Saturday, March 26, 2016 • Barrington, RI 02806-4750

I often write in response to something that comes out in one of my classes.... a question from someone, or an thought I have as I respond to how I see someone moving, or an emotional or physical response in a student. In this case I am responding to an article a couple of people forwarded me. It is something I have been thinking about for quite a while, and something which has shifted both situationally and purposely certain aspects of my teaching, that is, the commercialization of the practice. Here is the link to the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/20/opinion/sunday/the-hidden-price-of-mindfulness-inc.html

and here is a link to a humorous video kind of on the same topic from a while back: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBMc9s8oDWE

 

There is that first issue of whether yoga is a spiritual discipline, or a type of exercise. This question could be answered historically, or contextually, but generally I believe it is a framework, and what you use it for is a question of choice. And although some might feel squeemish about selling the stuff of spiritual quest I would suggest you might wish to reread your Chaucer or walk through the gift shop at the Vatican. I got some very nice post cards there. Any object can be useful or not useful, any object can be imbued with meaning, or simply used and forgotten. It is a question of how we interact with the stuff that matters.

 

If, as many of us believe, yoga is about balance, there must be a balance in how much stuff we own. This is not unique to yoga. Whatever passions people have there will be people who will make stuff they hope will encourage them to buy. Generally in our culture we have more than we need, and we keep and repair it a lot less than we should. It is more glaring when we are loading ourselves down with 'om' tee shirts, than with ceramic cats, but it is the same idea. The thing about yoga is that it is not just about the work on the mat.

 

Part of this is the old law of supply and demand. If something becomes popular others will rush in to supply it. If everyone decided that they wanted to eat mango salsa mango growers would start planting more trees, and factories would ramp up production. Of course there would be some who would add cheaper fruit to the salsa and try to figure out the least amount of mango they can add and still get people to buy it, figuring if they drop the price more people will buy their salsa and they will make more money. Not a problem as long as they are clear that is what they are doing.... but of course often they are not. And there are plenty who go to artifical ways to get mango taste with no mangos at all. So we get another old phrase: caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).

 

There was a study I came across a while ago (I posted it to my FB page) about how people who spend their money on experiences rather than stuff are generally happier. I think this is likely true. But as the article suggests experiences can be over produced and marketed just as much as stuff can. For some time I developed a mindfulness practice and eventually started offering a workshop based on this practice. For me meditation is not the same thing as mindfulness, but it is a part of a mindfulness practice that is rooted in an understanding of human dimensionality and shifting attention inot those dimensions as a way to develop and understand the self. I have of late not spent much time trying to offer it though, as I feel I am somewhat crowded out of the market by much louder voices. And when it comes right down to it I love to teach anyone who feels I have something to offer, but I really don't want to market agressively or suggest that somehow what I am offering is inherently better than what someone else is offering. There are a lot of options out there, most of them will offer benefit. If you educate yourself enough to set aside the jars of salsa that are badly or cheaply made you are still going to be left with quite a few options.... then you can decide what tastes best to you, or goes best with what you are making, or is in your price range. Over time though not every well made salsa will sell, in spite of having experienced, well intentioned cooks.

 

And we come to the principle of competition and survival of the fittest. As yoga teachers and mindfulness teachers have increased they have had to find ways to bring in students. Do you remember the old movie musical “Gypsy”? There is a great song in it called “You gotta get a gimmick” in which a group of strippers sing to the herione about how to stand out in a crowded field. A few years ago at the IDEA Wold conference of fitness professionals I was struck by how many people are trying to find their niche.... it isn't just that they are teaching in a traditional lineage, or teaching eclectically by blending lineages, but they want a niche with a catchy title and the ability to market it to others to increase profitability. As the author of this article points out, and like that non mango salsa, this has gone pretty far. And here is the thing.... I have a lot of trouble with this, because not judging people for experimenting or taking the path less travelled is really important for me... so when I feel myself think.... there is something non yogic in something I always try to pull myself back and see the possibility.

 

Still and all... I would rather have mango salsa made for me by someone who has spent a long time learning about how to make salsa, who grows and understands mangos, and who... even if they use a non traditional recipe does it authentically and with love and ecological respect, that from a jar by a company that at core wants the best profit they can make at the expense of filling the world with non recyclable packaging.

 

I guess I agree with the author that the tea or the magazine or the latest variety of yoga class (or the salsa) are not the problem, and can in fact be a medium to help us find the mindfulness, the health, the awareness, or whatever it is we need, but that we need to be prepared to do more than shop and buy. Kind of like the fitness enthusiast whose garage is filled with all of the latest cardio equipment unused and dusty. A thing can stand as an intention, but we need to act to create change from that intention.