the studio feeling refreshed and alive. I’m assuming that the clients are more or less unaware of what it takes to keep a studio running, and that’s how it should be – we should be ensuring that the machine stays well-oiled so all parts move in conjunction with each other, fluidly and consistently. Giving the public what they want (and sometimes need) is what we do, and we do it well. What separates us from other sectors of the service industry, however, is what we’re selling.

Yoga typically attracts people who want to expand their consciousness, whether it be physical, spiritual or mental. And whether my peers in the community are willing to admit it or not, there are occasionally practitioners in our midst who in the process of trying to “find themselves”,  get so lost in the world of yoga that they risk losing touch with the reality around them. Now don’t misunderstand me – I have an inherent belief that we are always taken care of, even when things are seemingly hopeless. I wholeheartedly believe that my yoga practice will bring me to where I want to be, which is to say back in my own skin, back to my Self. I also believe that if I don’t work for a living and drum up an income for myself, no one is going to do it for me. I am a city dweller, a householder, a taxpayer (in addition to many things, while also being none of those things). Unless I am planning on retreating into nature and away from city life and all that it encompasses, I need to stay grounded in my responsibilities. Yoga assists me in playing that game while maintaining a healthy outlook and an emotionally intelligent head on my shoulders. What I keep finding myself witness to, however, are people who believe that yoga classes and everything involved with yoga should be free and that to profit off of running a yoga studio or yoga classes is somehow disingenuous.

So here’s my take on it all:

If you love doing something and you have the opportunity to continue doing that thing while making money to get through life, you’re mind-blowingly fortunate. If that thing you love doing helps other people, and can even heal other people, then you’re even more fortunate. If you can occasionally provide the service free of charge without compromising the integrity of your business, then you’re blessed. The only catch is that if what you’re doing is not completely accepted or understood by mainstream society, you’re going to run into some bumps along the road. Yoga falls into that category. There are slews of yogis who believe that all is love, the universe will provide, namasté. While I do think that there is a lot of truth in that,  there are some people who take it to an extreme where free will is completely subtracted from the equation and fate rules the kingdom, and that’s a dangerous attitude to take because it eliminates any possibility of personal responsibility or accountability for one’s words and actions. When people come to a yoga class and resent having to pay for it, it leaves me stumped. People who go see a doctor usually don’t pay for that visit, but there’s still a payment for services rendered thanks to Medicare. People who go shopping pay for what they buy, as do those who go fill up their gas tanks to make sure their cars don’t run out of gas. Because all these services are universally accepted as “necessary”, to not pay would be unthinkable. Yoga, regardless of the resurgence of spirituality and a return to Eastern thinking over the last decade, is still somewhat of a subculture and not even fractionally understood by the masses, and this is why we find ourselves where we are as yogis.

The more classes we lead, the harder we work to keep the yoga studios running, and the more yogic literature we write and publish, the more we’ll be heard and understood. The more we’re understood and respected, the more legitimacy we’ll have as an industry and we’ll have fewer people objecting to the business of yoga. Those in the community that can’t be bothered to help stimulate the industry need to ask themselves if they’re helping or hurting themselves…  We need to build our community up and bring all our gifts to the masses to show how much better off we are with a healthy practice and healthy outlook, and if that means digging into our pockets, then consider it an investment. It’s the safest one I know of in our present economy, and the only one where helping one’s self ultimately leads to helping others. I’ll keep on doing my thing, trying to get the best we can offer to those who appreciate it while attempting to increase our visibility as leaders in the community, one asana at a time, one event at a time…

Let me know what you think :)

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2 Responses to “Surviving Yoga”

  1. ad said

    I apologize – the following may seem disorganized, but I really wanted to add to your arguments about paying for yoga.

    Immediately after reading your (well-written) post, I dug out my notes and read through the yamas – specifically the eleventh yama, Right Livelihood. The following excerpts are taken from Thich Nhat Hanh’s sangha:

    we are committed not to live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature
    As yogis, we are committed to non-harming of others – and of ourselves. If we are not paid for what we do, then we are harming ourselves and our community. If I am unable to feed and take care of myself then I cannot be an effective yoga teacher and I am thus harming my students rather than helping them. It is not hypocritical to be paid for teaching yoga – it is all part of basic existence and non-harming. Even monks on mountaintops need to eat. Someone could argue that monks begs for their food and give their prayers for free, but unless our society starts looking more favourably on panhandling, I don’t think it’s plausible to expect yoga teachers to beg on the streets of downtown Montreal.

    we will behave responsibly as consumers and as citizens, not supporting companies that deprive others of their chance to live
    In my eyes, the sin is not consumerism – it is irresponsible or extreme consumerism that harms the community. Most yoga teachers I know aren’t driving luxury cars and wrapping themselves in furs come winter. They work hard to give as much as they can without sacrificing their own basic needs.

    I haven’t come across anyone who resents paying for yoga (yet), but I hope to be able to answer them with an much compassion and patience as possible.

  2. aby said

    Interesting, Bram, keep up the good

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