In our modern, capitalistic society, what we call “yoga” has now become a multimillion dollar industry in which yoga teachers brand themselves, compete with each other and earn money; instead of the real yoga: a sacred, ancient tradition designed to be passed down from a master teacher (guru) to sincere, eager students (disciples) who wish to be self-realized. An authentic wish for self-realization should not be motivated by the desire to earn money, fame or recognition. Yet, we have acquiesced to allow what was once the pure tradition of yoga to be made into something it was never meant to be.
Yoga was never designed to be made into a brand and offered for sale. The understanding of yoga is meant to be transmitted from teacher to student through a process of surrender and dedicated practice. My yoga guru, Baba Hari Dass, took a lifelong vow of silence and didn’t utter a word for most of his life. Yet, he has trained thousands of students in the ancient tradition of yoga. He is an extraordinary, living example of what yoga is really meant to be: a lifelong practice of requiring sincere focus, fiery dedication and relentless love for self and others.
Today, we see thousands of different brands of yoga invented by modern yoga teachers who have the hubris to think they’re creating something new under the sun. Maybe they are. But that doesn’t make it real yoga. It just makes it yet another product that must be sold and advertised.
This article is not meant to be a criticism of the thousands of yoga teachers who are out there teaching excellent classes and charging money for what they do; actually, the purpose of my writing is to suggest that maybe there might be a different way of learning and teaching yoga — a way that aligns more with the origin of yoga as an ancient tradition.
The modern age of yoga is replete with self-proclaimed experts shamelessly making grandiose marketing claims like “Transform your life!” … I’m not saying there’s no place for marketing. Obviously, there is. For products that need to be sold. I am suggesting that yoga should be taken as a lifestyle and not a product; therefore, it doesn’t need to be sold. Or bought. Yoga is kind of like love: It’s something I practice because I know it improves my qualify of life. It’s not like a pill I can buy over the counter. Yet that’s the way yoga is being treated all over the world today — like a consumable commodity.
If a teacher charges for her yoga class, then it’s probably because the yoga studio owner is charging her for rent. Or, if she’s the yoga studio owner, then she has to pay overhead costs like advertising, employees, insurance, business taxes; not to mention the cost of yoga teacher certification, which can be priced as high as $10,000 in the U.S., depending on the brand of yoga.
One could argue that if you have to pay thousands of dollars to earn a yoga teacher certification (as I once did), then you should be able to charge for your yoga class, especially once you feel confident and can attract a following of students. I think that’s the justification most modern yoga teachers use for why they charge to teach yoga (as I once did): “Hey, I paid for my yoga teacher certification, and I dedicated years of my life to studying yoga…”
Over 15 years ago, I earned my 200-hour yoga teacher certification in the Boston area. I have since taken countless hours of workshops, seminars and classes to hone my craft and learn from many different teachers. In the past, I myself have opened my own yoga studio, charged money for my yoga classes, and Ah, hell, why not? created my own brand of yoga that I call “Parama Yoga Method”. But the truth is, I did not invent anything new that I didn’t learn from my own teachers. Maybe I just changed around some sequences, sketched my own line drawings of some yoga postures and took some nice yoga selfie photos on the beach. Aside from that, I try to keep the ancient yoga tradition alive by doing what my teachers taught me, honoring the sacred lineages, and integrating any of my own realizations into what has always and will always be the one true yoga of self-realization. Only a dedicated practitioner learning from a master teacher can understand this.
Let’s consider for a moment what “yoga” actually means. “Yoga” is the ancient Sanskrit word meaning “union” — union of body, mind and spirit. While I can’t claim to have achieved perfect union of my body, my mind and my spirit, I can say that such a practice is a profoundly spiritual one that has nothing to do with buying and selling. Union of body, mind and spirit probably can’t be bought — or sold, for that matter. Union of body, mind and spirit is probably what the gurus call “self-realization”. Let me reiterate the point I made previously: An authentic wish for self-realization should not be motivated by the need or desire to earn — or spend — money. As one of my teachers once said, “The best things in life are free.”
I would like to see many more free yoga teacher training programs led by master teachers. I would like to see less certification and more authentic practice. I would like to see more eager students sincerely wishing to earn what can only be gained through dedicated practice: self-realization. There’s no price for that. Like the Beatles said, “Money can’t buy me love.”
Come join me for sunrise yoga classes in my riverside bungalow at a charming jungle eco-lodge in southern Belize, where I offer daily classes (for free) in exchange for room and board. Over 5 years ago, I quit my full-time, high-paying job in the U.S. and moved to Central America. I bought an acre of land and built my own off grid homestead. Here, the cost of living is relatively low and I can enjoy a simple lifestyle, albeit without most modern conveniences. Overall, I’ve discovered more resourceful ways to meet my basic needs, thereby giving me more time to practice yoga. I’m not saying this makes me better than anybody else; it just makes me… unique. And different. Unlike most yoga teachers. But who cares?
Click here to buy one of my books on Amazon. It will transform your life! (That was a joke). Buying one of my books will support me as I continue to teach yoga for free. (That wasn’t a joke).