by Ali Valdez
I think we all can agree that yoga is a helpful set of tools enabling great benefit to all, providing the right level of knowledge and the supportiveness of the environment in which it’s taught. When talking amongst other yoga teachers in the place as accepting and unpretentious as the Big Island, we all concurred: at the end of the day, if it gets someone on the mat, it’s a step in the right direction. Not every average Joe is karmically called in this lifetime to change his name to Sri Sri, so why impose that on them? If someone wants a workout, fine, let them come and sweat their bowels out. It’s cool. We should feel confident enough in the power of yoga to know that over time, with any degree of devotion to the practice, more always comes of it. Maybe it’s our role as teachers to exercise more patience rather than imposing our expectations.
So collectively, how do we drive the right type of message to make sure it is all inclusive and gets people into the studio that truly need it the most. Here are five groups of people that probably need yoga more than any hemp crunching, Lululemon Wanderluster out there:
1) The single working mom: no, she’s not brewing her own kombucha when she gets home, but is probably desperately stirring a pot of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese trying to abate her kids from screaming and destroying the house through the wily confections of television and video games.
This is humanity ground zero. There is no one more exhausted and under-valued than this woman, so help her out yoga studio. How? Well, start with classes that could actually work with a single mom’s schedule and no six am is not the answer.
Ancillary studio or training space can provide extremely low cost and maybe free with membership daycare for one hour to ninety minute classes. Class types could be slow flow or yin yang where she is getting physical conditioning but also time to relax and renew. Pranayama techniques are powerful coping tools later in the combat zone of baby vomit, leaky diapers, and missed morning buses. Thank you for Aha Yoga Studio in San Francisco for helping me keep a regular yoga practice with your suitably timed and affordable baby care and excellent teachers like Tom and Pete.
2) Survivors of abuse: I was doing karma yogi work at a rescue shelter for women survivors of abuse in Seattle Washington about twelve years back; every yogi should be required to volunteer. You are taught to think, connect compassionately and use touch responsibly or not at all. No, you don’t understand or relate to what they are experiencing, so don’t go there in your teaching; because this is for them, about them, not about you. Focus on the yoga. Oftentimes, the simplest things can get them to reclaim and reconnect with their bodies. The breath is like healing balm and some of my favorite memories in teaching yoga happened in that common living area. Yoga studios, avoid the overt sexualization of your staff. Keep your employees or independent contractors mindful of how they are carrying themselves professionally.
One studio once asked at a grand opening for their youngest, more attractive and scantily clad female students to pimp big signs on busy streets as a promotion tactic.
3) The elderly: Yoga is gaining popularity at retirement communities and in care facilities which is fantastic but unfortunately it also represents the larger issue of marginalization of a faction of society also known as our elders, or granddad. As alternative yoga practices gain popularity, e.g Yin, or Restorative, try to expand beyond the twenty something rabid practitioners who of course we love for their enthusiasm and diligence. Studios should make an effort to make the yoga accessible, appropriate and affordable for all ages and enjoy diversity of your student base. Slow things down, employ props and chairs, and help the elderly stay tone and flexible, enjoying a longer and higher quality of life and vitality.
4) The incarcerated: Yoga Behind Bars is a local Washington non-profit that is putting yoga in the hands of young men and women in county jails and prisons, enabling them access to the tools of yoga and meditation to find self worth, inner peace, integrating of mind, body, spirit and is proven to lower recidivism. Learn more about this great cause at: http://www.yogabehindbars.org or in my interview with the organization here: http://sattvayogaonline.com/compassion-in-the-world-behind-bars/
5) The tour de force Type A executive: This person who seemingly ‘has it all’ might seem like an odd choice, but yoga knows no boundaries, and makes no distinctions between what the world might label as advantaged or disadvantaged. This person, male and female, is incredibly important because of their sphere of influence and the massive amount of stress they live under daily and the level of concentration required to lead thousands, control billions and influence extended communities and have global impact.
We all have a story about the asshole boss, right? What if the asshole boss learned to breath, meditate, positively impact his internal landscape instead of firehosing his bloodstream with cortisol or elevating his high blood pressure. Now imagine that asshole becoming inspired to change his company’s business practices, make corporate giving a strategic priority, lead business transformation that means the creation of high satisfaction jobs.
Seriously, get this guy or gal into a private class at crazy hours if that’s what it takes. But just get them there for the sake of those of us who aren’t yoga teachers. If you are not a teacher and don’t look like a Hard Tail model, don’t worry, just get in here and find a teacher and style that nurtures you and inspires your practice.